Gary Brandner, a horror novelist whose trilogy about “The Howling” gave werewolf enthusiasts much to salivate over and inspired the popular fright film series of the same name, died Sept. 22 at his home in Reno, Nev. He was 83.
The cause was esophageal cancer, said his wife, Martine Wood.
In the first installment of “The Howling,” published in 1977, a werewolf colony lives in a small town in California, hiding its carnivore lifestyle among the human population. A reporter, recovering from a mental breakdown, stumbles onto the colony after she and her husband visit the town for a getaway. The husband is seduced by a female colony member and then turned into a werewolf.
“Even with the flood of horror fiction that has been published in the last two decades, there are very few novels of lycanthropy that stand out,” according to the St. James Guide to Horror, Ghost and Gothic Writers. ” ’The Howling’ is one of these, partly because Brandner constructed a tight, suspenseful plot, partly because he hit upon a novel idea.”
The book was made into a hit 1981 movie, directed by Joe Dante and with a script written by John Sayles and Terence Winkless. The screen treatment was part of an apparent werewolf trend that year in which audiences could also buy tickets to “An American Werewolf in London” and “Wolfen.”
In the film version of “The Howling,” Dee Wallace played the reporter, and Patrick Macnee portrayed a psychotherapist who hosts a television advice program and hides the werewolf colony behind the facade of his Esalen-style retreat.
The New York Times film critic Vincent Canby described the movie as “a horror-hoot for people who think the height of eroticism is watching people in raccoon coats and bad tempers making love. The thing is that they really aren’t people, but werewolves, and the unique contribution of ’The Howling’ to the lore of werewolfdom is that werewolves, like other animals, have sex.”
Although the werewolf colony is destroyed at the end of the book and movie, some of its members survive. Brandner followed the book with two sequels while Hollywood conceived several spinoffs. Brandner received a screenwriting credit for “Howling II: . . . Your Sister Is a Werewolf” (1985), starring Christopher Lee.
Brandner’s other books included “The Beezlebub Business” (1975), about a psychic investigating a satanic spy network; “Quintana Roo” (1984), a zombie story set in Mexico; and “Cameron’s Closet” (1987), in which a young boy’s night fears create a real-life monster. The last was made into a film in 1988.
Gary Phil Brandner was born May 31, 1930, in Sault Ste. Marie, Mich., and grew up around the country following his father on his career as a forest ranger.
The younger Brandner was a 1955 journalism graduate of the University of Washington in Seattle. While employed as a technical writer in the aerospace industry, he sold his first story to Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine in 1969. With the success of “The Howling,” he switched from mysteries to horror and became a full-time writer.
Survivors include his wife of 25 years, Martine Wood of Reno. His earlier marriages to Paula Moon and Barbara Nutting ended in divorce.
“More than twenty years as a writer has taught me that you had better kiss security goodbye,” he once told the reference guide Contemporary Authors. “No more paid vacations, sick leave, health insurance, Christmas bonuses. In return you get to create your own fictional world, reward the good guys, and punish the bad as doesn’t always happen in real life.”
Because he thought a writer’s life dull, Brandner said he often felt obligated to embellish accounts of his own life. His biographical blurbs mentioned him fighting sharks in a coral reef and oil fires in Saudi Arabia. Neither was true.