Review: Werewolf – The Beast Among Us

As I stated way back in 2013 when I did a retrospective of The Howling franchise, werewolves are my favourite monsters in basically any medium. Hell, they’re even by far my most picked (and most successful) deck in Smash Up. However, despite all that love, even I have to admit that most werewolf films are total garbage, with only a handful of true gems managing to stand out. That said, if you’re the sort of person like me who can gleefully appreciate a trash film, then there are plenty to pick from in the werewolf subgenre. Hell, I have (on more than one occasion) seen crappy looking werewolf DVDs on video shelves and decided that I needed to see just how bad it actually was for myself. One of the more memorable instances of this was when I saw a copy of Werewolf: The Beast Among Us on a Walmart video shelf and thought that it looked promising… well, promisingly dumb, at least. Fast-forward 5 years and I saw that the film was on Netflix. I didn’t have anything better to do with my Boxing Day evening, so I decided to check it out for a laugh…

Not trying to spoil what my feelings on this movie were, but the official cover art here is definitely hyping you up for a far cooler film than what we actually get.

Werewolf: The Beast Among Us actually has a bit of an interesting history. It was born out of the ashes of the 2010 remake of The Wolfman. That film was a critical and commercial failure and, while I actually really like it (especially the director’s cut), it did not do well with audiences either. At the time, Universal was in the very early stages of trying to get their classic monsters back onto the big screen (in fact, they originally offered Guillermo del Toro oversight for this initiative, which would have been incredible). However, with The Wolfman failing to resonate, Universal thought that their best option with the property was to remake it again. However, this project ended up morphing into a plan for a loose series of low-budget spin-off films of the 2010 remake, although The Beast Among Us was the only one which would actually see the light of day. This is because it would release in the same year as The Avengers, which would lead Universal to attempt to launch The Dark Universe with Dracula Untold and The Mummy (2017), both of which failed to garner any enthusiasm. Considering how difficult it was for me to even explain Universal’s thought process in the last 7 years, it’s little wonder that The Dark Universe has been such a colossal failure.

I’m getting ahead of myself a bit here though. Universal had much more modest aims with The Beast Among Us, aiming for the direct-to-DVD market… which, apparently, was still a thing in 2012. Huh, who knew? 2012 must have been that awkward period where the DVD/Blu-ray market was losing viability but the VOD-release market hadn’t risen to prominence yet either.

The Beast Among Us immediately opens on a bad note with the obligatory “badass monster hunter origin story” which you’ve seen a million times (and which I already covered on my last werewolf movie review, Red: Werewolf Hunter) – a family locks themselves up to protect themselves from the monster, but it breaks in, kills the family, the kid manages a lucky kill and then we get a time-skip. It’s basically the easiest way to establish a “badass” character and lets the audience infer basically everything they need to know about them, but good God has it turned into a lazy shorthanded trope.

From there, we skip ahead to some unspecified time in the mid-to-late 1800s where we get introduced to the kid from the opening sequence, Charles, who is now all grown up and is the grizzled leader of a werewolf hunting group. This group are all colourful and distinct characters… archetypical, but distinct at least (you’ve got your drunken badass, heavy gunner, the hot action girl, the shady guy, etc). As fun as seeing werewolf hunters in action could be, I was worried pretty much right off the bat that Charles would be a crappy protagonist because he tries so hard to be badass that it could have been cringy and campy instead. Luckily, the film seems to have anticipated this and wisely went for a “less is more” approach, making him more of the idealized side-character everyone looks up to. It also doesn’t help that the film really bungles fleshing out any of the characters, especially in the hunting group (again, they’re mainly just a single character trait each rather than characters). The only one with any real development is Stefan (the previously mentioned shady guy), but that is simply because the film wants to utilize him as an obligatory secondary antagonist.

