Monday, February 9, 2015

Howling VI: The Freaks

Step right up, folks!  It's the sixth installment of my ongoing and important Howling Series Retrospective Review!  That of course means we're looking at Howling VI: The Freaks, so let's get right to it!

Howling VI: The Freaks (1991) is very much in the tradition of all the Howling sequels, being that it isn't very good and is only intermittently interesting, the latter of which really hinges on your personal tolerance for crummy direct-to-video werewolf movies.  I will say that part VI is an upswing in quality over the previous two installments, but only slightly.

The plot is still fairly generic, as is some of the acting, which ranges from serviceable to questionable.  The special effects are the main attraction and are the best they've been since part III.  There is even a transformation scene!  Sure, the quality of the final product may be debatable, but after the near-non-existent amount of werewolf action in part V, the makers of part VI at least had the good sense to bring some monsters into their monster movie.

The story beats of Howling VI basically involve a weird loner drifting into a small town, getting hooked up with a job, a place to live, and a love interest (all in one stop, mind you), before it's revealed that he's got the curse of the werewolf which leads to him being captured and put on display by Mr. Harker at his traveling freakshow, Harker's World of Wonders.  Mr. Harker, of course, is hiding his own monstrous secret...

It might seem like some of the finer points are being glossed over, but no, that's really about the gist of it.  Besides, it's the little details that are interesting, not the movie's run-of-the-mill plot lines.
Ian Richards (Brendan Hughes, Return to Horror High [1987]) is our drifter hero who is very concerned about the upcoming full moon.  In the classic tradition he is a sympathetic werewolf character, the kind that worries about his change cycle and is aware of the dangers it brings.  He keeps his distance from others and I would imagine this is part of why he's a drifter.  Also, he's British.

When he arrives in town he's harassed by the local sheriff (Gary Carlos Cervantes), told to move along (standard issue movie stuff), before he gets a job offer to help restore a local church with this guy Dewey (Jered Barclay).  There is a longer-than-necessary montage scene of them restoring the church and they do a ton of work.  The way it's cut together makes it seem like it's all in one day, but it was most likely a week or something.

When they're done some of the locals admire and compliment their work, including the sheriff, who tells Ian he did a good job.  So that's a good tip:  if you drift into a small town and you want to endear yourself to the local law enforcement, do some refurbishing work on a church, possibly during a montage.

The movie really takes its time getting to the werewolves and freaks, but once it does things really start to pick up.  The first highlight in the film is Ian's transformation scene.  It starts with Ian waking up in a hilarious fashion and screaming "OH, CHRIST!"
After that you got the standard stretching and changing of the hands, feet, back, and face transformation special effects stuff, they're all fairly decent.  However, once fully transformed, Ian the werewolf looks like this:
Definitely more of a man-wolf.  Watch the whole thing here:

President Obama welcomes you!
I said that the transformation scene was the first highlight of the movie, but actually before that happens Harker's World of Wonders rolls into town.

Harker's is one of those traveling carnival freakshow things, which has a vibe that is sort of a cross between Something Wicked This Way Comes (1983) and The Funhouse (1981).  It has all the standard carnival stuff, games, jugglers, snake charmers, clowns, and mimes, but the main attraction is the World of Wonders (aka: the freakshow).
When Ian takes Elizabeth (Michele Matheson), Dewey's daughter, on a date to Harker's, they get a personal tour of the freakshow by Mr. Harker (Bruce Payne) himself, who seems to have an interest in Ian (it is implied that the two of them share some sort of history).
Mr. Toones (Deep Roy) is one of the first stops on the tour.  He's a little person who sits at a table playing cards.  Not a big deal really, but then it is revealed that he has a third arm underneath his right armpit.
The bummer thing about this third arm gag is that it never comes into play the rest of the movie, as it's a weird little detail that is forgotten.  I would've loved it if Mr. Toones fired a gun with his hidden third arm or something, but alas, this movie delivers no such thing.

After Mr. Toones plays a few hands, the next attraction is the half man, half woman Carl/Carlotta (Christopher Morley), who sings a song.  This is really the tamest of all the freaks but Morley really gives Carl(otta) some layers, playing the character as kind of a jerk with a bad attitude, not to mention a possible relationship with Mr. Toones.

Apparently Morley was an actor and female impersonator known for cross-dressing roles, most famously the transvestite who gets roughed-up in Freebie and the Bean (1974).  Morley also had a reoccurring role on General Hospital, was She-Tim in Bachelor Party (1984), and played a drag queen Marilyn Monroe in Don't Tell Mom the Babysitter's Dead (1991).  A very kind YouTube user has complied all of Morley's scenes from Howling VI into this clip:

Another one of the acts is Mr. Bellamey (Antonio Fargas) and he's a weird clown-jester who bites the head off a chicken.

Not much of a freak per-se, but uh, okay, whatever.

Antonio Fargas is one of the bigger names in the cast.  He of course played Huggy Bear on TV's Starsky and Hutch and was also in a ton of movies, including Across 110th Street (1972), Cleopatra Jones (1973), Foxy Brown (1974), Car Wash (1975), and a bunch of other stuff (he's still working to this day).  So it is really weird to see him bite the head off a chicken.

