Retrospective: The Howling: Reborn (2011)

Welcome back for the 8th and final entry in The Howling retrospective! In this post we’re covering the latest entry in the franchise, The Howling: Reborn. After New Moon Rising, no one expected the franchise to continue churning out sequels. I remember there was some talk of a remake, but I think we were all surprised when The Howling: Reborn brought the franchise back from the dead. Were 15 years in dormancy enough to finally fix the series? Read on to find out…

Homage-based poster? Check.

A tiny bit of personal background on this one: this movie is part of the reason I tracked down the Howling movies at all (well, aside from the first one anyway). I probably would have done so eventually anyway because, as a fan of werewolf movies, I try to track films in the genre down when I can. However, The Howling: Reborn kickstarted this series for me when I saw a hilariously silly clip of 2 werewolves fighting like pro-wrestlers on Bloody Disgusting. Then, a couple weeks later, I was with a friend at Wal-Mart and saw the movie on DVD. These two incidents renewed interest in the series for me and caused me to go through the whole series (umm… thanks?).

Anyway, in the latter-half of the 2000s, there was renewed interest in werewolves and other monsters. Underworld had laid some of the groundwork, making werewolves vs vampires a very stylish and cool idea. Neil Marshall’s Dog Soldiers also proved to be the best werewolf movie since An American Werewolf in London, although its influence was more localized than widespread (although it would allow Marshall to make the fantastic The Descent). However, it was the wretched Twilight series which brought the werewolf back into popular consciousness. Despite turning werewolves into romantic, misunderstood hunks, Hollywood still tried to remain faithful to the creature’s origins, releasing a remake of The Wolfman to mixed reaction. Personally, I quite liked the movie (especially the superior director’s cut), but the popular consensus was unfortunately negative. Whatever the case, with werewolves now on people’s minds, it was finally time for enterprising studio executives to reboot the Howling series. Luckily for them, a Twilight-esque script had been floating around long before the Twilight craze actually caught on, and so Anchor Bay Studios picked it up and put it into production. The Howling had officially been reborn.

The movie was written and directed by Joe Nimziki, who was apparently a (former?) studio executive. He had directed an episode of The Outer Limits, but The Howling: Reborn was to be his first full-length feature film. Unlike many modern werewolf movies, due to the lower budget the film would rely almost exclusively on practical effects rather than CGI. This is actually a very good thing – ask any werewolf aficionado and they’ll tell you that CGI has seriously cheapened the werewolf in cinema (for proof, watch An American Werewolf in Paris). While it looked like the series was finally going to return to theaters after a long hiatus, it eventually ended up going straight-to-DVD like all the other Howling sequels post-The Marsupials.

While The Howling: Reborn might have predated Twilight on the script-level, when you watch the movie it’s pretty obvious that the only reason it even exists is because of the popularity of Twilight. Yes, The Howling: Reborn is Twilight with werewolves… er, well, only werewolves. That is to say that it is a teen romance movie featuring werewolves. While this is consistent with The Howling series overall (and good franchises, such as James Bond, intentionally reinvent themselves based on what’s popular at the time), the teen romance angle is totally overplayed at the moment and it makes the movie feel like nothing more than a cash-in. Basically, the movie barely feels like any other Howling movie. However, given how bad previous movies in the franchise have been, that may not be an entirely bad thing.

Unlike most Howling movies, I can’t really complain about the acting. Lindsey Shaw (a former Nikelodian star) is pretty good as the wild-child Eliana, enough-so that you wonder if she might be a werewolf herself (which was clearly the intention). Landon Liboiron also does a fairly decent job as protagonist Will Kidman, although the script basically forces him into being a whiny, emo kid. Of course, once he nuts-up and shuts-up, he’s far more likable. In any case, he’s better than Kristen Stewart’s Bella Swan… *ahem*. Anyway, I also quite liked Will’s best friend, Sachin, even if he is relegated to exposition and plot device (which I’ll get to later). The only major character I disliked was Ivana Milicevic (Le Chiffre’s girlfriend in Casino Royale), who plays Will’s mom, the big, bad werewolf. Milicevic just really hams it up and is just generally annoying… in a lot of respects, she reminds me of a less-skanky Stirba (not a good thing). However, overall the acting is far above that of the majority of the Howling movies.

The plot feels like a cross between Twilight and (strangely) Spider-man. Will’s mother, Kay, is attacked and apparently dies giving birth to her child. 18 years later, Will is a nerdy loser who loves the exotic Eliana, but isn’t able to do much about it until he has an encounter with a werewolf. He soon strikes up a relationship with Eliana, but his mom comes back to bring Will into her pack. Will refuses and he and Eliana fight off Kay and her wolf pack inside of their high school and try to stop her from creating an army of werewolves. All-in-all, it’s fairly simple and hits the beats that a teenage romance movie would be expected to. However, the twist that Kay is still alive makes no sense. For one thing, was she a werewolf before she got attacked by a werewolf? And if not, then how did she become an alpha wolf and give birth to Will? Does being a werewolf give you eternal youth now? The twist just causes a lot of plot holes which are given no answers.

