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Interview with Gary Brandner (The Howling)

While Joe Dante is the one who is often praised for re-inventing the werewolf mythology with the 1981 cult movie The Howling, the origin of the story came from a 1977 novel by author Gary Brandner. The novel focused on a reporter overcoming a recent breakdown who takes refuge in a colony with her husband, only to discover that it is a haven for werewolves. The book was a critical success upon release and soon attracted the attention of Dante, who had gained minor acclaim for his tongue-in-cheek creature feature Piranha. Both the novel and movie would help to modernise the werewolf myth, along with John Landis’ An American Werewolf in London, released the same year as Dante’s film.

By the time of the movie’s release Brandner had already penned a sequel to his book entitled Return of the Howling, while a third instalment would follow in 1985. But the success that Dante’s picture had received guaranteed that the movie would receive its own sequels, and in the same year as Brandner’s final novel in the series was published, Howling II: Your Sister is a Werewolf was released to negative reviews.

Gary Brandner discusses the origin of the story and his thoughts on the movie franchise it spawned.

How did you first conceive the idea for The Howling and were you always fascinated with werewolves?

After a flock of short mystery stories and a handful of mainstream novels I thought I would take a shot at horror, which fascinated me from my childhood viewing of Frankenstein and Dracula. My agent was not enthusiastic about The Howling, but darned if Fawcett did not buy it on first reading. I was drawn to werewolves for the shape-shifting identity thing. Is there not a wolf somewhere deep within each of us?

How influenced were you by the mythology created in the various werewolf movies over the years, such as Universal’s The Wolf Man?

I’d have to say a lot. Curt Siodmak’s screenplay invented many of the Rules for Werewolves that came to be accepted. The full moon and the silver bullet, for instance. I had to break several of these for dramatic purposes. Most of my research was done with Montague Sommers’ comprehensive book The Werewolf, which chronicles purportedly true reports back to the Middle Ages.

How come you decided to include scenes of rape and adultery in the story and do you feel that sexuality plays a large role in the werewolf legend?

Hey, sex plays a large role in life. Why would a werewolf not partake? Happily, this is one scene in Joe Dante’s screen version that comes straight from the book.

One interesting aspect to the book was the rural community of Drago where the werewolves reside. Where did this idea originate?

In my own fevered brain one night when the moon was full.

Were you involved at all during the early stage of production for the movie adaptation of The Howling and were the earlier drafts closer to the tone and structure of your novel?

Nope. I sold the rights for an exorbitant sum and the next thing I knew I was at the screening.

How do you feel about Joe Dante’s 1981 movie and were you disappointed that it shared little relation to your story?

Joe Dante, despite our personal differences, made a fine movie, although I might have liked to see more of my book in it. However, it has been an annuity for me, so who’s complaining.

Why did you agree to co-write the screenplay for Howling II and how come you decided not to adapt your novel of the same name?

A longish story, which I’ll abridge mercilessly. I agreed for the same reason professional writers agree to anything – money. And, sure, there was a pride of authorship involved. My first draft was lovingly true to the book. At the original story meeting: ‘Gary, this is great, but the producer would like a part for his friend Fernando Rey.’ I dutifully went home and wrote in the veteran actor. Next meeting: ‘Wonderful, Gary, but the money is coming from Spaniards, and they’d like the story to take place in Spain. And, oh yes, Fernando Rey is out.’

Okay, I bundled up my plot and my people and moved everything to Spain. Next meeting: ‘Perfect, Gary, but the Spanish money dropped out and we’re shooting on the cheap in Yugoslavia.’ Here I had to bail out since I had a book contract with a deadline approaching. They hired another writer who is responsible for what you see on the screen. I retained co-screenwriter credits which brings in a few dollars twice a year.

The Howling

The Howling

1991′s Howling VI: The Freaks is noted for being closer to the style of your original novel than the previous films had been. Were you consulted in any way or have you tried to remain detached from the movies?

No. After my experience on Howling II I stayed away.

The franchise has been largely hit-and-miss, have you watched all of the sequels and what are your thoughts on how the series has progressed over the years?

Mostly I just watch ’til I see my credit on screen. Then I mix a Martini and switch to the History Channel.

Have you ever been approached about adaptations to your other Howling novels and would you consider writing a screenplay to a new Howling movie?

Oh yeah. There is a version now filming up in Montreal. I, as usual, took the money and ran. Nobody asked me to do the screenplay. A friend once said to James M. Cain, ‘Jimmy, how can you let the movie people do that to your books?’ Caine replied, ‘Nobody’s done anything to my books. They’re all right up there on the shelf.’ I couldn’t do better than that.

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