Howling IV: The Original Nightmare

Well, I guess it’s time to once again dip into the Howling franchise, a rapid succession of literal howlers that stands to this day as arguably one of the consistently rotten horror franchises that’s ever existed. It wasn’t always this way, though – you see, before Philippe Mora kamikaze dived the series into stupidity with his two sequels that dabbled heavily with sex cults, marsupials and an unhealthy obsession with Sybil Danning’s boobs, the orginal movie still holds as one of the best werewolf movies ever made thanks to an intelligent script, smart direction and some of the coolest special effects you’ve ever fucking seen. This actually seems to have been taken into consideration by the change of management when the fourth Howling padded around, but instead of taking the original as inspiration because it’s a good movie, the filmmakers instead tried to catch hairy lighting in a bottle by simply remaking it… but shitter. Waaaaaaaaaay shitter.

Novelist Marie Adams is going through some weird shit. She’s having vivid hallucinations that consist of either spotting a short, bug-eyed nun who isn’t really there or a horrifying premonition of some fanged beast leaping at her through a wall of flame so because this is the 80’s, Maria is deemed to be “too imaginative” and is ordered by her doctor to go somewhere and just not think of stuff…
Heading off with her husband – who never looks more than fifteen minutes away from storming off and starting a Wham! tribute band – they deside to chill out in the small town of Drago a few hours outside of LA.
However, not long after arriving, Maria starts to be suspicious of this town that only seems to have six inhabitants at any one time and not only to her visions persist, but she constantly hears howling deep in the woods at night; however, hubby Richard seems to prefer a steady regimen of gaslighting to cure her problems instead. Salvation is at hand in the form of Janice, a holiday maker, ex-nun and big fan of Marie’s writing (a handy combination and no mistake), who it turns out was a friend of the nun that the vexed writer has being having visions of. Realising that they’re onto something, the two woman try to crack open the past of of Drago that includes unholy practices, unexplained fires and a healthy population of werewolves that have been hounding Marie since she arrived. Meanwhile, Richard – presumably between humming bars of Club Tropicana – has decided to substantially up his asshole quota by falling for the not-too-subtle charms of local artist Eleanor who, like everybody else in Drago, sprouts fangs and fur when the moon is full. Can Marie and Janice manage to escape this town of ravenous beasts when nothing was really stopping them in the first place except a shitty husband and social anxiety…?

Say what you will about the previous two travesties that bore the Howling name – and I fucking have, believe you me – at least they were shooting for the moon (pun intended). With their legitimately deranged plots that involved everything from black magic to ballerinas, they may have been hilariously inept but at least the filmmakers didn’t let a lack of budget (or common sense) slow their roll. In comparison, Howling IV is a sluggish test on the patience of even the most undemanding werewolf fan that can only lay claim to being The Original Nightmare because it legitimately is a nightmarishly bad remake of the orginal.
It’s a brave man who chooses to remake a genuine horror classic within it’s own franchise while not including any of the aspects that made Joe Dante’s flick so memorable, but I’ve got to tip a cap to director John Hough for pissing in the wind without any sense of self awareness whatsoever. If “boring” was a style then Hough would be an auteur, but he’s not exactly helped by his glassy eyed cast who all perform like there’s a broken gas main somewhere on set and they’re all slowly succumbing to the fumes. While I don’t mean to body shame, the performance from the lead actress is so bland it couldn’t draw me away from the fascinating fact that her hairstyle makes her head look almost completely square, but she’s Meryl fucking Streep compared to the walking haircut who plays the utterly deuchey Richard who chooses to deliver all of his lines like he’s recuperating from a particularly savage concussion.
The only saving grace the movie has is special effects ace Steve Johnson whose studio provided the lupine creatures with a catastrophic underbite and usually some kickass servings of 80’s latex would be enough to single handedly lift this travesty into two-star status alone. However, the filmmakers make the distressing choice of taking work from the man who gave us the Libary Ghost from Ghostbusters and the Wild Man from Big Trouble In Little China (lot of extreme overbites in this man’s filmography) and obscuring it from view with flames and twitchy editing. Worse yet, on some prints of the film, Johnson’s work has been omitted entirely by overzealous censors who snipped out an entire sequence in which Richard turns into a werewolf for the first time by melting entirely into a puddle on the ground and then emerging from it in a mangled wolven form. So a big hand for the MPAA everybody, now that that scenes cut we’ll hopefully stop getting those copycat meltings in American schools….
Not all the effect have dated so well; a transformation scene at the end of the film sees a man tear his own face off, Hemlock Grove style, in order to show off what big teeth he has, but to pull it off it unfortunately just looks like the man has a big, rubbery pie face that’s been caused by a massive allergic reaction to shrimp, or something.

Despite the claim that it’s adapting the three entries from Gary Brandner’s original source novels, this “Original” nightmare is just another example of the stunning downward trajectory the series was still somehow managing.
So for all of its wolfy aspirations, The Howling series has long since gone to the dogs instead…

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