Despite apparently predating Twilight, The Howling: Reborn seems to have a fairly substantial debt to it and other teen romance movies. For one thing, the movie follows the high school stereotypes formula I mentioned in my Final Destination 3 retrospective (nerds, popular girl, bully, jocks, etc). Will’s a whiny emo kid whose voice overs feature grating pseudo-philosophy which is nothing more than garbled bullshit. I want to puke every time his voice overs spout crap like: “I know how to take an exam. I know the periodic elements. I know how to do school. Do I have any idea how to survive the real world?” Ugh, shut up emo. The movie also clearly acknowledges its teen audience in the most obnoxious manner possible:

Sachin: “That’s what studios get for casting geezers in their lead roles. If I want to see people in their forties, I’ll just go home and look at my parents.”

Wow. I like Sachin, but he sounds like a massive asshole there. The line was an obvious dig at Benicio Del Toro in The Wolfman, but it just comes across as ignorant. I also couldn’t help but notice that the movie features Echo & The Bunnymen’s “The Killing Moon”, which is probably best known for being used in the opening of (the amazing) Donnie Darko. Donnie Darko is, of course, a teenage romance movie with some horror elements, so I kind of wonder if its use was meant to be an homage or if Nimziki was drawing from a well of typical teenage romance songs or something. Whatever the case, it’s something I found worth pondering. Finally, and most damningly, the movie even has a bloody wolf pack who are allergic to shirts…

And yet, Ivana Milicevic keeps her shirt on… double standard!

Unfortunately, The Howling: Reborn suffers quite a bit due to its script. Nimziki’s script is just so damn convenient, in that it doesn’t feel “natural” at all. Basically everything that happens just feels like the characters are acting because the script said that they should, and not because they’re acting believably. The script is just loaded with Chekov’s Guns and various other things which exist just to advance the plot in a very transparent manner. One of the most egregious examples which I mentioned earlier is the character Sachin. Sachin just happens to be a horror buff who’s filming werewolf movies and has hacked the town computers or something to broadcast his movies (guess how the movie ends?). Sure, his exposition is not that bad when he sticks to standard werewolf lore, but it really gets egregious when he states that there are “Alpha Werewolves” who can only be killed by other werewolves. Like, how the hell does he know that? It’s conceptually on the same level as the possession werewolves from New Moon Rising. On top of that, having Alphas doesn’t make a lot of sense. How does one become an alpha? Are you born that way? Or do you become one, but if that’s the case then why do you magically become immune to silver/fire? It’s just too damn convenient a concept, and is really obviously used to make Kay more powerful without having to prove herself at all.

There are just so many plot conveniences that I can’t even list them all… but just to give you a sense, I’m going to point out some of the sillier ones. First off, Will and Eliana’s school has an insane security system – like, it has metal doors to lock the whole place down after a certain time. Maybe I just had lax schools, but that seems ridiculously excessive to me (and is only really going to lock school shooters inside the school). However, despite this, the school apparently has no security guards inside, and in fact is quite empty unless the characters are eating in the cafeteria or at their lockers. Like literally, there are almost never any student extras in the backgrounds of the scenes, so it makes the school feel very empty. Back to the terrible security though, it’s apparently lax enough that one of the characters sneaks a freaking handgun in the front of his pants, which he fires off in the stairwells without anyone even noticing. Holy shit!!! And then, even more conveniently, Will finds it later and *surprise, surprise* it’s still loaded (despite having fired it at an attacking werewolf earlier)! Also, the film’s voice over states that Will and Eliana learned how to make FREAKING FLAMETHROWERS in chemistry class. Like, literally, that’s what they say (and the flamethrowers don’t even look makeshift, they look like military-grade weapons). Will and Eliana are also running away from the werewolves when suddenly they decide that it’s the perfect time for them to have sex. I mean, sure they’re horny teenagers, but it hardly seems like an appropriate time for them to get it on. Another extremely silly example is that the school nurses leave scalpels lying around, which Will uses to cut his wrist like the emo kid he is.

Werewolf healing powers. Must be emo.

The only really clever Chekov’s Gun in the whole movie is when Will mentions off-hand that he won 2nd place for the debate team. It’s just a subtle thing, but comes into play because, since he won the silver, he’s able to use the trophy to stab a werewolf to death. It’s quite a funny moment and a good example of how to work in foreshadowing cleverly rather than lazily as Nimziki tends to in this film.

While the script is a cliched mess, the movie does feature some good practical effects. There werewolves actually look half-decent this time around… not as good as the original movie, but they’re definitely a huge step above the majority of the sequels (one looks like a were-poodle though). Unfortunately, these effects are hamstrung by some other decisions in the film. For example, the wolf sounds are (I shit you not) lion roars. Seriously. Who the hell thought that werewolves should sound like lions? That shouldn’t even be a freaking consideration for the sound editing department. Furthermore, the werewolves generally show up on camera like this:

The werewolf scenes are mostly shot with extreme close-ups, shaky cam and rapid-fire editing. This is odd since most of the movie is well shot (more than any other Howling movie). I think they did the Bourne approach to cover up the costumes, but it just doesn’t work (in fact, most movies that have tried to emulate Bourne have failed spectacularly). The effects look good enough to stand on their own, but shaking the shit out of the camera just cheapens their impact. As I mentioned in the preamble, the movie also features a werewolf fight, but it looks like very silly pro-wrestling footage while the actors struggle to move around in their costumes. It’s quite a laughable showdown, and its made all the worse by the terrible editing. Oh, and then there’s the transformation scenes. Remember the transformation clip I showed from New Moon Rising? In a total face-palm of a move, The Howling: Reborn uses the exact same effect.

