Howling VI: The Freaks (1991)

NOVEMBER 28, 2012


I've often wondered why more horror films don't take place at carnivals/circuses, since the background can do half of the director's job - it's naturally colorful AND inherently creepy, what with all the clowns, carnies, and llamas that populate the place. Yet, Howling VI: The Freaks is one of maybe 5 or 6 that I've seen in the past almost 6 years, one of which is a Ghoulies movie so that doesn't even count. I guess that the unavoidable comparisons to Tod Browning's Freaks are too daunting, but come on; it doesn't stop anyone from making Exorcist or Psycho wannabes.

Anyway, this isn't bad for a Howling flick, maybe even better than its disc-mate Howling V. Like it, there isn't a lot of werewolf action (and the movie is even longer), but there IS a transformation scene this time, which was an ironic surprise - "Oh wow, this actually has the thing you would assume would be a given." And the FX are decent; the makeup comes courtesy of Steve Johnson, who provides some fine concepts for both the werewolf and the other titular freaks at the carnival - "Alligator Boy" in particular looks great. And (spoiler) there's a vampire too, with a Salem's Lot-ish design that also looks terrific. All I ask for from my DTV sequels to monster movies is that they give me some monsters to look at, so if they can do that much it's already ahead of like half of the pack.

But it's also got a nice, Wolf Man-y sympathetic tone for the lead - our guy is cursed and hates it, and actively tries to keep people from getting close, turns down the advances of a lovely woman, etc. Poor bastard. The plot finds him taking on one of his odd jobs as he drifts through life, only to get captured by the evil ringmaster (Bruce "I Will Play The Bad Guys Julian Sands Turns Down" Payne) who would love to add a werewolf to his roster. And some folks die every now and then, so there's a sort of mystery to it since you're not sure if it's the hero in wolf form or one of the other "freaks". In between these rare murders we get some decent character development (relatively speaking) and some back-story about how the town is dying, so overall it gives off a sense of "The filmmakers were trying to do something interesting here", which I can appreciate. It's Howling VI - the only other modern horror franchise that had gotten that far at the time was Friday the 13th (the 6th Elm Street would hit later that year), so it's not like these things were expected to be any good.

Also, no one was probably expecting any sort of continuity at this point, so it's a nice little surprise when Mary Lou (from Rebirth) shows up, though she's just part of the crowd watching the circus and doesn't do anything. Still, it's the closest thing to any sort of relation between entries since Howling II, as far as I can recall (not far, but series expert/apologist (and werewolf novel author!) Matt Serafini seemed to agree), so, again, at least they're trying. I don't ask much from my Howling movies, so if they can show that they're trying to justify their sequel-ness, I'm already pleased on some level.

Still, it's just too long for something this low on action. 100 minutes (including an abnormally long but not slow-running credit sequence) seems to be asking a lot, and there are a number of sequences that go on forever. If you are a construction worker or part of the Extreme Makeover: Home Edition team, maybe you will like 10 minutes of our hero and another guy fixing up a church, but I'd prefer you all just get on to the circus, please. The hero, Brendan Hughes (who appeared in Return To Horror High, the very first HMAD movie! He also looks a bit like Truman from Twin Peaks) also has a lengthy fantasy scene about the girl before telling her off, which just seems like padding for a movie that didn't need it. That said, the ending is a bit abrupt - two characters (one who may or may not be cursed now) just sort of wander off into the desert and then it ends. Maybe they planned to continue the story with part 7, but while Mary Lou comes back, as does someone from 4 I guess, no one from this entry seems to be in it.

It DOES seem to be pretty awful, however; I loaded up a thread on its IMDb page where people were ranking the series and every single one of them had the 7th film (New Moon Rising) ranked last. And that's on a board specific for that entry! I suppose there's something perversely laudable about somehow being the absolute worst entry in a series that never delivered a good sequel, but it's hardly enticing me to seek it out. However, as soon as I hit "publish" on this post, it will be the only entry in the series not yet HMAD-ified, and my OCD won't allow me to skip it. I'll just save it for the last week.

What say you?


  1. Oh man. New Moon Rising. I haven't seen all the Howling flicks but I did see that one and it was...I can't even describe the interminable nothingness of that movie. Maybe a contender for the most boring movie I've ever sat through on TV. But, I am also an OCD franchise movie watcher, so I know your pain.

  2. New Moon Rising will break you. I almost guarantee it.

  3. I liked this one for the same reasons you mentioned: sympathetic hero, good setting, etc. I'd buy it if someone gave it a decent DVD release.

  4. So wait just a minute.... you hated the iconic Barlow make-up because you claim it reminds you of the DOTD Hare Krishna; correct? BS claim, by the way, because they look nothing alike; hell even within DOTD yes the color of the make-up looks stupid but that doesn't mean some of the zombies aren't more effective than all the others. Zombie Roger anyone? I'm calling snarky shenanigans on your total dismissal of the Barlow make-up if you can even remember that review.

    But you love this purple make-up when the teeth are those shitty little baby demon teeth as opposed to Barlow's kick ass and rarely seen front teeth fangs? I don't get it.

    1. No, what I said was that I didn't care for the 1979 design for the Barlow character compared to how they made him look in the other version of the movie (which was more in line with the book), and that the makeup itself was less than stellar. That's not saying it was a bad design - it was a bad USE of said design. As for this movie, I'm merely describing what the makeup looked like for reader benefit, and including it in an all encompassing "the makeup work here is better than the last few sequels". So basically you combined three different points I was making into one. All about context, sir or madam.

    2. Thanks for the concise reply to a jumbled up query mainly concerning a review you did ages ago. That really cleared things up although I think we understood each other point's fine before that.

      Eh, I have no particular allegiances to King's book and there have been more than enough suave vampires by this late stage of the game. So that's where I'm coming from on love and appreciation for the '79 Kurt Barlow make-up; I mean counting the original Nosferatu, '79 Barlow and Dafoe in Shadow Of The Vampire we've only seen the Nosferatu model vamp a handful of times or so. Besides, as I'm sure you would agree making Barlow a regal bloodsucker as opposed to a subhuman wasn't the thing holding Salem's Lot '79 back from being a classic as much as the fact that it was a bloated Made-For-TV melodrama that unnecessarily belabored tedious subplots.

      And I'd argue the worst depiction/implementation of that particular vampire look is the '79 Nosferatu the Vampyre because that make-up job doesn't make it any harder to identify Klaus Kinski behind the make-up than it is to identify Jack behind the Joker make-up in Batman '89.

      Now Kinski's an unbalanced enough weird looking fuck that there may be some freaked out by him as Nosferatu but I think the man looked plain goofy thus casting him (albeit in Herzog's different take on the genre/vampire condition) is way more undermining than coloring the make-up wrong or off. These aren't points you've ever actually covered or made mind you but I'm just pointing out how arbitrary it can be deciding what make-up is effective and isn't.

      As for this Howling VI make-up, (although I haven't actually seen the movie) stills I've checked out make it look like a winner; stupid Cat's Eye breathsucker teeth or not. In a way, it even looks like a proto-Darth Maul. Plus I've loved that movie's evil ringmaster Payne ever since that Van Peebles werewolf movie and the one cheesy Boz movie where MC Hammer was a druglord and Payne was a crooked FBI agent.

      Again, thanks for setting the record straight. Of course, I'm not blind buying some shit Howling movie so hopefully this pops on YouTube again sooner than later.


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