Luckily, the film instead chooses to make its protagonist a doctor’s apprentice named Daniel, whose village is under attack by an unusually powerful werewolf. He isn’t an amazing character either, but he’s definitely the most interesting in the whole cast, makes a good audience surrogate and is someone who you can empathize with. Unfortunately, his love interest, Eva, does not share that same fate, being relegated to the most boring and generic of generic love interests imaginable. Other than that, there’s Daniel’s prostitute mother, a doctor whose name is literally Doc, a stressed out mayor and a con-man hunter named Jaeger (who is actually rather fun to watch).

Anyway, The Beast Among Us starts out really poorly, introducing us to the hunters and to Daniel and Eva, without really giving us a sense of who is who, and jumping between these two perspectives in a confusing manner. In fact, the first 10-15 minutes of the movie are quite difficult to follow, mainly serving to establish the nature of this world that we’re exploring – there is a blight of werewolves on the countryside, people are being slaughtered by them, the citizens will slay those who become infected without mercy, and there are groups of hunters tracking the wolves down to keep people safe. The film also establishes that there’s a new breed of werewolf that is breaking the usual rules of lycanthropy in this universe (namely, that it can transform without the full moon) that has been attacking Daniel’s village, which prompts the hunters to lend their services (in a scene which toes the line between a Jaws rip-off and “homage”). Wanting to see the deaths end, Daniel offers his services to the hunters, who accept with much reluctance.

The Beast Among Us very much looks and feels like a TV movie – a fairly professional and high-quality one, to be fair, but a TV movie none-the-less. That said, it is surprisingly gory. The opening segment of the film establishes how brutal the werewolf attacks are by having mutilated corpses strewn across the streets, forest and falling out of ravaged carriages. Hell, there’s also a scene where Doc and Daniel realize a man they are trying to treat has been infected by lycanthropy, so Doc pulls out a pistol and blows his head off. If you’re looking for buckets of blood, then this film will deliver in that regard.

One unfortunate aspect of the film is that its werewolf is largely realized through CGI. Again, it’s certainly better looking than Red: Werewolf Hunter, likely due to Universal’s involvement in this film’s production, but it still is a far cry from Dog Soldiers or An American Werewolf in London… or, hell, The Wolfman remake. The filmmakers do show some restraint though, as the CGI is mostly used in shots where the werewolf is moving and attacking. There is also a practical costume which is used at times when we’re actually supposed to empathize with the werewolf, which definitely shows some wisdom on the part of the filmmakers and suggests to me that they knew that the CGI was going to be inadequate. The costume actually looks pretty good too, it’s just a shame that they couldn’t find a way to use it more throughout the film.

Anyway, I don’t want to totally spoil the film because for all its problems The Beast Among Us is a reasonably entertaining film with a couple good twists, but it also fails to really leave an impression on you when it’s over. It’s literally forgettable… and I’m not exaggerating about that either. I set up the start of this review to imply that this was the first time I had seen this film, because I honestly thought that it was. However, when I went to go rate it on IMDb afterwards, I saw that I had already seen this movie 5 years ago. Like I said, this film had a couple good twists and isn’t even all that bad, but I had completely forgotten that I had ever seen it – The Beast Among Us is that generic and that mediocre that I never even had a feeling like I might have seen this before. I couldn’t even remember who the main character was going to be or who the werewolf was all along. That’s actually what prompted me to write this review, because it’s interesting how forgettable movies work – I’ll never forget any of The Howling films (even the fourth one, in which literally nothing happens until the last 10 minutes), Project X or Troll 2, because they at least manage to stick with you afterwards. However, a film that doesn’t fail hard enough, or which fails to do anything but stick to bland tropes is harder to recall and may just be the worst fate that can befall a movie.

Like I said, The Beast Among Us is a reasonably entertaining film, but it will not stick with you afterwards. It never really rises above mediocre, but it’s worth the watch if you’re into werewolf films and have a lazy weeknight with nothing better to do.

4.5/10

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Movie Review: Red – Werewolf Hunter

Hey, it’s that time again, my weekly update! Unfortunately, it just so happens to have coincided with a nasty cold, but I’m going to soldier through it anyway. Also, before we get into this review, I mentioned previously that I was paintballing on May 26th – if you’re interested, here’s some of my helmet cam footage from the event.

