Sunday, November 30, 2014

Howling V: The Rebirth

Howling V: The Rebirth (1989) is the fifth film in the Howling series and that makes it the fifth film in my all-important Howling Series Retrospective Review.
You can read the previous installments here:
The Howling
Howling II: ...Your Sister is a Werewolf
The Marsupials: Howling III
Howling IV: The Original Nightmare

So right off the bat, let me say that Howling V is not a very good movie, and while it isn't quite as bad as Howling IV, it also doesn't have anything quite as interestingly weird as the final 15 minutes of part IV (or the entirety of parts II or III). What Howling V does have is a big gothic castle setting and a cast that is, at the very least, competent in their roles. That doesn't sound like much, and maybe it isn't, but for a Howling sequel, it will have to do.
Howling V: The Rebirth opens on an image of a wooden baby crib rocking gently as the credits roll.  We are in 1489 Budapest (even though Budapest didn't exist then) at a large castle where a massacre has taken place.  The Lord of the castle then kills his lady (I think that's who they were) before killing himself.  Offscreen the cries of a baby can be heard and the Lord, lying there dying, bemoans, "we died in vain!"
Flashforward 500 years to 1989 and modern day Budapest where the mysterious Count Istvan (Philip Davis) has decided to reopen the castle (for the first time in those 500 years) and has invited a disparate group of people to the event.  When I say "disparate" I mean "these people couldn't be more of a motley crew."
Included in the group are photographer David (Ben Cole), a guy who simply goes by "professor" (Nigel Tiffitt), the unpleasant and prickly Dr. Catherine Peake (Victoria Catlin), Scandinavian actress Anna (Mary Stavin), bubbleheaded actress Marylou (Elizabeth Shé), down on her luck singer Gail (Stephanie Faulkner), playboy dickhead Richard (William Shockley), tennis player Jonathan (Mark Sivertsen), and ponytailed Australian former rockstar Ray Price (Clive Turner).  They're joined by creepy butler and maid combo Peter and Susan (played by a pair of Romanian actors) because any movie set in a gothic castle needs a creepy butler and maid.
This is David.  I don't have much to say about him, other than he becomes the de facto hero of the movie, which is unfortunate.

So, why would The Count invite such a weird group of people to such a place?  Turns out, as revealed later in the film, that everyone present is an orphan and has a similar triangle birthmark on their arm, which means that they are all descendants of the child that survived the massacre 500 years ago, a massacre that was meant to stop a cursed bloodline.  The Count believes, rightly so, that one of them is a werewolf, and he plans on killing that person.
Basically this all plays out like a low-budget werewolf version of Agatha Christie's "And Then There Were None" combined with Amicus' The Beast Must Die! (1974).  There's also a dash of inspiration from 80s American slasher films, as characters continuously wander off alone down the dark halls of the castle and into secret passages to be killed off, one by one, by the werewolf.

Oh yeah, the werewolf.  You don't really see it a whole lot, it's used sparingly, and the most you see are a couple close-up face shots and some claws and paws that come into the screen and maul the characters.  There's also one silhouette shot, which is maybe the best (?) look at the werewolf you get:
Yup.  There it is.  Apparently this is the same werewolf suit that was built for Howling IV and it was just reused.  Not a bad idea, very cost effective (especially for a film released just 6 months after the previous one), but I'm not sure why they didn't show it more or at least more of it, as it was a pretty decent looking and more than suitable werewolf costume.
The filmmakers were definitely more concerned with mystery and atmosphere than they were with werewolf scares or action.  In a strange way, this makes the movie unique among Howling sequels, but also a bit unsatisfying in terms of all the weird werewolf action that is associated with all the previous Howling movies.

Howling V: The Rebirth is (maybe) the Halloween III: Season of the Witch (1983) of the Howling franchise, although now that I read that sentence it sounds like high praise, so let's forget that and move on.
There's a little bit of the red stuff, some slashed throats and the like, but easily the most impressive special effect in the movie is a decapitation that happens (and happens suddenly) late in the movie.  Watch out, Susan!
Howling V was directed by Neal Sundström, who also co-directed Space Mutiny and was first assistant director on Outlaw of Gor (both 1988 and both featured on Mystery Science Theater 3000).  There isn't much flashy or interesting about the visual style of the film, and it is often saved by merely being set inside a large European castle, one that vaguely resembles an under-decorated (and under-lit) set from Game of Thrones.

Some of the fault for that might lie with production designer Nigel Tiffitt, who also played the professor in the movie, and who had no experience in either professions.  It seems he did both as a favor to his friend and fellow Australian, Clive Turner.

