Mommie Dearest

mommie-dearst“Mommie Dearest” (1981) is an uproariously funny film about child abuse and alcoholism. Much of the humor stems from the fact that it was largely unintentional.

Faye Dunaway stars as Joan Crawford, a fading star who decides to adopt some kids for a little extra publicity. Her motives aren’t quite as simple as that, actually. She is an independent woman who clawed her way up from the gutter and she’s convinced she can instill that same grit in her children while providing them with a luxurious upbringing.

Both of the actresses who play the daughter, Tina, do a fine job. The Young Tina especially conveys the developing rivalry with her mother with a subtlety that one doesn’t often see in a child actor. That said, this film would be utterly forgotten without Dunaway’s bombastic performance. Her Crawford possesses a madness that seeps through her very pores, into every gesture, every glance; it is either bubbling just beneath the surface or erupting into violence.

Dunaway famously disowned the film. Maybe she wanted to be taken more seriously. Maybe she never imagined that her portrayal of Joan could be interpreted as hilarious. Maybe its reception as a camp classic was embarrassing for her. It’s too bad she isn’t proud of it because it’s a spectacle to behold.

The opening sequence, where we see Joan wake up and begin her daily beauty regimen, illustrates how fully Dunaway embodied her character. Throughout the scene, her face is never shown but her mania is unmistakable. Dunaway became Joan Crawford, right down to her fingertips.

Whether this character called Joan Crawford has any relation to the real person is almost immaterial. The character Dunaway created has a separate and arguably more iconic existence than the real actress of the same name. I feel like Faye Dunaway deserves more credit in the drag community because whenever a drag queen does “Joan Crawford,” she’s really doing “Faye Dunaway’s Joan Crawford.”

“Mommie Dearest” is one of those movies that seems to have always been present in my head. It must have played on television in the early 80s because in my family we quoted it regularly. This seems odd at first glance since we experienced alcoholism and abuse first hand, but I think that was part of the appeal for us.

When you’re a kid, this film plays like a horror movie where Joan is the monster. Her children live in fear because their mother is perpetually on the brink of violence. The filmmakers seemed to understand the horror of being a little kid and living in the dominion of an unpredictable tyrant twice your size. When she gets angry, the tension ratchets up. You hold your breath, anticipating an explosion.

The scenes where she does lose her shit are the film’s scariest, most memorable, and ultimately, funniest because Joan exposes herself as an unhinged clown. No less terrible or dangerous, but a figure so ridiculous that mocking her becomes irresistible. And if you’re a little kid who’s experienced abuse for real, laughing at Joan Crawford makes you feel a little powerful.

It was cathartic for us, I suppose, because Tina is saner, calmer, and braver than her mother. She repeatedly defies this monster, sometimes with just a cold stare, sometimes with outright disobedience. This is, ironically, exactly how Joan raised her to be: strong, independent, and resilient.

There is material here for a straight dramatic interpretation of the relationship between Joan and Tina Crawford, and perhaps that was their intention, but if that’s the case, I’m glad they failed. Faye Dunaway’s performance was a gift to drag queens and scared little kids alike.

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The Fox and the Hound

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“Darlin’, forever is a long, long time. And time has a way of changing things.”

Disney’s “The Fox and the Hound” (1981) was the first motion picture I ever successfully watched in a movie theater. It promptly became my first Favorite Movie and it held that title for many years to come.

This was before the days of home video, at least in my home, so for nearly a decade, my only memories of the film itself were the vague fragments of that first and only theatrical viewing. Thankfully, someone gave me the read-along storybook/record combo pictured below. I was too young to read but I listened to the record incessantly, flipping through the book to follow along with the pictures.

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photo via eBay user benfounditforme

I’ve often wondered why I became so transfixed with this story at such a young age. It certainly isn’t a magical adventure like so many other Disney films. In fact, one of the things people remember most about it is how sad it is.

“Sad” doesn’t begin to cover it, actually. The theme running through this movie is that when you love someone, you think it will last forever, but it won’t. It’s about the process of learning this truth, and how after you learn it you just have to carry on living, knowing that Time will erase everything you hold dear.

What the hell, Disney?!

No matter how many times I listened to that record, I always cried at the part where Widow Tweed says goodbye to Tod, her pet fox. The two meet at the beginning of the story after Tod’s mother is killed. Widow Tweed and Tod have both lost someone close to them, but now they have each other. The Widow says, “I don’t think I’ll be so lonesome anymore.” Then later in the movie it becomes clear that she has to return Tod to the wild, and as she’s driving him out to the forest, she drops a spoken word poem, “Goodbye May Seem Forever,” that encapsulates the gut-wrenching emptiness you feel when you have to say goodbye to someone you love.

