MARCH 10, 2012
Maybe I should just take a day and read Gary Brandner's original "Howling" novel so I can finally make some sense out of this franchise's credits. Howling IV: The Original Nightmare is apparently more faithful to his first book than the original Howling movie, but the credit actually reads "Based on the novels Howling 1, 2, and 3 by Gary Brandner", and I can assume his 2nd and 3rd novels have nothing to do with kangaroos or Barry Otto. Adding to the confusion, the recent Howling Reborn claims to based on his 2nd novel, even though it picks up from plot points from the first movie.
Making matters worse, I don't really like any of them! Every time I watch one I have to wonder if what I didn't like was an issue with the source material, filmmaker incompetence, or both. At least for something like Harry Potter, I know they're being pretty faithful to a specific book, so if there's a movie entry I don't care for as much as the others (Half Blood Prince, for example) I can assume I won't be crazy about that book either (I'm about to start listening to it, in fact, as I recently finished book 5 on tape). Admittedly, this was probably my favorite Howling since the original, but I'm never going to go out of my way to watch it again.
To its credit, this one does try something refreshing after the batshit insanity of the 2nd film and nearly horror-free dullness of the 3rd: a slow burn mystery. It's almost like Let's Scare Jessica To Death or something, with an emotionally unstable woman going off to an isolated town, meeting their assorted weirdo residents, and seeing things that may not be there. It's not a bad idea on its own, but this is Howling IV, so we can be pretty sure that she is indeed hearing werewolves, and since everyone in town acts suspicious we can also be assured that just about everyone is a werewolf or at least in cahoots with them, so the "mystery" falls far short of being engaging. At least if there was a "whodunit" type approach (which I guess the next film actually DOES employ) there would be a little more to latch on to, but by the time the final reel rolls around and everyone starts transforming, it's way too little, too late.
I gotta give them props for trying to misdirect us, though - if someone missed the title (or just had no knowledge of the series; it's not like they have any connection so if this is your first Howling you'll be just as well prepared as die hard fans) they might actually be fooled into thinking this was a ghost or haunted house movie. Our heroine sees ghostly figures every now and then, has several nightmare scenes (including one where every piece of furniture in the house flips over), gets cryptic hints from assorted townsfolk about a past tragedy... all that good stuff. Hell they even toss a creepy doll into the mix; her cute poodle disappears at one point and she thinks she sees its head, but later her jerk husband (The Pretender's Michael T. Weiss with a hilarious mullet) produces a doll's head that looks similar. If time/money allowed, they probably would have thrown in a dragon or something too.
Werewolf fans might also have a problem with the fact that the only action of note (the death of two tourists who claim to be from New York - their accents are... what's the opposite of "convincing"?) takes place in the daytime. Maybe this was another attempt at misdirection - "It can't be a werewolf, it's the daytime!" - but I'm guessing it was just sloppy filmmaking, which reigns supreme throughout the movie. Apparently they lost their original director and a good chunk of the funding after a few days of shooting, and had to scramble to finish the rest (the world could not wait a few extra months for Howling IV, I assume), which explains why it seems like half the movie is dubbed, and why nothing happens, etc.
At least the makeup is decent. There's no real transformation to speak of (and the fully formed werewolves are just wolves with post-created red eyes), but there's a pretty awesome melting scene, and some facial appliance work by Steve Johnson to enjoy. No one dies on-screen in the entire movie so there's no real gore to speak of, but at least what little effects work we DO see is on point. If they dragged their heels for over an hour and then just gave us some shitty South African stunt man with a few tufts of hair glued to his face, I would have chucked the disc across the room.
Speaking of the disc, this is part of a new "Midnight Horror" collection from Echo Bridge, which is possibly their most random yet. Along with this movie (which has seemingly never gotten a decent DVD release), you get Gingerdead Man, The Prophecy (Walken, not mutant bear), a "Blank from Hell" type thriller called Hindsight (with Burn Notice's Jeffrey Donavan), the awful Scarecrow, and Disturbed, a serial killer film I already own/reviewed from another set. In a way it's like the perfect HMAD-centric release; if I hadn't already seen a few (and they were all legit horror) I could stick with this set for the next 8 days and never have to deal with any genre more than once. I'd also have plenty to discuss with regards to the transfers; Howling IV is a washed out full-frame deal that seems to be taken from a VHS, but Prophecy is an anamorphic scope transfer that looked pretty good when I spot-checked it. I don't know how a well received, franchise starting film ends up on a set with all of this other DTV/indie stuff, but I genuinely like the total lack of theme here, offering something for everyone and then giving them a good excuse to dip into unfamiliar territory (as opposed to grouping 8 werewolf films or whatever). This set will make an awesome stocking stuffer for your horror loving nephew.
Final note: the theme song in this movie is awesome. Since any advertisement for Howling IV would have to give away every action shot in the movie in order to look interesting, I have put the song at the end instead of a trailer. You're welcome.
What say you?