All-in-all, I’ve really ragged on The Howling: Reborn, but the movie isn’t all that bad. In fact, it’s definitely one of the better Howling movies. Its only real problems are that its script sucks and the teen romance angle is far too overplayed at the moment. Still, it’s a fairly enjoyable movie and worth a viewing. And besides, at the very least…

4.5/10

I’m not sure how well The Howling: Reborn did on DVD, but I’d be surprised if the series was dead yet. Monsters are still big business at the moment (particularly zombies), and considering the low-budget sensibility of the series, the profitability threshold isn’t particularly high. I’m always up for a new werewolf movie, so if they make another Howling then I’ll be sure to see it… even if I haven’t particularly liked any of the movies in the series. Here’s my series breakdown:

1. The Howling – 5.5/10
2. Howling V: The Rebirth – 5/10
3. Howling II: Stirba – Werewolf Bitch – 1/10 (Technically 2nd worst, but it’s hilarious enough to earn this spot)
4. The Howling: Reborn – 4.5/10
5. Howling VI: The Freaks – 4/10
6. Howling IV: The Original Nightmare – 3/10
7. Howling III: The Marsupials – 1.5/10
8. The Howling: New Moon Rising – 0/10

Aaaand that does it for my second retrospective! If you have any comments on this series, I’d welcome them! Also, if you have any suggestions – be it for future retrospective series, or how I can improve my current style – then I’d welcome those as well. If I don’t get any suggestions, then I’ve got a couple retrospective franchises I’d like to tackle soon enough. Finally, if you liked this, then I’d appreciate if you’d “Follow” the blog – I get ~50-250 views a day, but it’s always good knowing that you’re amassing an audience (wow, my views have really shot up since the Final Destination retrospective). Thanks for reading!

Economic philosophizing or cannon-fodder zombies? Hmm…
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Retrospective: The Howling: New Moon Rising (1995)

Welcome back to part 7 of The Howling retrospective! In this entry, we’re going to focus on the seventh entry in the franchise, The Howling: New Moon Rising! I apologize for not updating this sooner, but I just finished school and am now back at a part-time job so my time to watch the movies and then write the retrospective has been cut down a bit. However, I will still commit to getting at least 1 entry out per week. Anyway, after the first few Howling sequels proved to be disastrous, it appeared that the series had started to get on the upswing. Would New Moon Rising continue that trend? Read on to find out…

Neither of these posters have anything to do with the actual movie… not to mention that they look like poor photoshop jobs.

Howling VI proved to be surprisingly interesting and had a quality level which was far better than most of the other movies in the series could boast. As a result, early in the production of the seventh Howling movie, there were plans to make a follow-up to The Freaks, following Ian and the Alligator Boy around eastern-Europe. I’m not entirely sure how that would have panned out, but the production companies, Allied Entertainments Group and Allied Vision (which had produced the previous two Howling movies as well), killed the idea since it likely would have cost a fair bit of money to do properly. Instead, they decided to do a new movie on the cheap – like, I mean the really cheap. Like $250,000 cheap. That’s considerably lower than the budgets for The Evil Dead and Mad Max (before even considering inflation), two movies which are well-known for having extremely low budgets. I get the feeling that the production companies were in dire straits because Allied Vision never produced another movie after this one and Allied Entertainments Group only lasted another 2 years. With the super-constrained budget, the producers got back Clive Turner who would direct, produce, write and star in the film. All-told, this movie was on track to be really bad… but even those modest expectations will not prepare you for the movie that they ended up unleashing on the world.

For no reason, the movie features a montage of these 3 guys drinking.

Let’s get to one of the biggest problems with New Moon Rising: Cliver Turner went and got a whole town of rednecks to be the “actors” in his movie. I’m not even joking about that, the man was so strapped for cash that he literally went into a redneck town and got the people in it to act as themselves for the movie (they’re even cast as their own names). As a result, the cast are all rather uninteresting-looking and older people who I honestly had a lot of difficulty picking out from one another. This also has another major detrimental effect on the movie. Previous Howling movies had usually featured some sort of stylistic theme: The Howling commented on hippy colonies, Your Sister is a Werewolf was filtered through New Wave, The Rebirth was a murder mystery, The Freaks had a freakshow theme, etc. For its theme, New Moon Rising chose country music culture. Now I might be a little biased here, but that doesn’t sound anywhere near as exciting or interesting as any of the previous themes were. While that’s not exactly a death-knell for the country theme, the fact that Clive Turner treats it very stereotypically is. The movie feels like just a bunch of typical hicks doing hick things in hick town USA. Most egregiously though is the degree to which the country theme is shoved down our throats. The movie features 4 extended scenes of line dancing (with absolutely no justification to waste our time watching them) and at least 12 country music montages (7 of which are in the first 20 minutes). I’m not even talking about the country music on the soundtrack here – I’m talking about moments where the movie basically turns into a country music video. The music is just extremely generic too, and more than half of it seems to have been written by the redneck townsfolk, which doesn’t help. That much country in an 85 minute movie is just sickening. In all, even if you really love country music and the intricacies of line dance technique, I get the feeling that New Moon Rising will try your patience.