And yet, I continued to put on that record and taste those tears, time and again. I don’t think I was just a bottomless well of sadness as a child. This movie tapped into a feeling of insecurity that was buried in my subconscious. Not about myself, but about my world.

In the early 1980s, I had what I thought was a happy little life. I had two parents who loved me, my sister, a best friend, lots of cousins, aunts and uncles, my grandparents. I had birthday parties and Christmases and a troupe of stuffed animals. But when I went to bed at night, I would hear my parents fighting, their voices twisted in anger, almost unrecognizable. I’d hear crashes and my heart would race. I think I must have known, on some level, that my world was on the verge of breaking down.

Then along came this movie.

I think I related to Tod at the beginning when he first meets Copper, a hound dog puppy. They play together, they wrestle, they go swimming. They vow to be best friends forever. They have a happy little world.

But Copper belongs to a hunter, Amos Slade, and a friendship between a fox and a hunting dog can’t last forever. Tod’s friends keep telling him this. They show him the dead bodies that Amos has hung up like trophies. They warn him that Copper will eventually turn into “a real killer.”

Tod can’t fathom it. He says, “Not my friend Copper. He won’t ever change.”

When you’re a little kid and your life has only ever been one way, you can’t imagine it being any different. That’s how I felt, and that’s how Tod felt. By the end of the movie though, Tod has grown up, he’s been exiled to the wilderness, and Copper has become just as bloodthirsty as his master. As a little kid watching it, you get a glimpse of what it looks like when a happy childhood turns into a depressing nightmare.

I wonder, did they sell Happy Meal toys for this?

The character Big Mama, the wise old owl voiced by Pearl Bailey, delivers the movie’s thesis statement: “Time has a way of changing things.” Somehow, I knew that she wasn’t just talking about Copper and Tod. This concept applied to me.

In the film’s climax, Tod saves Copper and Amos from a bear, prompting Copper’s redemption moment where he steps in front of Amos’s gun and saves Tod’s life. In the end, everything is reversed; Copper and Tod have been separated but they’re happy in their respective homes, and Widow Tweed and Amos have a budding playful friendship. Even the caterpillar character, Squeeks, changes into a butterfly.

“The Fox and the Hound” tells us, yes, everything will change, and some of it will feel awful, but some of it will be unexpectedly beautiful. And you’ll be okay in the end.

That may just be the reason I wore out that record.



Notice the clever way they marketed this movie to look like normal family entertainment. And below, some lovely person recorded the actual read-along book from my childhood. The Internet has everything…

Escape from New York

escape-from-new-york-posterA lot of people love John Carpenter’s “Escape from New York” (1981). I’m not one of those people.

Half in the Bag, the movie review show on YouTube, features the two most important voices in film criticism today: Mike Stoklasa and Jay Bauman. Jay has said that if he had to choose only one movie to watch for the rest of his life, this would be it. That baffles me. Of all the movies filled with excitement, humor, pathos, mystery, wonder, spectacle… Why, Jay? Why “Escape from New York,” which lacks all those things?

He articulates his love for this film quite admirably, and it does have some good qualities. I guess if you’re only going to watch one movie for the rest of your life, it makes sense to pick one that has a rich atmosphere and a slow pace, giving you plenty of time to ponder little details and contemplate all of its dark corners.

Also, that was probably just an off-hand comment, not meant to be taken literally.

But anyway, that slow pace is my main problem. How is a movie called “ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK” not an action-packed adventure? Here, I agree with Mike, who does not share Jay’s reverence for the film.

“Escape” tries to trick you into thinking it’s an action movie. The title conjures a feeling of adventure. The poster (a work of art) depicts the main characters escaping from a mob, the head of the Statue of Liberty having crash-landed, somehow, in the middle of Fifth Avenue. The main character’s name is Snake and he wears a guerilla-like costume complete with eye patch.

But this movie is slow. It’s moody. The scenes that do contain action aren’t that spectacular and they’re undercut by Carpenter’s low, droning score.

About that score: it’s a fine piece of music. I’d very much enjoy it apart from this film. But as the score for an action movie, it’s totally wrong because its sluggish tempo underscores the film’s slowness. If you don’t have the budget to orchestrate great big action sequences, you can disguise that a bit by adding an exciting score to amplify the action.

