Saturday, October 15, 2011

Halloween Havoc: HOWLING IV (1988) and HOWLING V (1989)

14-year-old me on HOWLING IV: “Okay, Philippe Mora is gone, that is a good sign. And Fangoria did a profile on FX guy Steve Johnson and the werewolf stills looked pretty awesome. And what’s this? They signed John Hough to direct? Damn, he’s done some good films including THE LEGEND OF HELL HOUSE. The series could be getting back into shape here.”

36-year-old me: “You freakin’ dumbass.”

With all the accuracy of a full moon on the lunar calendar, the HOWLING series reared its head just a year later with a fourth entry. Despite the artistic damage done by HOWLING III, the film proved to a home video success and ensured at least one more sequel. The producers were howling all the way to the bank. Things definitely changed for the furry films though as, outside of panning reviews, Fangoria didn’t cover the films at all and theatrical prospects in the US disappeared. Yup, HOWLING IV was the first to go direct-to-video and the series has remained there ever since.

Best selling author Marie Adams (Romy Windsor) has a nervous breakdown after she starts seeing things like blood running from her eyes, ghost nuns, and werewolf heads leaping out of a grill flame. Her doctor suggests she take a break and Marie’s husband Richard (Michael T. Weiss) books a secluded cabin in the woods for some much needed R&R. The couple decides to visit the nearby town on Drago, where they meet an odd assortment of townies including seductive shop keeper Eleanor (Lamya Derval). Unfortunately, this little getaway has done little to calm Marie’s mind as she still sees visions of this mysterious nun and hears an odd howling every night. The stress drives her husband away, resulting in him having an affair with Eleanor. Meanwhile, Marie has befriended avid fan Janice Hatch (Susanne Severeid), who might know more about Drago’s town secret history and this mysterious nun than she is letting on.

Bearing the subtitle THE ORIGINAL NIGHTMARE, HOWLING IV is certainly an odd little film. Believe it or not, it is more of a straight adaptation of Gary Brandner’s original novel, which goes to show you how much Dante, Sayles and company spruced up the source material. To be honest, the only thing I could recall from my initial viewing of this film 23 years ago was a scene where a guy melted. And there is a reason that was my only dim recollection because it is probably the only interesting thing that happens in this snoozefest. It isn’t until an hour into this 90 minute flick that we get a glimpse of a werewolf (for about 2 seconds) and the aforementioned meltdown doesn’t happen until the 80 minute mark. And while Johnson’s team did supply a cool looking final beast, the audience barely gets a glimpse of it during the finale as Hough shows hidden by fire in rapid cuts. Feast your eyes as these are about a good a shots as you get in the movie:













To be fair, HOWLING IV was a bit of a troubled production. Filming started with co-screenwriter Clive Turner in the director’s chair. Filming was halted for a while before Harry Allan Towers swooped in to resurrect the production. You know you’ve got problems when Towers is saving your ass. Anyway, John Hough came in on extremely short notice and resumed filming in South Africa, which the production does a great job of disguising as rural California. Still, that can’t make up for the film’s complete lack of action for nearly 90% of its running time. The script is also a mess with bits like Richard, responding to Marie mentioning the howling, saying, “You’re probably just hearing the animal in me.” Ooof. There is also a ridiculous late act revelation where a character figures out the nun’s warning of “we’re all in fear” really means “werewolves in here.” Ooof again. A complete lack of blood during the werewolf attacks also hurts. On the bright side, you could probably start a drinking game where everyone chugs any time a character says the word howling. I’m glad I don’t drink.

“HOWLING V? Isn’t that the one where a lot of people run
around in a castle and nothing happens?” – Joe Dante

Dante, director of the original THE HOWLING, was pretty spot on when he gave that quote to Gorezone in 1991. Vitalized by video receipts, the HOWLING producers felt no reason to slow down their goldmine. This resulted in the shortest gap between sequels with HOWLING IV debuting on video November 1, 1988 and HOWLING V: THE REBIRTH hitting shelves just over six months later on May 9, 1989. This quick turnaround brought about some severe cost cutting as the filmmakers headed to Hungary to shoot their latest monster movie.

HOWLING V opens in 1489 in a castle strewn with dead folks in Budapest. Seems everyone is committing suicide to end a family curse, but – wouldn’t ya know it – a baby is heard crying just as the last couple are offing themselves. “We died in vain,” screams the husband, unaware of the films THE REBIRTH subtitle. Cut to 500 years later in a modern day Budapest hotel where a group of nine strangers are gathering. Seems they have all been invited to a castle opening by Count Istvan (Philip Davis). Now who or what this castle opening is for is never explained, but, c’mon, how can anyone resist a castle opening. The group of nine little Indians, er, random strangers include: Prof. Dawson (Nigel Triffitt), who is interested that the castle has no recorded history; pop star Gail Cameron (Stephanie Faulkner), who is recovering from a breakdown; photographer David Gillispie (Ben Cole); struggling American actress Mary Lou (Elizabeth Shé, no doubt typecast); successful European actress Anna (Mary Stavin); Aussie Ray Price (co-writer and producer Clive Turner, always with a drink in hand); tennis pro (!) Jonathan Lane (Mark Sivertsen); Richard Hamilton (William Shockley, hoping someone runs a John Glover look-a-like contest), resident rich Yuppie asshole; and Dr. Catherine Peake (Victoria Catlin), resident bitch who is also seeing cheating Richard. Got all that? Good because you will be quizzed later. Anyway, it is weird because, as the characters soon find out, they were all orphans and all bear the same triangular birthmark. Oh, and one of them is a werewolf.


In case you haven’t been keeping track, this is one globe hopping horror series as HOWLING V marks the fifth country the series has been produced in. I don’t want to falsely accuse anyone, but it seems odd no sovereign nations want the company back.

THE HOWLING: USA
HOWLING II: Czechoslovakia & USA
HOWLING III: Australia
HOWLING IV: South Africa
HOWLING V: Hungary

Is there some kind of U.N. resolution against these films? It wouldn’t shock me. Heading to Eastern Europe can only mean one thing, the producers were looking to go ultra-cheap and indeed this is the most threadbare of the HOWLING sequels up to this point.

Like HOWLING IV, this was also a troubled production. Original director Michael Fischa (DEATH SPA) was fired three days into production and first AD Neal Sundström was promoted to the job with six hours notice. To be fair, this is a pretty good looking film that benefits greatly from the scenery in its host country. Also, the castle and underground tunnel sets are well done and there is some decent cinematography and lighting. Regardless of behind-the-scenes turmoil, you can’t deliver much with this Agatha Christie-lite script. The mystery is no surprise because one character is left alone to rest in a bed for a majority of the action. Gee, I wonder who the werewolf is. More puzzling is how this character manages to keep their clothes intact, despite turning into a werewolf every ten minutes or so. There is a very weak attempt to connect this to the rest of the series with an “it all started here” bit, but it is never fully capitalized on. The filmmakers’ stinginess also carried over to the werewolf effects as the same costume from part IV is used here. You actually get a better look at it on the cover than you do in the actual film. In a testament to how little the producers cared, this entry marks the first HOWLING film to feature no onscreen werewolf transformation. Hey, they’re setting records, baby.


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