You probably hoped that the line dancing thing was a joke, didn’t you? I can assure you it is not.

The budget constraints also mean that the movie looks exceptionally cheap. One of Howling VI‘s greatest strengths was that it looks quite professionally shot. New Moon Rising looks like a made for TV movie. Similarly, the audio seems to be nearly always recorded on-set. Whenever they rerecord the dialogue or do audio overlays, it’s really obvious (because they’ll cover their mouths or turn their backs to the camera) or really badly recorded (it sounds like they spoke into a tape recorder or something). The movie also reuses a fair bit of footage from Howling IV-VI. What the hell were they thinking?! Has there ever been a good movie which cut costs by reusing footage? Silent Night, Deadly Night 2 is widely mocked for it. One of the worst movies I’ve ever seen, Mega Shark vs Giant Octopus, reused all of its own footage shots multiple times. I saw one estimate that they reused 10 minutes of footage, but that sounds kind of high to me. This movie reuses a lot of footage for pointless flashback sequences, but they also reuse werewolf footage from the previous movies so they wouldn’t have to buy a new costume. Holy shit, can they do anything right in this movie?

The make-up and special effects in the movie are horrendous. The above image isn’t a Jackson Pollock painting or an alternate cover for Metallica’s Reload – it’s what the werewolf-o-vision looks like in this movie. Clive Turner basically turns the footage totally red, making it almost incomprehensible what is occurring on screen (made even worse by the fact that some of these sequences go on for a good minute). If this is how werewolves see, then they need to see an optometrist for an eye exam. On top of that, the werewolf costume is shit, the worst ever. It’s only slightly overshadowed by the transformation sequence, which is an absolute abomination. Prepare to gouge your eyes out when you see this:

That, by the way, is the only werewolf footage in the whole damn film and it comes about 1 minute before the credits roll. Holy hell, I know I defended Howling V on this very point, but at least that movie had some fleeting shots of the werewolf (not to mention that the shots we did see looked quite good). The werewolf which shows up for 1 second in this movie looks so fake that I’m willing to bet that Clive Turner picked it up at a Value Village during post-Halloween discount sales.

The acting in this movie is on par with Howling IV… that is to say, it’s horrid. I’m not even exaggerating when I say that the very first lines of dialogue in this movie are absolutely atrocious. They can’t even say “Jesus Christ”, “Holy shit” and “Mother of God” with any sort of emotion. People say that CGI produces bad acting because the actors don’t have anything to emote to, but these guys were standing right there in front of a skeleton prop in the middle of the desert and they couldn’t show any more care than they would if someone had said “Good morning” to them for the hundredth time. These are just three random yokel extras, but the other actors aren’t much better. Clive Turner stars as Ted Smith… except that he’s playing his character from Howling V, who was named Ray Price… it doesn’t make a lot of sense, but we’ll get to that later. Clive Turner might have the best performance in the movie, not that that’s saying much since it’s thoroughly mediocre. The real life townsfolk can’t even play themselves convincingly, which is just sad. The only other “real” actors who play a big part in the film are a Priest and an Investigator, but I think they might be actually guilty of overacting more than anything. Oh, and Romy Windsor, the woman who played Marie Adams in Howling IV, reprises her character from that film… and true to character, she is the absolute worst actor among the bunch. You’ve got to at least had it to Romy for keeping things consistent. How in the hell did she ever have a successful film/TV career?

As bad as the acting is, the script is the real killer here. I think that part of the reason that the townsfolk and Clive Turner put in such poor performances is because she script is just awful. If you remember Ray Price’s dialogue in Howling V (which Clive Turner co-wrote), his character tended to always have a punchline on hand. The difference here is that his jokes actually were rather clever in Howling V, and that he provided most of the comic relief himself. In New Moon Rising, basically everyone is written like Ray Price, and their jokes are abysmal. Check out this horrid assault of rapid-fire puns:

Jim: [You’re] from Australia?
Ted: I flew most of the way!
Brock: Your arms tired?
Ted: Only when I flap them!
Jim: That could give ya “arm-ritis”!
Ted: That’s alright, I just had a bout of “hip-ititis”!
Jim: Yeah? A little bit further down your leg, you’ll probably get “knee-monia”!
Brock: Hell, I’d be more worried about “smallcox”!
Ted: Well, I’m pretty lucky there! I’ve already had “dicktheria”!