The editing has the same effect. The multitude of long, unbroken wide shots exacerbates the film’s languid pace, whereas some more lively editing could have helped create the illusion of excitement. There’s a scene early on that illustrates how the editing and music drag this movie down and drain it of excitement. It’s this one, where Snake flies into Manhattan:

Considered on its own, it’s a fine sequence. The graphics in the cockpit are cool and the music has an ethereal quality. It’s “dreamlike,” as Jay puts it. That’s all very well, but is this really how you want to start your action movie?

Why did they make this sequence so dull? It’s almost as if they were trying to make a slow, dramatic take on an action movie premise. Almost.

The fact that this film doesn’t rise to the level of a typical action movie would be fine if the intention were to subvert the audience’s expectations, as some sort of commentary on the genre, the way “Scream” (1996) did for horror movies. Yet, even with the music and editing, I still don’t get the feeling that the final product was intentional. Throughout the film, you get the feeling that Carpenter tried to make a “cool” action movie, but just made a lot of sad choices along the way.

Indiana Jones and the Mystery of the Melting Face

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“Don’t look at it.”

For the first 20 years of my life, I was haunted by the memory of seeing a man’s face melt off. Okay, I saw it happen in a movie, but I was only about four years old, and when you’re that little you don’t really understand what a special effect is. So for all I knew, I saw a man’s face melt off.

While that image lingered in my brain, the movie it came from faded into oblivion. I always assumed I’d seen that melting face in some obscure horror film. Then sometime around Y2K, “Raiders of the Lost Ark” (1981) was reissued on VHS. I was an admirer of Spielberg but I’d never really sat down and watched the original Indiana Jones film until the release of this remastered, widescreen edition. Like many a film nerd before me, “Raiders” would go on to earn a spot on my all-time favorites list.

(Continued below…)

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Towards the end of the movie, there was a line of dialogue that ignited a memory. It’s when Indiana and his companion are tied to a post, at the mercy of the Nazis who are about to open the Ark of the Covenant. Indy yells, “Shut your eyes, Marion. Don’t look at it, no matter what happens.” It was my first time watching the movie, but I knew I recognized that line…

All my life I’d remembered that melting face but forgotten everything else about the movie it came from. Everything except one line of dialogue: “Don’t look at it!” That man’s face had been melted by some ghastly magic that couldn’t hurt you as long as you didn’t look at it. That’s a kind of kid logic; that if you just shut your eyes you’ll be protected from all manner of evil forces. To a four-year-old, this scene works as proof of the eye-shutting theory.

So when I heard that line again, I realized what I was watching. This must be the face-melting movie from my childhood… 

*  *  *  *  *

I was about four years old, innocently enjoying a sleepover at my grandparents’ house. They didn’t have much in the way of toys but I always found neat things when exploring far-flung corners and cabinets. And always, out of nowhere, my grandma would produce a plate of cinnamon toast as a late-night snack. Not the cereal of the same name but actual toast slathered in butter and coated with cinnamon – one of her specialties.

My grandpa was in charge of the TV, as usual. He never watched anything worth seeing, but mercifully it was too late for bowling or golf, so at least he’d put on a movie. Notably, he was playing it on what had appeared to be an iridescent record, although the machine he was using had no needle. He just slid the disc inside – completely baffling!

The movie wasn’t animated and didn’t feature any puppets, so I found it boring. After I finished my cinnamon toast, I returned to the Barbie I’d been playing with. My discovery of this item had been miraculous. After all, it was almost an action figure. She could easily be, say, Teela trapped on Earth and forced to work as a nurse to make ends meet while she searched for a portal back to Eternia.

I was deep into this storyline when the tension in the movie started to ratchet up. The heroes had been tied to a post and the leading man warned his girlfriend, “Shut your eyes, Marion. Don’t look at it, no matter what happens.” Suddenly it had my attention. What was going to happen? What could be so terrible that this hero couldn’t even look at it? I needed to see it.

I held my breath, bracing myself for a scare. In the movie, one of the villains spoke an incantation over some kind of magic chest, and from its seemingly infinite depths flowed misty, glowing spirits. Not too scary. I relaxed, momentarily.

One of the spirits looked like the ghost of a young woman. She floated up to another bad guy, named Toht. He studied her for a moment from behind his glasses. Then: her pretty face transformed into a screaming skull, and the film’s score abruptly changed to a startling, clanging rhythm.

