The Howling is a note­wor­thy exam­ple of a film whose treat­ment on home video improved as for­mats became more sophis­ti­cat­ed: when it was issued on VHS, it suf­fered from a trans­fer with bad col­or tim­ing that wrecked the film’s light­ing scheme.  It was reha­bil­i­tat­ed via a bet­ter trans­fer on laserdisc and then got an expand­ed spe­cial edi­tion on DVD in 2003 that car­ried over many of the laserdisc’s spe­cial fea­tures and added even more.

Now, The Howling has made it to blu-ray with a new spe­cial edi­tion, which begs the ques­tion: beyond a high-def trans­fer, what can you do for a film that has already got­ten the bells-and-whistles treat­ment in past video for­mats?  The answer is sim­ple: keep those extras and add even more.  That is what Scream Factory has done and they’ve cre­at­ed a spe­cial edi­tion that will keep hor­ror buffs fas­ci­nat­ed for hours on end.

The thrills begin with a high-def­i­n­i­tion trans­fer that does pret­ty well with the dis­tinc­tive look of The Howling.  John Hora’s cin­e­matog­ra­phy offers an unusu­al com­bi­na­tion of noirish inte­ri­ors, peri­od­ic use of fil­ters for a “glossy” effect, lots of smoke and some real­ly intense pri­ma­ry-col­ored light­ing in par­tic­u­lar sce­nes.  That’s a lot for one trans­fer to cope with but this one looks pret­ty good.  Both mono and 5.1. stereo remix ver­sions of the sound­track are includ­ed.  The lat­ter was lis­tened to for this review and it makes excel­lent use of Pino Donaggio’s lush musi­cal score.

The exten­sive spe­cial fea­tures sec­tion of this disc car­ries over the MGM extras (which includ­ed most of the Image laserdisc extras) as well as adding sev­er­al new fea­turettes, so fans are in for a lot of bonus mate­ri­al to sift through.  First up is the com­men­tary track done way back when for the Image edi­tion, which fea­tures actors Dee Wallace Stone, Christopher Stone and Robert Picardo plus direc­tor Joe Dante.

Group commen­tary tracks can often devolve into chaos but this one hits the right blend of affec­tion­ate jok­ing between par­tic­i­pants and scene-speci­fic mem­o­ries.  Dante acts as the ring­lead­er, keep­ing every­one focused as he dis­cuss­es the loca­tions, the many chal­lenges of the shoot and how dif­fer­ent sce­nes were dropped or moved around in post-pro­duc­tion.  The actors share mem­o­ries from their view­point, with Christopher Stone dis­cussing how dif­fi­cult and unerotic it was to shoot the film’s sex scene and Picardo talk­ing about the per­ils of act­ing under tons of pros­thet­ic make­up.  The track is also laced with fas­ci­nat­ing triv­ia: a great exam­ple is how some of the fire footage used in the finale was lift­ed from Zabriskie Point!  In short, this is a clas­sic com­men­tary track and required lis­ten­ing for fans.

Scream Factory also adds in a new com­men­tary track fea­tur­ing Gary Brandner, the author of the nov­el the film was (loose­ly) adapt­ed from, with Michael Felsher serv­ing as mod­er­a­tor.  Brandner had very lit­tle involve­ment with the film so Felsher wise­ly focus­es the track on Brandner’s work as a nov­el­ist and the impact that the film ver­sion of The Howling had on his career.  If you’re a fan of ‘70s/‘80s hor­ror nov­els, the track is par­tic­u­lar­ly inter­est­ing as Felsher has done his research and they dis­cuss many of Brandner’s nov­els.  For Howling fans, you’ll hear Brandner’s thoughts on the many odd­ball Howling sequels as well as a dark­ly fun­ny sto­ry about his one run-in with Joe Dante.

Other laserdisc-era extras includ­ed here include a vari­ety of delet­ed sce­nes, along with option­al com­men­tary from Dante.  A look at the­se sce­nes will reveal Dante’s savvy as an edi­tor, with his com­men­tary explain­ing the moti­va­tions behind their removal.  There is also a set of “out­takes” that is essen­tial­ly a bloop­er reel.  It’s fun stuff, par­tic­u­lar­ly a moment where a frus­trat­ed Patrick Macnee curs­es after flub­bing a line.  The effec­tive trail­er is includ­ed, plus an exten­sive image gallery.

Best of all, this disc includes a vari­ety of inter­views and fea­turettes, both new and old.  On the old­er tip, there is a 1981 EPK piece by future direc­tor Mick Garris (who also makes a cameo in the film) called “Making Of A Monster.”  It’s brief but packs in plen­ty of fun, intel­li­gent quips from Dante, Macnee and FX artist Rob Bottin.  There is also a short inter­view with stop motion effects whiz David Allen that is devot­ed to explain­ing why so lit­tle of his work appears in the fin­ished film.  His com­ments illus­trate what a strug­gle it was for the film­mak­ers to come up with the right blend of effects and also includes some tan­ta­liz­ing snip­pets of his unused work.

The biggest of the vin­tage fea­turettes is “Unleashing The Beast,” an epic 48 min­ute piece that dates back to the spe­cial edi­tion DVD.  As the length sug­gests, this is an exten­sive piece that cov­ers all phas­es of pro­duc­tion and incor­po­rates new inter­views with Dante, pro­duc­er Mike Finnell, screen­writer John Sayles, stars Dee Wallace Stone and Dick Miller and many more.  It cov­ers all the bases as the com­men­ta­tors explain the whys and where­for­es of how they updat­ed the were­wolf sub­gen­re for a mod­ern audi­ence.  It moves at a steady clip and is packed full of fun anec­dotes, per­haps the best being Miller’s touch­ing account of how his role in The Howling end­ed up becom­ing his all-time favorite.

Unleashing The Beast” might cov­er all the info the lay­man is curi­ous about but Scream Factory takes things a step fur­ther for the hard­core fans by adding a new set of fea­turettes.  “Howlings Eternal” is an inter­view with pro­duc­er Steven Lane, who dis­cov­ered the nov­el and made the film adap­ta­tion pos­si­ble by pick­ing up the rights.  He walks the view­er through the strange, often fun­ny his­to­ry of the odd­ball Howling sequels.  “Cut To Shreds” is an inter­view with edi­tor Mark Goldblatt, the unsung hero of The Howling’s suc­cess, and he dis­cuss­es his work­ing rela­tion­ship with Dante and how they approached edit­ing the tricky FX sequences.  A par­tic­u­lar­ly inter­est­ing inclu­sion is an inter­view with Terence Winkless, who was the orig­i­nal screen­writer on the film before John Sayles was brought in.  He is wit­ty and fast-talk­ing as he lays out how he got the gig, what his work­ing rela­tion­ship with Dante was like and the changes he came up with for trans­lat­ing the nov­el to screen.

The new fea­turettes are round­ed out by a seg­ment of Horror’s Hallowed Grounds devot­ed to The Howling.  As is usu­al­ly the case with this series, it offers a blend of inter­est­ing facts about the film’s loca­tions — com­plete with vis­its to the dif­fer­ent sites, some of which are rad­i­cal­ly dif­fer­ent — along with some endear­ing­ly goof­ball humor, includ­ing a fun recre­ation of one of Christopher Stone’s sce­nes from the film.

In short, this mega-edi­tion of The Howling is worth it for fans, offer­ing a solid trans­fer and an exhaus­tive bevy of extras that take the view­er deep into the film’s his­to­ry and lega­cy.  It’s well worth the upgrade for any­one who loves the film.

To read Schlockmania’s film review of The Howling, click here.