Beyond the awful dialogue, the “plot” of the movie is just plain terrible – so bad that I’m going to have to split it into multiple paragraphs to cover the strands of awful which permeate it. The first of these issues is the main storyline itself, which is frankly less coherent than the home movies I made in high school with my brothers (in which we made up everything on the spot). The main plot is just plain boring: Ted Smith comes to town and hangs around a bar. Oh, and a werewolf will kill someone once in a while, but apparently line dancing deserves more screen-time than werewolves do. I can barely tell you any real details about the plot, in part because it is chocked full of so much useless filler. Why does Clive Turner think we care about synchronized drinking? Why does he think we care about a granny playing the spoons enough to show it multiple times? Why does he think we care about 3 grown men zipping their flies up and down while they sing a ditty? Why does he think we care about F–KING LINE DANCES?

If you thought grown men playing with their flies was immature, wait til you see the random fart joke.

Turner’s script also just plain fails to set out to create the very basics of a mystery story (something which it seems to want to do). For example, it seems that Turner wants to create some ambiguity about whether Ted is a werewolf, but the man completely bungles this by having Ted get attacked by the werewolf about halfway through. Furthermore, in a mystery you should have good characters to create a certain amount of suspicion about “whodunit”. In New Moon Rising, the characters are so incredibly ill-defined that I don’t think I could tell you more than a couple of their names. It’s so bad that I don’t recall ever seeing the woman who turns out to be the werewolf until she reveals herself at the end (although I’m sure she was there the whole time… and that’s made even worse because it was my 2nd time seeing the movie, so I should know who the werewolf is…).

There’s also a second plot strand in which a priest and a private investigator discuss the werewolf killings, but it’s integrated with such incompetence that it’s actually quite laughable. The pair only talk for about 10 minutes, but Clive Turner chops up the footage so that the pair have been talking for 3 days straight (when they very clearly have not). Their whole purpose basically amounts to spewing exposition at the viewers and to pad out the runtime. There’s also the question of how they know the things they claim. For example, the priest says it takes 3 years for a werewolf to mature and gain new powers… conveniently, it has been 3 years since Howling V occurred although that doesn’t cause either man to have any sense of urgency. There’s also retarded plot contrivances, such as Clive Turner deciding that werewolves can possess people now because he couldn’t get Elizabeth Shé back to play Marylou. Of course, sometimes their dialogue is just plain hilarious, such as when the priest claims that Ray Price/Ted Smith became the fall-guy in Howling V because “he was the only Australian”. For one thing, that’s not even what happened in Howling V and since when do people conspire against Australians? Well, aside from Games Workshop anyway. The convenience of their parts is also really jarring because the investigator is skeptical the entire time, but then out of the blue he does a 360 and is suddenly the one lecturing the priest on the business of werewolves.

The other major fundamental flaw in the script is that Clive Turner tries to connect Howling IV-VI together. While that’s a difficult undertaking considering how different and unconnected each of these films is, if it can be handled well then it’s a potentially good thing. Of course, since this is Clive Turner we’re talking about, of course he failed on an epic scale. There’s the part about Ray Price/Ted Smith that I already mentioned which doesn’t make any sense… but it’s even worse considering that he died. Like, you even see his dead body on-screen. I even screen-capped it to prove it:

Are you telling me that getting attacked by a werewolf (which, I must mention, killed 7 or 8 other people in the same movie with no problem) and lying in a blizzard for a few hours with no way of leaving isn’t fatal? Couldn’t Clive Turner just have made up a new character for himself? Then there’s other problems where Marie Adams says that Ted Smith is a werewolf because Clive Turner played a werewolf extra in Howling IV… not that you can reliably ID a werewolf, but that’s besides the point. That’s just a useless connection which just confuses things even more. Then there’s the really stupid connections, like saying that a VHS tape of Howling VI was a home video taken at the circus… which makes no sense because not only is this “home video” edited, well shot and feature multiple camera angles, but it’s taken from the vantage point of the bloody werewolf, not the audience. The only clever connection is using the Elizabeth Shé cameo in Howling VI to work her into the movie, but the rest of Turner’s attempts are one failure after another.

Bottom-line: this movie features no blood, no violence, no suspense, no horror, no cool effects… nothing. There is not a damn thing worth recommending in this movie. And I’ve had to watch it twice. That’s more times than I’ve watched Apocalypse Now, The Godfather, Tokyo Story, and various other assorted classics. The movie was so bad that it killed a production company and ended the Howling series’ profitability as a direct-to-video franchise. New Moon Rising is by far the worst movie I’ve ever seen, beating out such esteemed contemporaries such as Birdemic, The Room, Troll 2,  Mega Shark vs Giant Octopus and Teenage Zombies. THIS MOVIE IS GARBAGE, AND GARBAGE BELONGS IN THE GARBAGE BIN!!!*

0/10

Be sure to come back soon for the final entry in this retrospective: The Howling: Reborn!

*Just to stave off any confusion, I am not LittleJimmy, but my retrospectives series were largely inspired by LittleJimmy’s fantastic “What Happened to the Alien and Predator Series?” videos. I cannot recommend watching them enough.