Before I could summon the wherewithal to shut my eyes, several things happened in a series of quick shots: the leader of the bad guys burst into flames, lightning shot from his body and electrocuted the evil army to death, one guy’s head shriveled gruesomely, and then, all of the flesh on Toht’s face melted. As his ears and nose liquified, his glasses slipped off his bloody skull.

That did it. My instinct for self-preservation overrode my terror and I regained motor control, shutting my eyes tight and covering them with my hands.

*  *  *  *  *

That image just parked itself in my brain for the next couple decades. It gave me a chill every time it resurfaced.

The magic of that face-melt is that it’s a single shot that lasts only four seconds. The special effects artists behind it painstakingly took a cast of the actor’s face and used it to create a realistic dummy, molded from a substance that they had carefully engineered to melt a certain way.

Untold hours of work for four seconds of film. Lesser filmmakers would have taken a shortcut, but Spielberg and the artists at ILM knew that with enough care and craft they could make four seconds of film last forever.

As long as you can stand to keep your eyes open.


Below: The original theatrical trailer for “Raiders,” the Ark scene in its entirety, and an analysis of the special effects used for the melting face.

Superman II

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I don’t know anything about Superman comics. I’ve never read a single one. Not even The Death of Superman when it was a big deal in middle school. I always thought his powers were boring because he was practically invincible and I didn’t think his villains were as compelling as Batman’s. I did see “Superman II” (1981) as a child, probably on cable in the late 80s, and my conception of what Superman is, or is “supposed to be,” comes entirely from this film.

The plot of “Superman II” is about General Zod’s attempt to take over the Earth. But the story is really about Clark and Lois and how Superman fits into their relationship. What I like most about it is how crystal clear the characters of Clark Kent and Lois Lane come through. Sure, they’re one-dimensional, but at least they have a dimension. And it’s a fun dimension. It’s a dimension where I don’t mind spending two hours. (Here begins my veiled criticism of “Man of Steel” (2013), which I loathed.) These two characters are so broad, it’s almost as if they were plucked from a Broadway musical. This is as it should be.

Clark is naive and idealistic. He’s fiercely compassionate. He always tells the truth. He always tries to do what’s right. He’s a total farmboy. These fundamentals are crucial because he was Clark before he was Superman, and Clark’s character fully explains why he becomes a superhero. No elaborate origin story is required. He becomes Superman because he thinks it’s the right thing to do. That’s Clark.

Lois is a cynic. She can be cruelly unfeeling. She’s harried and overworked. She’s a chain smoking city girl. It’s obvious that someone like her would have no interest in the pitiful affections of someone like Clark. She’s too busy and on the trail of too many important stories to give him a second thought.

But Lois and Clark do have some things in common. They’re both passionate about justice, and they both see journalism as a means to that end. She shares traits with Superman too; they’re both fearless and would both put themselves in danger to help others.

And here’s where “Superman II” opens. Lois begins to suspect Clark’s secret and she uses her investigative skills to pry a confession from him. Clark admits both his secret identity and his love for her. Now he has a problem, having apparently concluded that he can’t be a good superhero and a good boyfriend at the same time. (This seems rational.) So, which should he give up? Superman or Lois? What’s the right thing to do?

It’s almost like the writers created a dilemma for the main character based on his established character traits. Yes, it’s good old-fashioned screenwriting, and it’s where “Superman II” succeeds where “Man of Steel” failed miserably.

But “Superman II” is not without its flaws. Much has been said about studio meddling in such recent films as “Fantastic Four” (2015) and “Suicide Squad” (2016), both of which were purported to be ruined by reshoots, but “Superman II” was the original case of studio meddling in a comic book movie. The director, Richard Donner, was fired in the middle of production and replaced with Richard Lester, who reshot several of Donner’s scenes so the studio could avoid giving Donner directorial credit.

With Donner out of the picture, “Superman II” began to take a very different form. The studio had been squabbling with Marlon Brando and was eager to cut his scenes from the film, which Donner had refused to do, but which Lester merrily agreed to, replacing the hologram of Superman’s father with a hologram of his mother. She served the same purpose to the plot, but Brando’s gravitas was sacrificed.

Lester’s reshoots also stand out. In some cases, the actors look so different from one scene to the next that it gets distracting. This is particularly true of Margot Kidder as Lois Lane, who looks sickly in the reshot scenes, as if she wasn’t given enough notice before being recalled to play Lois and she starved herself to get back into shape.

