The Howling (1981) | 4K Blu-ray Review


Scream Factory licensed a master The Howling from Studio Canal and released a Blu-ray 9 years ago. While it was better than most of what we had seen today, it was still a fairly flawed release with too much processing, and off colors. So here in 2022 we get a new master from Studio Canal and a fresh new release from Scream Factory, so let’s see if they did a better job this time around.


If after checking out the review, you decide to pick it up, you can find it here*: Buy it here!

The Howling 4K Blu-ray cover art

Tech Specs:

Format(s):UltraHD/4K Blu-ray (BD-100)
Blu-ray (BD-50)
Released By:Shout!/Scream Factory
Release Date:February 15th, 2022
Video Format / Codec:4K: H.265 (HEVC)
BR: MPEG-4 (AVC)
Resolution:4K: Native 4K, 2160/24p
BR: Full HD, 1080/24p
Digital Intermediate (DI):4K (from negatives)
High-Dynamic Range (HDR):Dolby Vision (FEL), HDR10
Aspect Ratio:1.85:1
Audio Format(s):English (4K/BR):
DTS-HD MA 2.0 Mono (48kHz, 24-bit)
DTS-HD MA 5.1 (48kHz, 24-bit)
DTS-HD MA 2.0 (48kHz, 24-bit)
Subtitles:English SDH
Packaging:Dual-disc snapcase with slipcover*

*Slipcover may be limited to initial pressings
Region Coding:4K: Region-free
BR: Region A (locked)

Video Review:

As mentioned in the intro, this is the second time Scream Factory has licensed a new master from StudioCanal and this time it’s in 4K. StudioCanal came out with their own release last year in Europe, but unless you imported it, it has not made it to the U.S. until now. While this is not the same disc, it comes from the same master and shares a lot of the same properties.. Scream Factory’s new release benefits from StudioCanal’s work on both the detail and color front. On the image integrity side of things, the first thing that jumps out to me is just how “not processed” this new image looks compared to that past 2013 release. The older Blu-ray suffered a lot from excessive use of artificial sharpening and digital noise reduction. As a result, much of the perceived detail on that release came from the accentuation of skin textures (and not in a good way), hair and more.

On this release, we see the picture more closely to how it was intended. It was purposefully captured a bit soft to induce a more dream-like experience and that experience is preserved. While soft, there is a higher level of fine detail on clothing, more natural detail on skin and hair and more nuanced detail in environments and props. From the patterns and textures on clothing to a much more delicate look to hair, this is definitely a superior version of this movie. Although on a very quick look from a casual observer one might be fooled into thinking the old Blu-ray is sharper, but that myth quickly gets tossed aside as you sit and experience the film as it is presented on this disc. 

There is a nice layer of film grain throughout this film and it looks properly filmic and organic. The older Blu-ray was processed to attempt to diminish the grain but that ended up looking blotchy and unnatural. This presentation savors the grain and makes for a much more appropriate and less distracting presentation of the film.

Aside from the benefit on the detail side of things, the color also gets a much more refined and natural presentation here. Neutrals remain natural, and the primaries actually are allowed to shine through. The older color grade left many of the red tones highly washed out which left the image looking much more flat and sterile looking. The red lights, blood, skin tones and more now actually appear with the reddish hue they deserve and in side to side comparison there are colors on the werewolf that I always suspected existed but until now had not actually experienced. Blues are richer and greens are more full resulting in a superior color impact. On the dynamic range front, the Dolby Vision powered image gets much deeper blacks, more nuanced shadows and a more dramatic presentation. The whites are still towards white but never push up towards overly bright. The same applies to specular highlights which could have been a bit more punchy, but overall were still good.

That said, this image is not perfect. The softness of the capture, as well as periodic missed focus, does limit the ability of the scan to really push up towards that high end of Ultra HD image quality, and this is likely pushing the best we will see for detail on this particular film.  Colors are more nuanced but not much different from what we find on the Blu-ray. Overall brightness is good, but periodically more subdued than I would have expected. Some of these are nitpicks, but not all.

The included Blu-ray comes from the same remaster and also looks very good. Given the softness limitations, this Blu-ray image is comparable to what we see on the higher resolution disc on the detail front, and it’s colors are close, but not quite as refined. That said, it’s a very good disc as well for those watching on a 1080p screen.

Video Score (4K): 3.9 / 5 (Good)

Video Score (BR): 4.2 / 5 (Very Good)



Comparisons

Audio Review:

Scream Factory gave us some choice here on the audio front and all are very good listening experiences. In addition to the older 5.1 and 2.0 stereo mixes, they have also newly added a stereographic mono mix as the new default track. All three mixes are solid with clear and intelligible dialog and a decent sense of space. The biggest advantage of the 5.1 was the better creation of ambiance with the subtle but important inclusion of those surround channels extending the experience away from the screen. The low end on the 5.1 mix is a bit more authoritative as well, and for those two reasons, this was my personal preference, but I also enjoyed going back to the experience that mimics the original theatrical release. As all three mixes are good, this makes for a nice set of options for viewers no matter what your personal preference is. 

For those who upmix, it only gets a very small boost here and for most of it I did not perceive a large difference based on the information that is directed to the additional speakers. Likewise, I would imagine a native immersive mix likely would have been limited based on the original intent of the audio mix and so I am happy with what we have on board.

Audio Score (4K/BR): 4.5 / 5 (Excellent)

Special Features and Packaging:

Scream Factory came through with a nice selection of archival extras and some new features thrown in. We have two audio commentary tracks across both discs, a series of featurettes and behind the scenes content, deleted scenes, outtakes and more. On top of that they have added 3 new interviews totalling about 50 minutes of content that gave new perspective to the film itself, production challenges and more. While most of it is found on the Blu-ray disc, it’s all really well done and an enjoyable experience for fans of the film and genre.

For packaging, this is in line with most standard 4K releases from Scream Factory with nice custom art on the slipcase, interior case and discs. There’s nothing beyond that in terms of physical features if you buy this from the store, but overall it’s nice packaging for a non-premium level release.

Features Score: 4.4 / 5 (Very Good)

Buy/Upgrade-worthiness:

This is absolutely a worthwhile addition, or upgrade, to your collection. Though the soft image holds this back from any sort of demo quality, the image we did get is a big step forward from the older Blu-ray, the audio choices are well done and the extras not only keep everything great, but adds even more to the experience. While it’s still at new prices, this likely will drop a little bit, but even if it did not, if you are a fan of this film, this is the version to own.

Buy/Upgrade Recommendation: YES!

If after checking out the review, you decide to pick it up, you can find it here*: Buy it here!

Summary and Overall Scores:

This early ‘80s werewolf film finally got a release worth picking up and the folks on the restoration side of things as well as the assembly of features and extras did a great job putting together the currently best release of this movie out there. 

Experience Score**: 4.3 / 5  (Very Good)

** Experience score does not take into account the quality of the film itself, just the technical presentation, packaging and included features.

*DISCLOSURE: By using links on this site, there is no added cost to you, and we may receive a small commission which helps to support current and future work.