Tuesday, 30 April 2013

Retrospective: Howling VI: The Freaks (1991)


Welcome back to part 6 of The Howling retrospective! In this entry, we're going to focus on the sixth entry in the franchise, Howling VI: The Freaks! With The Rebirth being surprisingly decent in spite of itself, could The Freaks take the series in a positive new direction? Read on to find out...

I'll get to it later, but there's a reason why you only see the werewolf's eyes on the poster...

For the sake of continuity, it is notable that Howling VI is the first entry in the series since The Original Nightmare to not feature Clive Turner in any capacity. The movie was the first movie directed by Hope Perello (who is apparently the director of the Space Arts Center in Pasadena now... who knew?), although she had done some second-unit directing and miscellaneous crew work previously, including working on... uh... the original Troll. Okay, not a particularly impressive CV, but the same can be said about almost everyone who worked on a Howling sequel. The script was written by Kevin Rock who... oh God, really? Kevin Rock would go on to write the script for the legendary Roger Corman Fantastic Four movie, which was so bad, Fox never intended to release it (they just wanted to hang onto the film rights). This just keeps getting worse.


Howling VI has an interesting and fresh premise, portraying its protagonist as a sympathetic werewolf. It also largely takes place in a travelling freakshow, which provides a strange but intriguing backdrop for all the action. Sure, a large chunk also occurs in a small town, but the freakshow is at least far more visually engaging than series staples, such as "cave in the outback" or "cabin in the woods". It's also worth pointing out that this is one of the earlier examples of werewolves vs vampires in film, predating Underworld (the movie which would make the trope a staple of popular mythology) by more than a decade. The movie was also filmed quite well - Hope Perello and cinematographer Edward Pei did a good job of ensuring that the picture and cinematography were crisp and professional-looking (which is more than what can be said of most of the previous entries in the series).


It's also refreshing that, despite the limited budget, the make-up effects look quite good. In fact, the make-up is so good that you can't even recognize the leads underneath it. The best of these would have to be the vampire, Harker, who has a very cool and effective design (as seen above). However, even relatively minor makeup effects, such as the "Alligator Boy"'s scales, look quite good. The only problem I have with the make-up is that the main attraction - the werewolf - is a bit of a double-edged sword. On the one hand, the werewolf costume has been designed in such a way that the wolf has hind legs like a real canine would, which is quite impressive and cool looking. On the other hand, its face looks like this:


That's... pretty damn ugly. It's more wolf-man than werewolf. The design looks a bit better in the actual film, but it's still a far cry from the werewolf effects from the first film. At the very least, it looks better than some of the embarrassments which have tried to pass for werewolves in the previous Howling sequels. There's also actual transformation sequences in this movie as well, which are a big plus. Of course, the movie is running on a fairly low budget, so some of the effects look pretty cheap at times - particularly when Harker dies from sunlight, you can see the fan inside of the paper-mache skull which is tearing the body apart... but still, all things considered, the effects and make-up are fairly well done.

Howling VI carries on the tradition from Howling V where the leads aren't terrible actors. In fact, Bruce Payne (who plays the vampire, Harker) puts in a good performance as the slimy, charismatic villain. He definitely steals every scene he appears in and elevates the film by himself. Brendan Hughes (who plays the werewolf, Ian) does a decent job as well, although he swings between decent and mediocre inconsistently. The other roles range from decent (the priest) to pretty bad (the sheriff and Elizabeth), but no one hits the rock bottom levels of The Original Nightmare thankfully. Also worth pointing out (as it ties into the next entry in the series), Elizabeth Shé appears in a cameo at the carnival and is actually credited as Marylou, her character from Howling V. In this movie, it's a blink-and-you'll-miss-it affair (if you even recognize her at all), but it doesn't really tie into the actual plot at all so it's really not that important.

That's her there in the polka dots.

Unfortunately, the story and script aren't really all that great. It looks like Kevin Rock bungled things on his end, while Hope Perello held up her end quite well. The story basically boils down to: man comes to town, freakshow comes to town, man gets captured by freakshow because he's a werewolf, man gets abused for a while until he kills the vampire ringleader (who he has a past with). It's a little more interesting to watch it, but overall it's just not that compelling. There are also some half-baked subplots (including a romantic interest), but they don't really amount to much. One particularly egregious example of this is that Ian is told that he killed Elizabeth when he transformed into a werewolf, but less than 5 minutes later he finds out that she is not... so what was the point of that? It's also hard to believe that all the work Ian does in the church when he first arrives in town (totally residing it, varnishing the siding, polishing the windows, completely cleaning the interior of the church, etc) was done in a day. That said, it may not have been only a day, but the editing and a bit of dialogue seems to imply that it was.


The final 20 minutes are also rather campy, where the vampire finally starts killing the townsfolk like a generic horror monster. There's also a vampire vs werewolf fight which isn't nearly as cool as it sounds, and really just comes across as hokey. Ultimately, the script is what brings down Howling VI, because the movie certainly had some potential to be at least mediocre. As it stands, the movie is interesting and worth seeing if you have any interest in the idea of a werewolf in a freakshow, but very flawed.


4/10


Be sure to come back soon for part 6 of this retrospective, The Howling VII: New Moon Rising!

Friday, 26 April 2013

Retrospective: Howling V: The Rebirth (1989)

Welcome back to part 5 of The Howling retrospective! In this entry, we're going to focus on the fifth entry in the franchise, Howling V: The Rebirth! Five movies in, and the only passable movie was the first (with each of the successive sequels managing to redefine the concept of "suck")... does The Rebirth even stand a chance? Read on to find out...