Clive Turner, who not only played the hard drinking Ray "ponytail" Price, also co-wrote the screenplay and co-produced part V, something he also did for Howling IV.  Turner would skip involvement with the next installment but comes back with a vengeance for the utterly inept part VII.  As for his screenplay for part V, it's not award winning stuff and there's not much here, werewolf movie or otherwise, that hasn't been seen before.  There's some attempts at wry humor throughout which is appreciated, because most of it is either bitchy or a little weird or a bit of both.  For example:

"I'm Jonathan Lane. . . .the tennis player!"
"Ah, it's nice to have a hobby.  I'm Marylou Summers."
"No, that's what I do for work."
"Oh I'm sorry you don't have a real job."
"Ha, no, I play tennis!"
"It's important to have an interest when you're out of work."
"So now that we're making headway, what do you do for a living?"
"I'm an actress."
"Yeah, what restaurant do you work at?"
"How did you know I worked at a restaurant?  Are you psychic?"
"As a matter of fact. . ."
"But no one ever takes me seriously, so I'm always cast as a bimbo."
"Oh I woulda thought it'd take a lot of talent to play a bimbo."
"It does!  It's not easy pretending to be stupid."


Should also note that author Gary Brandner and his 3 "Howling" novels get a based-on screen credit, even though it seems as if the screenplay has very little to do with any of them.  Brandner must of had a good lawyer.
The music for the film is done by an outfit called The Factory.  I do not believe they are of the C+C Music variety.  It sounds like your typical late 80s atmospheric keyboard rock, the kind of thing you'd expect to find in a DTV horror film. They do this one weird thing where every time somebody is killed in the movie, they use the same creepy vocal chorus audio cue to punctuate the scene.  It sounds like "Santos!"  It's weird and generic but I found its repetition to be enjoyable.  You can listen to it in the movie trailer posted down below.

Let's do a notable cast rundown:

Philip Davis was in The Who's Quadrophenia (1979) as Chalky and also had roles in Alien 3 (1992), Vera Drake (2004), and Notes on a Scandal (2006).  As Count Istvan in Howling V he lends a certain aristocratic aloofness and vaguely threatening Europeaness to the role.  He's a very cold character, which comes across greatly in his plan to suss out the werewolf, which basically just involves him waiting it out as the beast picks off the other guests one by one.  It's not a very proactive plan, but I guess it's better than, say, just killing everybody on the bus ride over to the castle, not that the end results are much less different...
William Shockley's first screen credit is Creep in Paul Verhoeven's RoboCop (1987).  Specifically, he's the rapist-creep who gets shot in the crotch by RoboCop.  Shockley would also play rapist Andrew Carver in Verhoeven's Showgirls (1995).  He doesn't give off a rapist vibe in Howling V, but he is definitely a dickhead.

Shockley's character, Richard, is having an affair with Victoria Catlin's Dr. Peake.  She has a bit of this silky-steely quality about her, she's sultry but also tough.  Some of her best bits are when she's getting catty with Ray Price, who seems to rile her just by his mere Australianness.

Victoria Catlin also starred in a couple other horror films, Ghoulies (1984) and Maniac Cop (1988), but she is most recognizable for her role as Blackie O'Reilly on cult favorite Twin Peaks, another role in which she brings some of that silky-steely quality.

Mary Stävin was also on Twin Peaks (as Heba, one of the Icelandic businesspeople) and appeared in a couple James Bond movies (Octopussy [1983], A View to a Kill [1985]) and in Steve Miner's House (1986) as the lovely Tanya.  Her character of Anna is supposed to be this famous Oscar nominated actress, but she doesn't give off that vibe.  Maybe an Emmy, but definitely not an Oscar...
Gail is the first one in the group to get suspicious of The Count and start snooping around.  The movie sets it up like she might be the main character, but then she totally gets killed (mostly offscreen), which is a move I appreciate.  Good job there, movie.  Stephanie Faulkner can also be seen in blaxploitation-horror film J.D.'s Revenge (1976).  Howling V was the last film she was in.

Elizabeth Shé is maybe the worst actress in the movie, but she's playing a bubblehead type, so maybe that's intentional?  I guess I'll get to find out, as she has only two more screen credits to her name, both of them in the next two Howling films, playing characters named Marylou, so I guess I'll see if that is a continuation of the same character or what it is...  It IS interesting to note that, at the end of the film (SPOILER SPOILER) it seems as if Marylou is revealed to be the one who is the werewolf (it's left sort of vague), although we don't see her transform or do anything really, just smile slyly at the camera as the credits roll.
The Howling V: The Rebirth was the second Howling film to be released direct-to-video.  Like I said up top, it is not a very good movie and, even though it's not godawful, I would say that it is totally skippable.  I personally prefer the weird weirdness in the previous Howling sequels, and while I would say there isn't much to recommend about Howling V, I guess if you're a completist or a werewolf nut or whatever, you could do worse than this one.
There are after all . . . . . three more Howling movies in the series...