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Retrospective: Howling VI: The Freaks (1991)

Welcome back to part 6 of The Howling retrospective! In this entry, we’re going to focus on the sixth entry in the franchise, Howling VI: The Freaks! With The Rebirth being surprisingly decent in spite of itself, could The Freaks take the series in a positive new direction? Read on to find out…

I’ll get to it later, but there’s a reason why you only see the werewolf’s eyes on the poster…

For the sake of continuity, it is notable that Howling VI is the first entry in the series since The Original Nightmare to not feature Clive Turner in any capacity. The movie was the first movie directed by Hope Perello (who is apparently the director of the Space Arts Center in Pasadena now… who knew?), although she had done some second-unit directing and miscellaneous crew work previously, including working on… uh… the original Troll. Okay, not a particularly impressive CV, but the same can be said about almost everyone who worked on a Howling sequel. The script was written by Kevin Rock who… oh God, really? Kevin Rock would go on to write the script for the legendary Roger Corman Fantastic Four movie, which was so bad, Fox never intended to release it (they just wanted to hang onto the film rights). This just keeps getting worse.

Howling VI has an interesting and fresh premise, portraying its protagonist as a sympathetic werewolf. It also largely takes place in a travelling freakshow, which provides a strange but intriguing backdrop for all the action. Sure, a large chunk also occurs in a small town, but the freakshow is at least far more visually engaging than series staples, such as “cave in the outback” or “cabin in the woods”. It’s also worth pointing out that this is one of the earlier examples of werewolves vs vampires in film, predating Underworld (the movie which would make the trope a staple of popular mythology) by more than a decade. The movie was also filmed quite well – Hope Perello and cinematographer Edward Pei did a good job of ensuring that the picture and cinematography were crisp and professional-looking (which is more than what can be said of most of the previous entries in the series).

It’s also refreshing that, despite the limited budget, the make-up effects look quite good. In fact, the make-up is so good that you can’t even recognize the leads underneath it. The best of these would have to be the vampire, Harker, who has a very cool and effective design (as seen above). However, even relatively minor makeup effects, such as the “Alligator Boy”‘s scales, look quite good. The only problem I have with the make-up is that the main attraction – the werewolf – is a bit of a double-edged sword. On the one hand, the werewolf costume has been designed in such a way that the wolf has hind legs like a real canine would, which is quite impressive and cool looking. On the other hand, its face looks like this:

That’s… pretty damn ugly. It’s more wolf-man than werewolf. The design looks a bit better in the actual film, but it’s still a far cry from the werewolf effects from the first film. At the very least, it looks better than some of the embarrassments which have tried to pass for werewolves in the previous Howling sequels. There’s also actual transformation sequences in this movie as well, which are a big plus. Of course, the movie is running on a fairly low budget, so some of the effects look pretty cheap at times – particularly when Harker dies from sunlight, you can see the fan inside of the paper-mache skull which is tearing the body apart… but still, all things considered, the effects and make-up are fairly well done.

Howling VI carries on the tradition from Howling V where the leads aren’t terrible actors. In fact, Bruce Payne (who plays the vampire, Harker) puts in a good performance as the slimy, charismatic villain. He definitely steals every scene he appears in and elevates the film by himself. Brendan Hughes (who plays the werewolf, Ian) does a decent job as well, although he swings between decent and mediocre inconsistently. The other roles range from decent (the priest) to pretty bad (the sheriff and Elizabeth), but no one hits the rock bottom levels of The Original Nightmare thankfully. Also worth pointing out (as it ties into the next entry in the series), Elizabeth Shé appears in a cameo at the carnival and is actually credited as Marylou, her character from Howling V. In this movie, it’s a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it affair (if you even recognize her at all), but it doesn’t really tie into the actual plot at all so it’s really not that important.

That’s her there in the polka dots.

Unfortunately, the story and script aren’t really all that great. It looks like Kevin Rock bungled things on his end, while Hope Perello held up her end quite well. The story basically boils down to: man comes to town, freakshow comes to town, man gets captured by freakshow because he’s a werewolf, man gets abused for a while until he kills the vampire ringleader (who he has a past with). It’s a little more interesting to watch it, but overall it’s just not that compelling. There are also some half-baked subplots (including a romantic interest), but they don’t really amount to much. One particularly egregious example of this is that Ian is told that he killed Elizabeth when he transformed into a werewolf, but less than 5 minutes later he finds out that she is not… so what was the point of that? It’s also hard to believe that all the work Ian does in the church when he first arrives in town (totally residing it, varnishing the siding, polishing the windows, completely cleaning the interior of the church, etc) was done in a day. That said, it may not have been only a day, but the editing and a bit of dialogue seems to imply that it was.

The final 20 minutes are also rather campy, where the vampire finally starts killing the townsfolk like a generic horror monster. There’s also a vampire vs werewolf fight which isn’t nearly as cool as it sounds, and really just comes across as hokey. Ultimately, the script is what brings down Howling VI, because the movie certainly had some potential to be at least mediocre. As it stands, the movie is interesting and worth seeing if you have any interest in the idea of a werewolf in a freakshow, but very flawed.

4/10

Be sure to come back soon for part 6 of this retrospective, The Howling VII: New Moon Rising!