The biggest problem for me in the film is the unexplained (or under-explained) method by which Clark regains his powers. Earlier, he takes Lois to the Fortress of Solitude and after conferring with his holo-mom, chooses to give up his powers so he can be with Lois. His mom warns him that the process cannot be undone, but he steps into the magic chamber and is turned into a regular human. This is one of the best moments in the Superman films, when Clark chooses Lois over Superman.

But later, with three evil Kryptonians running amuck, he realizes this was a poor choice. He returns to the Fortress of Solitude (never mind how mortals keep traveling back and forth from the North Pole to Metropolis in this movie) and finds some random crystal that for some reason reverses the process and restores his powers. Well, okay, but that kind of undercuts the whole “giving up your powers” thing.

The magic chamber was a neat device though, and led to another of the best moments in the series, where Superman outwits both Lex Luthor and General Zod during the film’s climax.

While “Superman II” delivers some great moments and some appropriately broad characterizations of Lois and Clark, the Greatest Superman Film has yet to be made. Some might say that it’s the original, “Superman: The Movie” (1978), but I think that film, like its sequel, suffers by making its villain too comedic.

Someday we’ll get a bright, idealistic, patriotic Superman who must face a genuine threat that challenges both his strength and his values. Maybe Hollywood will never embrace such corniness again… but there’s always Broadway.

Halloween II

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Merry Christmas, everyone. If you’re like me, the holidays are a great time for a nice, bloody slasher film, and who better than Michael Myers to personify the spirit of the season.

To say I was “fascinated” by “Halloween II” (1981) seems like an overstatement, but I was surprised, and, as sequels go, it is unconventional.

The film opens with the climax of “Halloween” (1978). No prologue, no narration to explain what’s happening, just Jamie Lee Curtis trying not to get stabbed by Michael Myers. I assumed this was just meant to remind the audience of where the story left off. This was, after all, before the age of home media, and it was safe to assume that nobody had seen “Halloween” since its theatrical run.

I awaited a fade to black and a jump forward in time because, naturally, I expected the action to take place three years after the events of the original, since three years separated the original and the sequel. But then, seamlessly, the story just proceeds from the original’s ending, in which Michael’s body disappeared after he was shot out of a window. The next most logical events happen: Dr. Loomis (Donald Pleasence) goes off in pursuit of Michael and Laurie (Jamie Lee Curtis) is taken to the hospital, unaware that Michael is following her there.

The whole of “Part II” feels like the third act of a more modern horror movie; the violence gets a little sillier, and there’s a revelation about Michael’s motivation when Loomis discovers that Michael and Laurie are siblings. It also provides a proper ending to the story, in which Loomis sacrifices himself to save Laurie and finally kill Michael.

The films have a total runtime of 180 minutes, and it wouldn’t be impossible to cut 60 minutes and splice them together to make one complete story. This may sound like heresy, but honestly, not that much happens in the original. I think it’s memorable because of John Carpenter’s score and because of that creepy feeling you get when Michael is stalking Laurie and staring at her behind that vacant-looking mask. Plot-wise, it’s pretty thin.

This got me thinking: Did the 2007 “Halloween” remake do just that? Did Rob Zombie tack the plot of “Part II” onto the end of his movie? Research tells me that he did not, the story being half-prequel and half-remake of the original. (I didn’t actually want to watch the movie, as I’m prejudiced against modern remakes.) Zombie’s film includes a fully fleshed-out backstory for Michael and, interestingly, the detail about Laurie being Michael’s sister. It seems Zombie agreed that Michael’s pursuit of her needed an explanation.

Splicing “Halloween” and “Halloween Part II” together would be a good idea if you cared about telling a complete story with these characters, but maybe that’s not the point. I guess Michael’s disappearance at the end of “Halloween” was meant to make that creepy feeling stick with you after you left the theater: He’s still out there. He could be lurking behind any hedge in your town. He could be behind the wheel of any passing station wagon. The movie was unconcerned with logic and backstory; it was about making you feel a certain kinda way.

But it’s nice to have the sequel to wrap things up, and to finally immolate Michael to a satisfyingly crispy cinder.

The Werewolves of ’81

1981 saw the release of two werewolf movies by upcoming directors: “The Howling” by Joe Dante and “An American Werewolf in London” by John Landis. These two films must be considered together, as befitting their conjoined history.

“The Howling” tells the story of a TV news reporter (Dee Wallace) who discovers a colony of werewolves living in the woods outside Los Angeles. As to be expected from a Joe Dante picture, it blends humor and horror, appropriately adopting a tone that acknowledges the silliness of the subject matter while still delivering the necessary thrills. It must also be said that “The Howling” is a competently made motion picture with a solid script that tells a complete, if forgettable, story.

