I’m not going to go into depth about The Howling from 1981, because it’s a classic, and shame on you if you haven’t seen it. Yes, I’m totally horror shaming!
It is director Joe Dante’s horror masterpiece, stars Dee Wallace, has her hunky hubby Chris Stone as her man, and gives us a brief glimpse of part of his ass—just enough to make my adolescent hormones rage back then. Being a teen gay in the 80s called on desperate measures.
The terrifying werewolf moments broke new ground in werewolf transformation scenes, also delivering a blueprint for werewolf design that is still used today in the most effective lycanthrope films. Could any sequels ever live up to the legacy of such perfection? Let’s find out.
HOWLING II: YOUR SISTER IS A WEREWOLF (1985)
Look, I have nothing against a travesty of a Howling movie (that’s why I have all of them in my collection), but this abomination should never have been green-lighted as a direct sequel to the original game changer.
It comes to us from the director of The Beast Within and Communion…so it really should have been better. Meanwhile, Gary Brandner, author of the original The Howling novel trilogy, apparently started working on the screenplay, but things didn’t work out so he was relieved of his duty.
The film begins at the funeral of the Dee Wallace character—with the body in the coffin played by a different actress, where her brother—the hottie from Sssssss—and a reporter Dee worked with are approached by Christopher Lee.
Maybe if I close my eyes they won’t be able to tell that I’m not Dee Wallace…
He tells them she was a werewolf and therefore the werewolf pack will be coming for her body since she can’t be buried in hallowed ground.
There are actually some promising werewolf moments in the first half of the film, but once the trio heads to Transylvania to hunt werewolves, the film gets trashy, with Sybil Danning bringing in the 80s sexual sleaze as the queen of the werewolves.
Let the hairy orgies begin. Ugh. Maybe if this had just been a movie called Orgy of the Werewolves or something, but not in a sequel to The Howling.
The characters seem to just meander through the scenery with little in the way of plot beyond humans hunting goofy looking werewolves.
It’s said that the director was accidentally sent ape costumes and was forced to alter them as much as possible to make them look like werewolves. It can’t be stressed enough that this obscene downgrade in costume design is a slap in the face of the official’s reputation.
At least the final battle between men and wolves is filled with cheesy practical gore effects. There’s even a brief moment set on Halloween in the final scene.
Steve Parsons & Babel, who performs the new wave theme song (the reason I own the soundtrack) appears as a band in a club scene, which gives us something you thought you might never see…Christopher Lee wearing 80s new wave glasses.
And to add to the silliness (in a good way), Sybil unleashes some deformed bat creature on a priest’s face. Classic shlocky 80s gore.
HOWLING III: THE MARSUPIALS (1987)
From the same director as the second film, the third installment is perhaps one of my favorite pieces of trash in the series because it’s a bit of an 80s mess that feels as wickedly absurd and disjointed as the best Euro horror of the decade.
A dude working on a horror movie called Shape Shifters Part 8 hires a young woman he meets on the street to star in it. She’s never seen a horror movie, so he takes her to a werewolf film, which gives us a perfectly campy transformation scene. After the film, she tells him the transformation was all wrong, and that she should know…
Meanwhile, a scientist is on the hunt for a rumored werewolf.
There’s also a female dancer who suddenly turns werewolf in the middle of a performance, in an artsy, stylized segment that turns out to be entertainingly laughable. Awesome.
There’s also another guy who the scientist experiments on to get him to transform.
And since it’s Australia and these are “the marsupials,” a baby crawls from a hairy werewolf pussy into mommy’s…kangaroo pocket???
What an awesome disaster, complete with plenty of cheesy werewolf scenes, generic 80s pop music, and even a masquerade party.
Unfortunately the director rehashes the last act of the previous film, with werewolves and humans roaming through the wilderness hunting each other (in the Australian outback this time). The horrible, happy ending wrap-up goes on forever, but we do get a throwback to the original with an on air television transformation. Unfortunately, that transphobic bitch Dame Edna is the host of the show on which it happens.
HOWLING IV: THE ORIGINAL NIGHTMARE (1988)
John Hough (The Legend of Hell House, Escape to Witch Mountain, Return from Witch Mountain, The Incubus, American Gothic) is credited as directing the fourth film, but apparently it was heavily recut after he was done. It is also referred to as “the original nightmare” because it sticks closer to the original novel than the first film. Ironic considering this film feels like a low budget remake of the original movie because the plots are so similar.
The leading lady this time is an author who goes to stay in a cabin with her hot husband (Michael T. Weiss of the gay film Jeffrey) after she has a bit of a breakdown. They meet an exotic shop owner, who eventually seduces the husband.
The leading lady befriends both the town’s doctor and a young woman who is doing some investigating into the town. And eventually it becomes clear it’s an entire community of werewolves.
Yeah, same movie as the original. Difference is, until the very end, we get actual wolves instead of werewolves, attacks in which we don’t see beyond the wolf POV stalking the victim, and another studly male friend who serves as secondary support whenever the leading lady’s husband doesn’t come through.
The final few scenes finally bring the horror with a disgusting werewolf transformation scene that also doesn’t really make sense.
The human completely melts into a puddle of goo, out of which the werewolf forms. As absurd as it is, it is some nasty horror goodness that saves the whole movie, along with the appearance of the big bad lead wolf, which is an 80s monstrosity to the max.
And why not one more shot of Michael T.’s hair pies?
HOWLING V: THE REBIRTH (1989)
While the fifth film goes for the “it’s what you don’t see that’s scariest” approach, it’s such a throwback to the Peter Cushing/Christopher Lee era of gothic Hammer films that I have a soft spot for it.
