A HOWLING IN THE WOODS (1971)
Article 3691 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 9-7-2011
Posting Date: 9-22-2001
Directed by Daniel Petrie
Featuring Barbara Eden, Larry Hagman, John Rubinstein
What it is: Small-town-with-a-secret thriller
A woman planning on getting a divorce returns to her home town to find the residents hostile and surly. She stays at the hotel owned by her parents, but she begins to wonder about several mysteries – why isn’t her father home? Why does no one talk about the little girl who drowned a few weeks ago? And why is a dog howling in the woods?
I’ve seen the basic premise that drives the first half of the movie (a town with a secret where everyone treats the newcomer/intruder with hostility and surliness) so many times now that I’ve gotten annoyed by it. This is probably because I get tired of the predictability of how this plays out – have the woman discover a clue and then have someone lie to her about it, and repeat this pattern until finally, late in the movie, someone tells her the truth. Fortunately, for this movie, the secret is good enough to make the second half much better; the movie stops being annoying and becomes suspenseful. It makes me really wish they had taken a different approach to telling the story, one that wasn’t quite so hackneyed. However, there are a few points that need to be made. One is that this is really pretty marginal as far as horror content goes. A dog howling in the woods is not necessarily scary, and though the movie flirts with the theme of madness, it remains a flirtation; in the final analysis, this is a mystery/thriller. Second, it is interesting to see Barbara Eden and Larry Hagman unite again after their “I Dream of Jeannie” days, though in truth, Hagman (who plays the Eden’s husband) really doesn’t have much to do in the story.