Alligator Boy (Sean Sullivan) is a real-deal freak, the kind with scaly skin and all that stuff, and while he acts ferocious he is actually a big softie.  His name is Winston and even better, he has a pet cat that is named Winston II.  Alligator Boy gets a little bit of a subplot and even helps Ian out later in the film.  He's basically the secondary protagonist.
After Ian is captured by Harker and put on display at the freakshow, Harker throws werewolf-Ian Winston II and wants him to eat it for a gathered crowd.
That cat is not happy during this scene.  And no, Ian doesn't eat the cat, much to the crowd's disappointment.

Also, this scene has an appearance by actress Elizabeth Shé in a non-speaking cameo as her character Mary Lou from the previous sequel, Howling V: The Rebirth (1989).  I guess she shows up in the next film as well, which I've seen (years ago) but don't remember her specifically.  I think they try to tie these films together, but I'm not sure.  I'll talk more about that when I watch and review Howling: New Moon Rising (1995).

Harker is the kind of villain with an aristocratic aloofness to him, practically sneering all of his lines.  He also has that vague European threatening quality about him which serves the character well (similar to Philip Davis' character Count Istvan in the previous Howling movie).

I've read this in more than one review, so this isn't an original thought, but Harker (and actor Bruce Payne) definitely gives off a vibe that is comparable to actor Julian Sands.  So if you know Sands' work, than you know what kind of villain this movie is giving you.

Now time for the SLIGHT SPOILER:  Late in the movie it is revealed that Harker is a vampire.  This happens in a scene where he pops out of his coffin which is disguised as a couch in his RV and biting and throwing a guy (the snooping mayor) through the roof of his trailer:
Monster Harker is a Nosferatu-style vampire that sort of resembles a purple version of the Salem's Lot (1979) creature, although with a rufflier shirt:
In the end when (AGAIN SPOILER) Harker is killed by staking and by sunlight, there is a disintegration scene that looks like it was accomplished by using time-lapse and an air cannon.  It reminds me of a combination of the finales to The Evil Dead (1981) and Gremlins (1984).

One more thing I have to bring up about this movie:  Boom mics.  They're all over the place!  For those of you who don't know, boom microphones are used to record sound during movies and they are these microphones on long poles that are supposed to hover above the actors during filming.  Sometimes (especially in low budget movies) it will dip into frame.  It happens at least three times during Howling VI.
They shoulda hired a boom operator with greater arm strength.

Let's talk cast & crew:

Director Hope Perello worked as a production coordinator on some Cannon Films, most notably Stuart Gordon's From Beyond (1986) and Dolls (1987), and also as a producer on Catacombs (1988) and Puppetmaster (1989).  She would go on to direct Piper Laurie in comedy/drama St. Patrick's Day (1997), which was her last film credit.  She is now the director of the Pasadena Space Arts Center.

Novelist Gary Brandner once again gets "based on" credit for his books, even though nothing (once again) was used from his series.

Screenwriter Kevin Rock also wrote the sequels Warlock: The Armageddon (1993) and The Philadelphia Experiment II (1993).  His real claim to fame is writing the screenplay for the ill-fated Fantastic Four (1994) film, a Roger Corman production of legendary terribleness, never intended for release (it has still to this day never seen a legit release).

Michele Matheson played Rebecca, Randy Quaid's Amish girlfriend in Kingpin (1996).

Sean Sullivan was Phil, the guy trying not to spew in Wayne's World (1992) and he was also a member of Buford Tannen's gang in Back to the Future III (1990).

Deep Roy is of course a famous little person actor, appearing in Flash Gordon (1980), The NeverEnding Story (1984), seven episodes of Doctor Who, and more recently he was all the Oompa Loompas in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (2005) and he has a small (haha) reoccurring character in the new Star Trek films.

I mentioned Bruce Payne earlier being a Julian Sands-type.  This is now confirmed since I look at his filmography and see that he took over for Sands in the titular role in the Warlock series with the third film, Warlock III: The End of Innocence (1999).  Payne also gets some good roulette advice from Wesley Snipes in Passenger 57 (1992):

Closing Thoughts:
Howling VI: The Freaks isn't so bad that you want to claw your eyes out; it's watchable.  That's my pull quote, but I'll go on to say that it is not a very good movie, as its low budget, direct-to-video qualities are too readily apparent, but it does offer some monster action and somewhat enjoyable special effects, so it at least does that right.  Also, there are some well staged and shot scenes in the film, with some good uses of lighting, which are the kinds of things that keep this from being unwatchably bad.

This is a unique entry in the Howling series, as it gives the werewolf another monster to fight against, and there's more action in this one than parts IV and V combined.  All in all, I'd say if you picked a random Howling sequel to watch, without having watched any of the others, this actually wouldn't be a bad one to choose.  It's still a bad movie, but you could have fun and enjoy it.  If interested, it's available on Netflix Instant  NOW.

Previous installments in The Howling Series Retrospective Review:
The Howling
Howling II. . .your sister is a werewolf
The Marsupials: Howling III
Howling IV: The Original Nightmare
Howling V: The Rebirth

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