Welcome to part four of The Howling Series Retrospective Review.
Check out the previous installments:
Howling II: Your Sister Grew a Beard
The Marsupials: Howling III: Pouch Babies
It seems like after the all-out wackiness of the previous two sequels, the decision was made to reel it back in for the next installment in the Howling series, Howling IV: The Original Nightmare (1988). A new filmmaking team was brought in and they decided to go back to Gary Brandner's original source novel and readapt it (with changes of course) and make a more "serious" and character driven werewolf story.
It turns out Marie's visions are related to some deadly goings-ons that happened in a small town called Drago. Of course, this happens to be exactly where her husband Richard (Michael T. Weiss) has coincidentally booked the two of them a nice stay at a remote country cabin.
Drago is your typical small, rural community, the kind that hides a dark secret. Marie keeps having visions (of the nun, of the old couple that used to live in her cabin) and weird things keep happening (her dog disappears, she hears a "howling" at night) so of course she eventually begins to investigate what is going on with the nun, the old couple, and exactly what the deal with Drago is anyway.
Richard isn't much help. He seems more interested in being a dick and wearing shirts that show off his manly chest hair regions (also note his fine 80s MacGuyver coif):
It turns out that Janice is a former nun who knew the nun from Marie's visions. Her name was Sister Ruth (an homage to Black Narcissus ?) and, as it turns out, she went crazy and died after visiting the small town of Drago.
All this mystery and investigation takes up the first hour of the movie. There's not really any scares (other than when she finds her dead dog) and Marie's dream-visions are more moody and atmospheric than they are startling. She does at one point dream some poltergeist-like activity in her cabin, chairs and tables flipping and smashing, and that was kinda neat, but it doesn't really supply what a werewolf movie should: and that's werewolves.
She's an ethereal, eerily beautiful type, so you could argue that she seduces him magically, but it seems to me that Richard is all too willing to jump all over her and get busy.
While they're trysting in the woods, Eleanor wolfs-out (briefly seen) and bites Rich, sending him running back home to get patched up by Marie. The next day, of course, everything is fine with Richard and he claims to have just "fallen down a gully."
Richard's transformation scene has got to be the sloppiest, gooiest, grossest werewolf transformation scene ever to be featured in a movie. It looks like goopy, melty chocolate syrup is dumped all over him while he dissolves into a puddle. It really is an impressive special effect, which is good because it takes up a lot of screen time.
Overall though, Howling IV: The Original Nightmare is a subpar werewolf movie. As far as the Howling series itself, this is a middle-of-the-road entry. None of the acting is good enough to be noteworthy, nor is it terrible enough to be mistaken for interesting. There's too much foggy dreaminess and suspenseless mystery, not enough fangs, claws, and hairiness (other than Richard, of course).
Other Notes and random things:
If you rent a remote cabin in the woods, and when you get there you notice that there are strange, giant claw marks on the door, maybe you should think about rescheduling your stay? Just sayin'...
|"Let me give you a ride."|
"Hey thanks, for your help (Marie) but my Chevy Camper is parked nearby."
Director John Hough also directed one of my favorite haunted house movies, The Legend of Hell House (1973), as well as Escape to and Return from Witch Mountain (1975/1978), The Watcher in the Woods (1980), and American Gothic (1988), a film I've never seen but the video cover of which is forever burned into my brain.
Screenwriter Clive Turner would also write Howling V: The Rebirth (1989) as well as write and direct The Howling: New Moon Rising (1995).
Howling IV feels like a remake of the first film, but really it's just a readaptation of Gary Brandner's original novel (for some reason all three of his Howling novels get a "based on" screen credit in this).
Changes made to the story include all the character's names and adding the stuff about the nun. Also, the character of Max Quist, who assaults the main character in the novel, sending her on the need for a retreat, is taken out of this version of the story entirely (he was repurposed in the original film by director Joe Dante and writer John Sayles).
For what it's worth, Fangoria gave the film its 1988 Golden Chainsaw award for Best Direct-to-Video Feature.
When released on DVD in 2004, the back cover of Howling IV featured scenes from Howling III. :(
Here's some behind-the-scenes footage, courtesy of the YouTube and William Forsche, featuring the werewolf suit used in the film (specifically the werewolf the town doctor turns into). The special effects crew also discuss Dunhill cigarettes and shooting in South Africa.