Anyway, now to get into today’s review of Red: Werewolf Hunter. Yes, after watching all 8 Howling movies I felt compelled to dive into another werewolf movie. Actually, truth be told the movie was referred to me by a commenter on my list of best to worst werewolf movies. Now I’ll admit I didn’t go in with anything but rock-bottom expectations, especially considering that werewolf movies are terrible in general, but even I get surprised sometimes…

The gritty, serious, fairy-tale/fantasy retelling is a strange trend which has been circulating in Hollywood the past few years. I’m not entirely sure where it started, but I believe that it’s current popularity stems from Twilight, 2011’s Red Riding Hood and the novel Pride and Prejudice and Zombies (not a fairy tale obviously, but it made people delve into the public domain to give stories a monster-makeover). One might argue that the serious, horror tone brings these stories away from their childish reputation and back to the violent, horror-tinged source material, but more often than not they just come across as way too self-serious for their own good. Red: Werewolf Hunter actually predates the explosion of gritty fairy-tale movies, and so is caught in a bit of a limbo. The movie is connected to the story of Red Riding Hood in the thinnest of ways (it’s implied that the main character Virginia is descended from Red Riding Hood herself), and references to the fairy-tale feel totally tacked-on. In fact, Red: Werewolf Hunter feels more like Underworld without the vampires than a fairy-tale movie. Unfortunately, it doesn’t feature the professionalism and style which made the first Underworld so damn enjoyable.

Surprisingly for a made-for-TV movie, Red: Werewolf Hunter actually features some recognizable actors in it. The movie features Felicia Day in the lead role of Virginia (a sly nod to Virigina… Woolf perhaps?), and she does her best to be serious with the material, putting in a decent performance. The real star in the film though is Stephen McHattie. Now he might not be a household name, but you’d probably remember him in the number of small parts he’s played in major studio films (such as Hollis Mason AKA Nite Owl 1 in Watchmen or Hammerson in Shoot ‘Em Up). Fittingly, McHattie also puts in the best performance in the movie, acting in a delightfully hammy manner which is befitting of the script. Unfortunately, everyone else is pretty lackluster, further hampered by the film’s insistence on being taken seriously.

Yes, this is seriously what the opening title looks like.

As soon as the movie starts, you know it’s going to be bad. I actually found myself laughing because less than a minute into the movie, grandma gets torn up by a werewolf… and then I found myself facepalming because the movie shows the werewolf full-on less than a minute and a half in. If the movie was trying to build up any sort of horror or dread, they bungled it almost as quickly as AJ Clemente. This becomes even more unfortunate because there doesn’t seem to be any sort of reason why this scene even exists. When I watched the movie I thought that it was about Virginia’s origins or something, but not long after we’re shown that Virginia’s grandmother’s alive and well… maybe it was supposed to be the “true” Red Riding Hood story but the movie honestly gives us no actual answer.

Anyway, if the first 2 minutes sets a terrible tone for the movie, it actually isn’t an entirely clear indication of the movie’s quality. I’m not saying that the movie is good by any means, but it is certainly better than the first 2 minutes would have you believe. The basic plot goes as follows: FBI agent Virginia brings home her boyfriend, Nathan, and has to tell him that her family are werewolf hunters. Nathan gets bitten by a super-werewolf named Gabriel who is teaching the werewolves to turn at will (normally they have to wait til the full moon). Virginia and her brothers try to kill Gabriel and the werewolf clan and hopefully save Nathan in the process. Despite the basic story, the script still manages to screw things up occasionally. For example, when Nathan gets turned into a werewolf, he runs into Gabriel on the road. Gabriel says only 2 or 3 things and then suddenly turns into a werewolf and attacks. Again, no attempt at suspense or horror, just another example of blowing their load as quickly as they can. There’s also the point where there’s a supposedly full moon 3 nights in a row somehow. Furthermore, the characters are drawn two-dimensionally, especially Virginia’s brother Marcus (whose motivations boil down to “I hate werewolves and want to commit genocide against them”). There’s also one super-awkward moment where Nathan basically says “I’m glad I killed that werewolf, I enjoyed it… is that wrong?”, which prompts a full-on make out session between him and Virginia.