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Retrospective: Howling V: The Rebirth (1989)

Welcome back to part 5 of The Howling retrospective! In this entry, we’re going to focus on the fifth entry in the franchise, Howling V: The Rebirth! Five movies in, and the only passable movie was the first (with each of the successive sequels managing to redefine the concept of “suck”)… does The Rebirth even stand a chance? Read on to find out…

Despite failing pretty spectacularly on Howling IV, in part due to no one wanting to finance the damn movie, the Howling movies were still making quite a bit of money from VHS sales. As a result, a fifth movie in the franchise was greenlit and fast-tracked, being released only 6 months after the previous film. By all accounts, that’s nuts. I’m guessing production must have started before Howling IV was even finished, but still… a 6 month turn-around time is unprecedented and almost certainly spells bad things. This fast-tracking also meant that the movie was running on a fairly low budget, cutting down on the number of actors and sets required. It’s also worth noting that Howling IV‘s werewolf costume was reused for this film… the good werewolf costume that is (probably best of all the sequels too), so not exactly a bad thing. The movie was largely filmed in Hungary in an old castle and on some castle sets. I can’t help but wonder if they wrote the script entirely around this location, or if Black Knight or something had just wrapped up filming and someone wanted to make the most out of the unused castle sets. Whatever the case, Clive Turner is back again as co-script writer and in a fairly important acting role as well. Sure, he was involved in Howling IV but, to be fair, wasn’t really responsible for its failures (at least, not that I can see) so it’s not exactly a strike against Howling V.

Howling V moves from the outlandish setups of the previous films into something far simpler – a murder mystery. I’m not entirely convinced that this is coincidental, but a remake of Ten Little Indians was released the same year, so the producers might have been trying to cash in on that interest. Whatever the case, Howling V features a very generic mystery set-up with a bit of a monster movie twist: a group of strangers are isolated together in a castle and soon discover that, one by one, they’re being knocked off by a werewolf who is hiding among them and must discover who they are before it’s too late. It’s a very generic set-up, but it’s still effective (and refreshing compared to the failed plots of the other Howling movies. It also reconnects this movie to the themes of the first Howling, in that it emphasizes mystery and horror. The plot also allows a sense of paranoia to be created quite effectively – it’s not exactly at the levels of The Thing (who can hope to measure up to that anyway?), but you will be guessing and second-guessing who the werewolf is until around the last 15-20 minutes, at which point it starts to become fairly obvious. That said, I won’t spoil who the werewolf is in case you want to watch the movie (although I will mention some of the people who die, so keep that in mind).

Unlike the acting in the other Howling sequels, the performances are actually decent across the board. No one really stands out as being good, but most of the actors manage to put in acceptable performances. That’s pretty damn important, because Howling V is a character-based mystery. The fact that the cast does a fairly decent job helps to distinguish everyone and keep the film from failing on the same level as Howling IV. Really, only a couple cast members stick out for bad acting… which is better numbers than even the first Howling can brag about. Stephanie Faulkner (who plays Gail Cameron) starts out decently, but by the time the group reaches the castle, basically everything she says sounds unconvincing or flat. Luckily, she dies fairly early so she doesn’t bring things down too much. William Shockley (who plays Richard Hamilton), on the other hand, is decent for quite a while, but around the halfway point he begins to become very grating. The only other actor who puts in a sub-par performance is Elizabeth Shé (who plays Marylou Summers). However, she is somewhat exonerated by the fact that she is supposed to be playing a stereotypical bimbo… and beyond that, I kind of liked her (from what I’ve seen though, there are quite a few people who disliked her acting so I’d be remiss to not mention her). Even the writing’s pretty funny at times… and not unintentionally so like in Howling II. Here’s a couple snippets that I found quite clever:

Bartender: “Enough to turn you off women…”
Ray: “Not when you consider the alternative.”

Marylou: “It’s not easy to pretend to be stupid!”

Catherine: “You, Mr. Price, you look like a man motivated by purely primary needs”
Ray: “You could be right, but it doesn’t necessarily support the theory. For example, when I first met you, I thought you looked like a nice person.”

One thing which a lot of people who see this movie bitch about is that the werewolf very rarely appears. As a result, a lot of people mock it and say it’s not even a werewolf movie at all, and that the movie is basically just a bunch of people running around for an hour and a half. However, I would argue against this evaluation. Yes, the werewolf rarely appears and there isn’t really all that much violence, but the movie makes up for this with the sense of mystery and paranoia. The werewolf in this Howling fits the Jaws ideal: hiding the monster from us makes it more effective. Considering how often we have been subjected to terrible looking werewolves in the other Howling sequels, this is a good change which brings them back a certain amount of mysteriousness and threat. Also, rather than causing the movie to be boring (like Howling IV), the rest of the movie is able to hold itself up in the absence of an on-screen werewolf.

All-in-all, I actually quite liked Howling V… this is probably somewhat heretical, but I even liked it more than The Howling at times. Unfortunately, the only thing really holding it back is that it’s very derivative and that the acting ranges from mediocre to sub-par. Still, considering how cheaply and quickly it was made and its awful pedigree, Howling V is quite a lot of fun. That said, it’s quite divisive since it doesn’t have a ton of werewolf action, and so I know I’m probably in the minority on this evaluation. Still, I’d recommend checking  this movie out, especially if you have watched the other Howling movies. If nothing else, it looks like a masterpiece in comparison.