The same could not be said about “An American Werewolf in London,” which is often so baffling it gives you the distinct feeling that director John Landis was covertly making an experimental film disguised as a werewolf thriller. The story sounds straightforward enough. A pair of American tourists are attacked by a werewolf. One dies and the other becomes the titular lycanthrope. He meets a girl, transforms, and kills a bunch of people. Simple, yes, but maybe too simple for a feature film. With a lot of screen time to kill, Landis introduces a subplot that goes nowhere involving the werewolf’s dead friend (more on that later), a dream sequence featuring machine gun wielding Nazi orcs, and an extended sex scene that seems plucked from “The Red Shoe Diaries.” It whips from comedy to horror to romance and back again with such velocity that your brain gets confused. What exactly are we supposed to feel during the interminable scene where the main character kills time in his girlfriend’s apartment? Is it supposed to be funny? Tense?

Now, if you’re the type of person who likes bad movies, the foregoing might make “American Werewolf” sound like the perfect film for a drunken Saturday night with your buddies. It probably is perfect for that purpose, and I probably would enjoy it in that context. However, when I saw this movie, I was expecting a bloody great werewolf movie. In that respect, it’s a disappointment, and therefore a deplorable waste of the phenomenal makeup effects by Rick Baker. Because while “The Howling” is a better werewolf movie, “An American Werewolf in London” has the superior werewolf transformation effects.

That transformation scene has a place in the pantheon of the greatest effects sequences in film history. It conveys the true horror of the experience; the character looks and sounds like he’s in anguish as his skeleton cracks and reconfigures itself, and his mind slowly dims as it’s replaced by a carnivorous animal instinct. If you watch that scene in isolation, it’s so good that you’d expect the movie to be a masterpiece – maybe the best werewolf movie ever made? Not so.

The film avoids greatness by straying too far from its simple premise. That subplot I mentioned about the dead friend, for example. After surviving the werewolf attack, the main character, David, wakes up in a hospital bed and is confronted by his friend, Jack, who died in the attack. Jack is trapped in some sort of limbo and can’t rest in peace until the last werewolf dies. David is now the last werewolf, so Jack returns throughout the film to humorously invite David to kill himself. Jack is a totally original movie monster, to be sure. He has some properties of a ghost (he’s invisible to everyone but David), a zombie (he has a seemingly corporeal body that continues to decay as the film progresses), and a vampire (he’s undead but retains his full mental faculties, including speech and wry humor). Jack apparently lacks any ability to harm David himself. Is Jack just a figment of David’s imagination? Hard to say. When David is finally killed by his girlfriend in the end, the film just comes to a full stop. What happened to Jack is left to our imagination.

Speaking of the ending, David, in werewolf form, is cornered in an alley by the police. His girlfriend tearfully begs them not to kill him. She approaches, carefully. David’s snarl relaxes, and for an instant, we think she can break through to him. But he lunges at her and she is forced to shoot him. A perfectly good ending to an actual werewolf movie, but the drama is undercut by the soundtrack; David has barely hit the ground before the credits start to roll over an upbeat doo-wop rendition of Blue Moon. It’s the kind of ending that leaves you stunned for a moment. “I guess it’s over,” you think. Also, “I want to slap this movie.” That music at the end is actually the biggest insult to the audience. It’s as if Landis were embarrassed about making a werewolf movie, and didn’t think the ending could actually be touching, so he added the discordant silly music as a way to say, “Nevermind, it was all a joke!” You pay your money to see a werewolf movie and in the end you finally realize you got punked.

Compare this ending to the ending of “The Howling.” I actually won’t. I’m inviting you to do it. I think it’s possible that there are some people in the world who haven’t seen this movie after 35 years, and it shouldn’t be spoiled. Like I said earlier, Joe Dante found the right tone for “The Howling.” It’s funny but it’s also dramatically and logically coherent. The earnest performance by Dee Wallace makes her the perfect focal point. She’s in a campy B-movie, surrounded by comic supporting characters, but she doesn’t act like it. She’s utterly sincere, right up to the last scene, in which she becomes the hero. It is hysterical, but also poignant in a way, and it provides a proper ending to the story.

Dante and company knew that viewers of “The Howling” would want to see a fun, thrilling movie about werewolves, so that’s what they dutifully provided. You will not find machine gun wielding Nazi orcs anywhere in it.