Sunday, July 28, 2013

The Howling by Gary Brandner (1977): Don't Scratch At No Doors

Mostly by-the-numbers horror tale featuring vaguely described werewolves, The Howling at least revived the long-dormant lycanthrope trope and let it loose into the modern world via its unfaithful yet awesomely fun 1981 film adaptation. And while Gary Brandner's paperback original (Fawcett World Library, 1977) isn't as blood-and-guts gory as one might think, it doesn't stint on graphic sex. Its opening rape scene is tawdry in the extreme but at least Brandner can write okay, nothing special but not terrible either. Appreciate the fact that The Howling is not overly long, moves quickly, is lean and sometimes mean.

1978 UK paperback

One bothersome trait: he kept referring to the werewolves as simply wolves - like Benchley in Jaws, repeatedly referring to his monstrous Carcharodon carcharias as simply a fish - which I found distinctly underwhelming (I have always thought of werewolves as having both human and wolf physical characteristics). The transformation sequence doesn't shock or surprise, gets the job done, and simply underlines the point that werewolf stories are best told in images and not in prose. I mean we all remember Cycle of the Werewolf, right?

What the novel does have going for it is a powerful vein of erotic abandonment (which fortunately did make it into the movie), something I don't think had been seen much in werewolf stories prior. There are several sequels too. And check out Brandner's interview in Dark Dreamers, in which he relates the sad, frustrating, rewardless travails of trying to write werewolf stories for Hollywood. But I must mention Whitley Strieber's Wolfen  or Thomas Tessier's The Nightwalker for those interested in really provocative, well-written, thoughtful wolf tales. The Howling is pulp horror through and through - and it's not, I probably don't have to tell you, in any way, shapeshift or form, in the tradition of 'Salem's Lot whatsoever.


Luis said...

I have a soft spot for The Howling, since, if memory serves was the very first horror novel I ever read having previously read only short story collections. I remember being shocked and titillated by both its erotic and horror content. In fact I agree with the review that describes it as "lean and sometimes mean" which I think sums up the book perfectly.

J F Norris said...

Love the movie, never read the book. I've never seen a copy of it anywhere, in fact. Kind of odd. I have a treasured 1st edition with DJ of THE WOLFEN in superior condition. One of these days I'll get around to reading it. What do you think of Leslie Whitten's MOON OF THE WOLF? One of the better examples of a genre blender of detective novel and contemporary horror novel, I think.

You ought to try some of the older werewolf classics: DOOR OF THE UNREAL, GREY SHAPES (a strong case for plagiarism in the former book), and THE UNDYING MONSTER. All of them have been reprinted in paperback versions. There is even a cheap e-book of the last one.

Will Errickson said...

A reader of TMHF sent me some paperbacks, one was this one. I've never seen it anywhere either, maybe the movie tie-in back in the day. As for Whitten, I featured the cover of MOON a little while back, but haven't read it. I enjoyed his PROGENY OF THE ADDER, definitely a precursor to TV's Night Stalker. Will be on the lookout for these other werewolf titles, thanks!

Unknown said...

Can I add a few: Moon Dance by S.P. SOMTOW, Blood Of The Wolf by Jeffrey Goddin and Wolf Tracks by (I think) David Case. 🐺

Padded Cell said...

Gary Brandner is always solid. I like that his books are all story. He doesn't spend 300 pages setting things up.

He'll fit the whole book in that space. He's sort of Richard Matheson lite.

He didn't write anything groundbreaking like Matheson, but they both wrote books that were lean and focused.

The Howling II and III are both pretty good. (The movie sequels aren't based on the sequel books.)

As a side note, the term "werewolf" isn't usually accurate.

A werewolf would be a person part of the time and a wolf part of the time.

But most werewolves in books and movies are a person part of the time and then an enormous, vaguely wolf-like monster.

They're not really much like wolves, except for the snout.

In most cases, they don't even walk on four legs.

Mike said...

What I think was meant by "in the shocking tradition of 'Salem's Lot" was that, just like everyone (with the exception of two people) becomes a vampire in Jerusalem's Lot (the town of Stephen King's novel), everyone in Drago (the town of Gary Brandner's novel) is a werewolf.