5/10

Be sure to come back soon for part 6 of this retrospective, Howling VI: The Freaks!

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Retrospective: Howling IV: The Original Nightmare (1988)

Welcome back to part 4 of The Howling retrospective! In this entry, we’re going to tackle the fourth entry in the series, Howling IV: The Original Nightmare! With Philipe Mora gone and a new personality climbing on board, would the series stop spiraling out of control? Well read on and find out…

Yes, that is actually its professional poster.

After Howling III irredeemably tarnished the last of the series’ good will, it seemed that the producers wanted to try and start fresh and get the series back on track. As a result, Philipe Mora was gone and a new team took over. Among this team was one of Howling IV‘s writers, Clive Turner, who would become a fixture of the series for the next 4 entries. Perhaps hoping to redeem the Howling franchise, Turner and the other writers went back to the basics, choosing to re-adapt Gary Brandner’s original novel. As a result, Howling IV feels a lot like a remake of the first Howling movie, but it is actually closer the novel than the first movie was. The director was also not a total B-movie no-namer this time around, as John Hough signed on at the last minute. I’m not exactly familiar with Hough’s films, but I have seen Escape From Witch Mountain and its sequel before, so the man wasn’t exactly an unknown. However, despite the attempts to start fresh again with the series, the film wasn’t able to get cinematic distribution and ended up going straight-to-video (as did all future Howling movies)… that doesn’t necessarily mean that it sucked, but it’s usually not a good sign. It also doesn’t help that the movie had its budget slashed when financial backers pulled out. Cliver Turner was actually supposed to direct originally, but when the financiers pulled out he had to get Hough in to complete the movie with what little money was left. Interestingly, Hough filmed most of the movie in South Africa, but there was so little money available that entire sections of the movie were filmed without sound. Wow, I didn’t even realize that was a budgetary consideration.

One of the major problems with Howling IV is the actors. Literally, from the first line of dialogue spoken in the film, you can tell that the performances are going to be god-awful. Almost everyone (especially Romy Walthal, who is supposed to be the freaking lead) are absolutely atrocious. The only one who puts in a moderately decent performance is Susanne Severeid, who plays former nun Janice. She’s still pretty bad, but is noticeably a step above everyone else which makes her a bit more sympathetic. I know that bad acting is a hallmark of the Howling series, but it really hurts Howling IV more than the others for reasons I’ll get to soon. If nothing else, Howling IV feels like a far inferior copy of the original movie, if only because the acting is so bad.

As for the plot of the movie itself, it obviously feels very similar to The Howling. It sort of makes me wonder if the producers weren’t trying to pull a Return of the Living Dead: Part II, where it’s basically the same movie done over again, rather than trying to freshen up the series (that part was speculation by me). Whatever the case, Hough decided to cut out the camp and sleaziness that the Howling films had reveled in for the past 7 years and instead went for a serious take on the source material to differentiate it… unfortunately, the aforementioned terrible acting makes taking the film seriously next to impossible. The movie also has some questionable logic gaps which further hurt its cause. For example, there’s a major plot point that a character who repeated “We all live in fear” was actually saying “Werewolves are here”… umm, those sound absolutely nothing alike, no matter how many times you slur them together to try to convince us otherwise. Also, if the only way to kill the werewolves is in the bell tower, why did they transplant that bell tower from Transylvania to America?

However, the movie’s biggest problem though is that it’s just plain boring and I didn’t really care about much of anything that happened. I can’t even tell you half of the characters names. Nothing happens until 80 minutes in (of a 90 minute movie), at which point one of the characters spontaneously starts melting. It’s a really weird scene because it’s completely out of left field, but it sets off about 10 minutes of mediocre werewolf action. At least the other Howling movies were a bit of exploitative fun, even if I didn’t particularly enjoy them. By trying to be serious, the movie ends up just being a slog (its equivalent of the “sleazy” character from the first movie ends up being rather flat… well, in the acting department anyway; I dunno what her character’s name really was but I think “torpedo tits” is probably the most appropriate honorary nickname for her).

That’s a werewolf, apparently…

The movie also suffers from having some terrible looking werewolf effects. While the main creature actually looks quite good, all the other ones are embarrassingly bad. They look like ugly, old people with prosthetic teeth and dark makeup around their eyes. And then there’s the even more embarrassing scene where a dozen German Shepherds with red overlays over their eyes come running in – this is supposed to be an army of werewolves. Of course, this is likely due to the budget getting slashed, but that’s no excuse for what we end up getting subjected to.

Clearly I don’t have a lot to say about Howling IV… and that’s because there isn’t much to say about it. It’s largely boring, shoddy and has yet another awful ending. The movie would have benefited immensely from some better acting, proper makeup and quicker pacing, at which point it might have actually surpassed the first movie. However, as it is, Howling IV just feels like a really weak remake.

3/10

Be sure to come back soon for part 5 of this retrospective: Howling V: The Rebirth.

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