Accented with dramatic, Omen-esque choral cult music, the film takes place in an old castle, where a bunch of strangers has assembled.
Tales of historical werewolf attacks get told, and the group soon figures out something very strange is going on in the cold and creepy castle.
Much of the film takes place in a maze of torch-lit catacombs, where victims are chased by werewolf POV. Seriously, the entire movie consists of only two flashes of werewolf face in the dark, a werewolf paw reaching in from off-screen, and one full werewolf body silhouette flash. Everything else is left up to your imagination.
Most of the unexpected gore comes when the group determines one of them is a werewolf and begins offing each other with sharp weapons as distrust grows. There’s something very House on Haunted Hill about the situation.
Despite the disappointing lack of werewolf, there’s plenty of atmosphere. The only thing missing is Christopher Lee, who should have been in this installment instead of the second.
HOWLING VI: THE FREAKS (1991)
To get to the good stuff, I just had to get past the bad twanging country western vibe in the first few scenes of this one—including a country music montage when our main man, a drifter, comes to a small town and takes a job helping to renovate an old church.
I was feeling it once it shifted into Something Wicked This Way Comes territory. A traveling carnival comes to town, and the evil carnival leader keeps a bunch of sideshow freaks captive and exploits them, convincing them that he’s saving them and giving them a life because they’d be rejected in society.
The main man and his love interest get a first-hand look at the freaks after they go through the carnival’s creepy fun house.
I definitely appreciate the style of this installment, and it only gets better when our main guy turns into a werewolf and has to prove that it is not him but another monster that is killing people in town.
Aside from the transformation scene, which is a cool rip-off of An American Werewolf in London that unfortunately cuts away for the best part, the other bullish monster is the highlight. To me, the werewolf looks like a gothic death metal singer.
Not to mention, I didn’t particularly like the way a cat was handled in one scene.
HOWLING VII: NEW MOON RISING (1995)
While I appreciate what director/star Clive Turner is attempting to do with this final original sequel in terms of tying parts 4, 5, and 6 into an actual cohesive plot, what he mostly does is make this an absolutely self-indulgent ode to himself.
If all the trivia about these films is true, it’s no surprise that Clive wanted to take someone else’s creation and make it all his own. Apparently Clive, who produced a bunch of the sequels, made the lives of each director a living hell, and in the end, changed everything they did, rewrote scripts, did reshoots, and sometimes even took directing credits for himself. The man literally hijacked more than half of the franchise and made it all about him.
This disaster has him playing a drifter who comes to a small town just before locals begin getting slaughtered.
Legend has it that Clive filmed the movie in a real small town and cast all the locals…as themselves. A good chunk of the movie features him just hanging out in a local bar with everyone as they chat, square dance, sing country songs, piss, fart…. Seriously, dude? This is the fucking Howling legacy you’re shooting in its heart with a silver bullet.
When we’re not living the small town dream with these non-actors, a couple of guys are investigating the characters from the previous films in a series of flashback footage from parts 4, 5, and 6.
The leading lady from part 4 returns to relate her story, and the final girl from part 5 is also on hand. Thanks to very specific footage used from part 6 accompanied by an explanation, you actually get to notice that the final girl from part 5 made a barely noticeable cameo in it, something most (including me) wouldn’t have noticed when watching 6.
Clive’s character also plays a major role in tying the movies together (because the franchise is all about him, of course). He has a cameo in part 4, then plays a different major role in part 5, so those two factors are brought together here by explaining that he was both of those characters…event though he now has a different name with no explanation.
What else to say? Kills consist simply of oversaturated red wolf POV.
Clive’s hair looks absurd, so when a local calls him a red-headed faggot, I hate to side with a homophobe, but Clive kind of deserves it.
Also of note, although it’s never mentioned, apparently part 7 was filmed at Halloween time, because there are Halloween decorations and Jack o’ lanterns at the bar.
When we finally find out who the werewolf is in the last scene, there’s a terrible, thankfully brief CGI transformation, and then we just see the werewolf face.
THE HOWLING REBORN (2011)
I guess the Teen Wolf brand had already been acquired for the MTV series before Reborn went into production. There is no reason to have brought The Howling name back to life with an awful teen werewolf melodrama that completely fails to define its characters or their motivations as it drags along.
Landon Liboiron from the TV show Hemlock Grove gets to warm-up as a werewolf, yet not really, because despite being the teen who finds out he’s descended from a bunch of werewolves, he never bothers to turn into one, even during the final battle.
Instead his “girlfriend” comes to his rescue, a character he flirts with just a few times before she decides she’s in love enough with him to let him turn her into a werewolf…even though he never does so himself. What a fucking mess.
As in Teen Wolf, he has a goofy best friend who helps him cope with his new puberty problem…even though they also get only a few scenes together that barely establish their closeness.
And his mother, who he thought died, comes back on the scene, but somehow his father doesn’t recognize her.
With about 15 minutes to go, the main characters finally discover on graduation day (night actually) that the werewolf clan is conveniently living in the basement of their high school. The brief werewolf action is a blend of practical makeup and CGI, most of it cloaked in shadow either way.
As the credits role, the film finally echoes the original movie, with him live streaming a transformation to show the world that werewolves really do exist.
Not even a soundtrack that includes “The Killing Moon” by Echo and the Bunnymen, Alison Moyet performing a solo version of her Yazoo song “Ode to Boy”, and an acoustic version of “Don’t Fear the Reaper” can make Reborn any better. Just binge the entire Teen Wolf series—great soundtrack, lots of shirtless hotties, and gay stuff.