“Chicks dig psychopaths.”

The one area where the movie left me pleasantly surprised was the final showdown at the end. With cheap movies like this one I’m used to lots of promise but absolutely no payoff, but Red: Werewolf Hunter manages to actually be pretty cool for a short period. Near the end, Virigina has to defend her home from being attacked by around a dozen werewolves. To do so, she fires a giant, roof-mounted harpoon gun at the werewolves as they attack, and then when they get inside she guns them down and stabs them left-and-right. For a low-budget TV-movie, the climax is quite unexpectedly exciting. Unfortunately, it is cheapened by some hokey plot points (Nathan is locked in a cage to prevent him from killing anyone, but he turns into a werewolf and the door comes open from a couple of light knocks… and then he kills grandma. Dammit grandma make sure you lock the door next time!) and by an ending which makes about as much sense as the opening did.

I’ve mentioned this a few times now, but the movie just feels really cheap, like an amateur production. The sound effects are laughable (there’s a part with generic-sounding thunderclaps, despite there being no lightning or rain) and just like The Howling: Reborn they don’t use wolf sounds for their bloody werewolves – instead, they sound like T-Rexes in Jurassic Park. Wow, I didn’t realize this was such a common problem in werewolf movies, but it’s just plain sad. Is it really that hard to make werewolves have wolf sounds? Does it really make them seem less menacing in any way?

Speaking of the werewolves, they follow the usual “Our Werewolves Are Different” trope. In this incarnation, they can only be killed with silver and only to the heart. Of course, this does not stop people from stabbing and killing them where ever it is convenient. They also have a strange habit of catching fire when they die and leaving a humorously human-shaped ash pile in their wake. Of course, the biggest problem with the werewolves in this movie is this:

No that is not a screenshot from a PS2 game, that’s what the werewolves look like in this movie. For whatever reason, the filmmakers decided to go 100% CGI on all of the werewolves. Apparently they haven’t heard of the debacle which is An American Werewolf in Paris (or perhaps they have, because the werewolf designs are similar…). The cheapness of the effects leads to some particularly awkward moments, such as this gem of CGI garishness:

Why does that werewolf not have a shadow? Why does it try to jump over Virginia? Why does it look like it follows cartoon physics? Why doesn’t Marcus point his repeating crossbow at it? Perhaps most importantly, why does a taser one-shot a werewolf?!! I just don’t understand why they went for such fake-looking effects for the werewolves – is CGI really that much cheaper than practical effects? Look at the effects for Dog Soldiers (which was made for less than $3 million) and An American Werewolf in London:

Those look real. I have a hard time believing that the filmmakers of Red: Werewolf Hunter were so strapped for cash that they wouldn’t have been able to make a werewolf at least as convincing as the one in Howling V (which, by the way, was a pretty damn good looking werewolf). Basically, the werewolves in this movie look like crap just because they didn’t go to the effort to try to make them look realistic.

Anyway, the bottom-line is that Red: Werewolf Hunter is not a very good movie. That said, I think there was a kernel of a good idea in there somewhere. The werewolves have a thing they call “The Game”, where they capture humans, release them all at once and then hunt them for sport. That concept alone could have made for an interesting and fun horror-splatterfest along the lines of Cube and Predators. However, as it stands Red: Werewolf Hunter is little more than an average made-for-TV movie.

3/10

By the way, I notice that I give out a lot of extremely negative reviews on this blog. That’s actually not normal for me – according to IMDb, my median rating is a 7, with 64% of the movies I review being between a 6 and an 8. It’s just that negative reviews are far easier to rant about, hence the disproportionate amount of negative reviews!

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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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