- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 9, 2003

With a witty script co-written by John Sayles and revolutionary make-up effects, director Joe Dante’s 1981 The Howling introduced a new brand of werewolf movie to the shiver screen. The film returns to haunt home theaters in a gala new double-sided special edition from MGM Home Entertainment ($19.98). It’s our…

Video pick of the week

What begins as a psycho thriller — with courageous TV news reporter Karen White (Dee Wallace) acting as human bait to snare a vicious killer (Robert Picardo) — mutates into a supernatural scare film once our understandably shook-up heroine is remanded to the Colony, a New Age retreat, for some much needed rest and relaxation.

But little of the latter can be enjoyed once Karen discovers that the residents of said retreat, from reigning guru Dr. George Waggner (ex-“Avenger” Patrick Macnee) to elderly crackpot Erle Kenton (John Carradine) are full-blooded, fang-bearing, moon-maddened werewolves.

Mr. Dante, Mr. Sayles and co-scenarist Terence H. Winkless achieve a rare balance between effective social satire and legit shocks. Much of the credit for the film’s most frightening sequences belongs to then-21-year-old FX maven Rob Bottin, who executed the bubbling air bladder and extended wolf-head effects that genuinely jolted unprepared audiences of the day.

“The Howling” likewise supplies additional fun for film buffs through its many in-jokes (naming characters after earlier werewolf-movie directors, hiring Roger Corman for a silent cameo) and its casting of such beloved genre icons as Mr. Carradine, Dick Miller, Kevin McCarthy (of “Invasion of the Body Snatchers” immortality) and Slim Pickens.

As for the bonus features, MGM’s set includes virtually everything you ever wanted to know about “The Howling” but were (understandably) afraid to ask: Several cast members join Mr. Dante for an informative audio commentary, while the multi-part documentary “Unleashing the Beast: Making ‘The Howling’ ” details every conceivable phase of production. Outtakes, deleted scenes, a photo gallery and original theatrical trailers further flesh out this lavish edition.

In a recent conversation, we asked Mr. Dante his opinion of the ongoing DVD revolution. “The whole DVD thing has really been a good thing for movies,” he said, “because archival work has actually been taken seriously for the first time by the studios.”

“The Howling: Special Edition” offers ample proof of that.

The ‘A’ list

Several youthcentric flicks head the list of theatrical features making their home video debuts this month. This week, street punk Seann William Scott lands an unlikely tutor in mysterious monk Yun-Fat Chow in Paul Hunter’s action-packed Bulletproof Monk. MGM Home Entertainment’s Special Edition ($26.98) includes filmmakers’ audio commentary, five behind-the-scenes featurettes, alternate endings and more.

Also due this week is Gene Cajayon’s critically acclaimed coming-of-age comedy The Debut (Columbia/TriStar Home Entertainment, $24.95), starring Dante Basco as a Filipino-American teen torn between traditional and contemporary values. The disc comes complete with filmmaker commentary, behind-the-scenes featurettes, a gag reel and more.

Later this month, Paramount Home Entertainment focuses on middle-class Asian-American high-schoolers attracted to crime in Better Luck Tomorrow ($29.99), likewise loaded with DVD extras. All three titles are also available on VHS.

Collectors’ corner

Warner Home Video serves up a seven-course feast for Clint Eastwood aficionados with a septet of remastered titles:

• City Heat, a period comic crime caper co-starring Burt Reynolds.

• Honkeytonk Man, a drama also set in the 1930s that pairs Clint with son Kyle Eastwood.

• Pink Cadillac, an action comedy featuring Bernadette Peters.

• The Rookie, a detective thriller wherein vet cop Clint mentors newcomer Charlie Sheen.

• Tightrope, a mystery with Genevieve Bujold.

• Where Eagles Dare, the World War II cliffhanger.

• White Hunter, Black Heart, an under-seen film that Mr. Eastwood directed and which is based on the real-life exploits of legendary director John Huston (portrayed by Clint).

The DVDs, available now, are tagged at $19.98 each.

Tele-video

Patrick McGoohan (later of “The Prisoner”) completists can now catch that dashing thespian in A&E Home Video’s Secret Agent: Megaset ($179.98), a 13-disc collection containing all 47 episodes of that popular TV spy series. The set is available now.

Phan mail

Dear Phantom: Do you know if the movie The Cat and the Canary, with Bob Hope, is available on VHS?

Gordon Angell, via e-mail

While Paul Leni’s 1927 silent version (Kino Video) and Radley Metzger’s 1978 remake (First Run Features) are available, the Hope edition of that “old dark house” thriller has yet to land a home video release.

Send your video comments and queries to Phantom of the Movies, The Washington Times, 3600 New York Ave. NE, Washington, DC 20002; or e-mail us at: [email protected] Check out our Web site, www.videoscopemag.com.

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