Thursday, July 24, 2014

Howling IV: The Original Nightmare

Welcome to part four of The Howling Series Retrospective Review.

Check out the previous installments:
The Howling
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.
The result is a werewolf film that has more mystery and atmosphere than it does scares or werewolf action.  The character driven stuff doesn't really work because, unfortunately, most of the cast isn't really up to the task.  While Howling IV is a step up from the previous two sequels in the departments of cinematic look and overall story cohesion (you can actually follow the plot!), it still manages to be not quite as entertaining as Part II or III.
Marie (Romy Windsor) is a successful best-selling author, but she is starting to have these bad dreams and visions (she sees the ghost of a nun) so she and her publicist friend Tom (Antony Hamilton) decide it would be best if maybe she took some time off.  The doctor blames fatigue and her vivid imagination, suggesting that she "go somewhere her imagination won't be stimulated."

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):

Marie gets assistance in her investigation from Janice (Susanne Severeid), a woman who is vacationing in the area and randomly stops by Marie's cabin hoping to meet her (she's a fan of her writing).

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 [1947]?) 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.

The first glimpse of a lycanthrope doesn't come until around the one hour mark in the movie.  It happens when dickhead Richard (I just realized his name correlates with what he is) is macking on the local artist/shop owner Eleanor from town.

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."
Basically this all leads to Marie and Janice truly discovering that Drago is a town full of werewolves (!) and to Richard stumbling off into the woods, suffering the effects of his wolf-bite, and starting his transformation.  It's here that the movie decides to get just a little crazy.

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.
When Richard finally puddles out, a wolf monster emerges (briefly seen).  The rest of the townspeople are standing around watching all this.  They're wolfed-out as well, but only halfway, so it is less impressive.  They look like this:
The movie ends with Marie and Janice escaping into the bell tower and setting it on fire, killing all the wolftownspeople (Janice sacrifices herself).  Before they do that, they encounter the local doctor, who I guess is the lead werewolf.  He looks like this:
And then he does this:
And then he transforms and looks like this:
Yeah, this movie is fairly boring and ho-hum for most of its running time, but the last 15 minutes really turn it up a notch.  Things get close to the level of craziness that was established in the previous two sequels and it ends with a big explosion, so at least they got that part right (although the jump-scare are the very end is kind of lame).

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'...
When Marie and Janice are being chased by the werewolves into the bell tower, it is clearly just a pack of dogs, German Shepherds mainly, but I think a Collie is in there too.
I mentioned Richard's penchant for open shirts.  He also likes to use his tongue a LOT during make-out sessions.
Marie encounters a couple hikers, John and Paula (aka: Victims #1 and #2), out in the woods and invites them inside.  John ends up telling her a little about Drago and the backstory of its famed bell tower and how it's a replica of one from the 16th century, etc, etc..  When asked if it's a true story, John replies, "Well, I read it in an old National Geographic."
"Let me give you a ride."
"Hey thanks, for your help (Marie) but my Chevy Camper is parked nearby."
Oh yeah, this is really weird.  Janice makes major progress in figuring out that Drago is a town full of werewolves when she decodes that the phrase that crazy Sister Ruth was repeating over and over before her death, "we're all in fear," was actually her saying, "werewolves here."  …uh, okay. . .wait, HUH?
The opening and closing credits song, "Something Evil, Something Dangerous," was written and performed by Justin Hayward, lead singer of The Moody Blues:

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).
Howling IV: The Original Nightmare was the first film in the series to be released directly to video (handled by International Video Entertainment), even though the previous two sequels looked very much the part (I still can't believe Part III had a theatrical release).  From here on out, it's all direct-to-video (DTV) werewolf action.

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.  :(
Hi, Tom!
Bye, Tom!
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.  

No comments:

Post a Comment