Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

That werewolf movie with E.T.’s mom and a bunch of new music

NOT OPTIONAL takes a quick weekly look at five worthwhile releases, some recent, some not.

The Howling: Collector’s Edition Blu-ray
Described in Scream as “that werewolf movie with E.T.’s mom in it,” The Howling (1981) sticks out in the filmography of Gremlins director Joe Dante. Absent is the warm whimsy and Chuck Jones-style cartoon mayhem endemic to most of his output; it’s the rare Dante fantasia not suitable for family movie night. (Well, I saw it as a kid, but that’s just a reflection of the ultra-permissive viewing standards in the Dowd household. I also watched An American Werewolf In London, 1981’s other great werewolf movie, before I started grade school.) But Dante’s wicked sense of humor, as well as his deep love of classic cinema, still pokes through this frequently frightening tale of a news anchor (Dee Wallace, a.k.a. E.T.’s mom) who survives her encounter with a serial killer, only to discover that the hippie commune she’s traveled to for a little R&R has a bit of a lycanthrope problem. The special features on Shout! Factory’s new Blu-ray are a mixed bag—there’s a solid making-of doc, a riotous (but recycled) audio commentary, and several skippable interviews. The movie itself, though, is well worth the price. Co-authored by John Sayles during his brief tenure as a horror-movie screenwriter, The Howling alternates first-rate zingers with primo scares. It also features still-impressive effects from makeup maestro Rob Bottin (The Thing), whose big transformation scene serves as a timeless reminder of what creature features lost when Hollywood started making monsters out of ones and zeroes instead of latex and hydraulics. [AAD]


Darondo, Let My People Go
A couple of weeks ago, Darondo died. While the underground San Francisco soul singer isn’t exactly a household name, I’ve been a big fan of his work for some time. Born William Daron Pulliam, Darondo had been making music since the mid-’60s but only really got noticed by the record-digging masses when one of his best tracks, “Didn’t I,” showed up on Gilles Peterson Digs America, the BBC DJ’s 2005 mix. Darondo capitalized on his underground success with 2006’s Let My People Go, a record that’s equal parts funky and heartbreaking. Essentially a compilation of some of Darondo’s ‘70s material, Let My People Go is, as Noel Murray put it when he reviewed the record for The A.V. Club back in 2006, a catalog of “the sounds of the inner city circa 1972.” It’s a great, great summer record, and one that’ll make all your friends jealous about just how in the know you are. Plus—and I know this is a bold statement, but I stand behind it—“Didn’t I” is one of the best songs of all time. Seriously. Listen to it. [ME]

Loma Prieta/Raein split 7-inch
San Francisco’s Deafheaven has been the talk of the metal world seemingly since its demo dropped in 2010, and its most recent album, Sunbather, is drawing nearly universal (and well-earned) praise. Its label, Deathwish Inc., which is owned by Converge’s Jacob Bannon, has been leading the charge of artistically minded aggressive music for years, and Sunbather isn’t the only release with crossover potential this year. Loma Prieta’s split release with Raein offers a similarly mindful, possibly more pummeling, entry into this scene. Loma shares not just geography with Deafheaven, but also unrelenting riffs, largely unintelligible vocals, and the occasional blast beat. But what differentiates them is that Loma deals almost exclusively in short bursts. Its four songs—one of which is a swirling, disorienting cover of Black Flag’s “Spray Paint”—bludgeon with righteous fury, and opener “Immemorial” is a near-perfect distillation of what makes Loma Prieta so invigorating, doing more in 44 seconds than lesser bands can over the course of an album. On the flipside is Raein, a band that’s been active for more than a decade and seems to grow in stature with each new release. They offer up the comparatively lengthy “Love And Death,” which ruminates slowly toward a contemplative end, displaying the band’s ability to disguise a crushing blow in delicate trappings. These five songs barely break eight minutes cumulatively, and while each one stands alone, this cross-continental release is more than the sum of its parts, and these bands more than the scenes that bred them. [DA]


Houses, A Quiet Darkness
A Quiet Darkness is a perfectly descriptive title for Houses’ second album, a downcast, chill collection that won’t brighten your day, exactly. It’s a concept disc (supposedly—it’s not obvious) about a couple separated by a nuclear holocaust and their attempt to reunite. But the duo, which was once slapped with the “chillwave” tag, earns the right to that pretentiousness with measured beauty. These songs have electronic undercarriages, but at their heart are really New Romantic gems. In other hands, they might work in a John Hughes movie. Which isn’t to say that, as presented, A Quiet Darkness is super accessible: It’s gorgeous but also distant, and requires a close listen, preferably with headphones, to be fully appreciated. Songs like the epic “Peasants” make it worth the while, building from a spooky, spare piano to a martial stomp (then back again). The album, which came out in May, might have fallen through the cracks because it’s not glitchy or weird enough for the purely electronic set or poppy enough for those looking for more conventional songs, but it’s worth a listen no matter what side of that line you fall on. [JM]

Share This Story

Get our newsletter