Despite failing pretty spectacularly on Howling IV, in part due to no one wanting to finance the damn movie, the Howling movies were still making quite a bit of money from VHS sales. As a result, a fifth movie in the franchise was greenlit and fast-tracked, being released only 6 months after the previous film. By all accounts, that's nuts. I'm guessing production must have started before Howling IV was even finished, but still... a 6 month turn-around time is unprecedented and almost certainly spells bad things. This fast-tracking also meant that the movie was running on a fairly low budget, cutting down on the number of actors and sets required. It's also worth noting that Howling IV's werewolf costume was reused for this film... the good werewolf costume that is (probably best of all the sequels too), so not exactly a bad thing. The movie was largely filmed in Hungary in an old castle and on some castle sets. I can't help but wonder if they wrote the script entirely around this location, or if Black Knight or something had just wrapped up filming and someone wanted to make the most out of the unused castle sets. Whatever the case, Clive Turner is back again as co-script writer and in a fairly important acting role as well. Sure, he was involved in Howling IV but, to be fair, wasn't really responsible for its failures (at least, not that I can see) so it's not exactly a strike against Howling V.


Howling V moves from the outlandish setups of the previous films into something far simpler - a murder mystery. I'm not entirely convinced that this is coincidental, but a remake of Ten Little Indians was released the same year, so the producers might have been trying to cash in on that interest. Whatever the case, Howling V features a very generic mystery set-up with a bit of a monster movie twist: a group of strangers are isolated together in a castle and soon discover that, one by one, they're being knocked off by a werewolf who is hiding among them and must discover who they are before it's too late. It's a very generic set-up, but it's still effective (and refreshing compared to the failed plots of the other Howling movies. It also reconnects this movie to the themes of the first Howling, in that it emphasizes mystery and horror. The plot also allows a sense of paranoia to be created quite effectively - it's not exactly at the levels of The Thing (who can hope to measure up to that anyway?), but you will be guessing and second-guessing who the werewolf is until around the last 15-20 minutes, at which point it starts to become fairly obvious. That said, I won't spoil who the werewolf is in case you want to watch the movie (although I will mention some of the people who die, so keep that in mind).


Unlike the acting in the other Howling sequels, the performances are actually decent across the board. No one really stands out as being good, but most of the actors manage to put in acceptable performances. That's pretty damn important, because Howling V is a character-based mystery. The fact that the cast does a fairly decent job helps to distinguish everyone and keep the film from failing on the same level as Howling IV. Really, only a couple cast members stick out for bad acting... which is better numbers than even the first Howling can brag about. Stephanie Faulkner (who plays Gail Cameron) starts out decently, but by the time the group reaches the castle, basically everything she says sounds unconvincing or flat. Luckily, she dies fairly early so she doesn't bring things down too much. William Shockley (who plays Richard Hamilton), on the other hand, is decent for quite a while, but around the halfway point he begins to become very grating. The only other actor who puts in a sub-par performance is Elizabeth Shé (who plays Marylou Summers). However, she is somewhat exonerated by the fact that she is supposed to be playing a stereotypical bimbo... and beyond that, I kind of liked her (from what I've seen though, there are quite a few people who disliked her acting so I'd be remiss to not mention her). Even the writing's pretty funny at times... and not unintentionally so like in Howling II. Here's a couple snippets that I found quite clever:

Bartender: "Enough to turn you off women..."
Ray: "Not when you consider the alternative."

Marylou: "It's not easy to pretend to be stupid!"

Catherine: "You, Mr. Price, you look like a man motivated by purely primary needs"
Ray: "You could be right, but it doesn't necessarily support the theory. For example, when I first met you, I thought you looked like a nice person."


One thing which a lot of people who see this movie bitch about is that the werewolf very rarely appears. As a result, a lot of people mock it and say it's not even a werewolf movie at all, and that the movie is basically just a bunch of people running around for an hour and a half. However, I would argue against this evaluation. Yes, the werewolf rarely appears and there isn't really all that much violence, but the movie makes up for this with the sense of mystery and paranoia. The werewolf in this Howling fits the Jaws ideal: hiding the monster from us makes it more effective. Considering how often we have been subjected to terrible looking werewolves in the other Howling sequels, this is a good change which brings them back a certain amount of mysteriousness and threat. Also, rather than causing the movie to be boring (like Howling IV), the rest of the movie is able to hold itself up in the absence of an on-screen werewolf.


All-in-all, I actually quite liked Howling V... this is probably somewhat heretical, but I even liked it more than The Howling at times. Unfortunately, the only thing really holding it back is that it's very derivative and that the acting ranges from mediocre to sub-par. Still, considering how cheaply and quickly it was made and its awful pedigree, Howling V is quite a lot of fun. That said, it's quite divisive since it doesn't have a ton of werewolf action, and so I know I'm probably in the minority on this evaluation. Still, I'd recommend checking  this movie out, especially if you have watched the other Howling movies. If nothing else, it looks like a masterpiece in comparison.

5/10

Be sure to come back soon for part 6 of this retrospective, Howling VI: The Freaks!

Monday, 22 April 2013

Retrospective: Howling IV: The Original Nightmare (1988)

Welcome back to part 4 of The Howling retrospective! In this entry, we're going to tackle the fourth entry in the series, Howling IV: The Original Nightmare! With Philipe Mora gone and a new personality climbing on board, would the series stop spiraling out of control? Well read on and find out...

Yes, that is actually its professional poster.

After Howling III irredeemably tarnished the last of the series' good will, it seemed that the producers wanted to try and start fresh and get the series back on track. As a result, Philipe Mora was gone and a new team took over. Among this team was one of Howling IV's writers, Clive Turner, who would become a fixture of the series for the next 4 entries. Perhaps hoping to redeem the Howling franchise, Turner and the other writers went back to the basics, choosing to re-adapt Gary Brandner's original novel. As a result, Howling IV feels a lot like a remake of the first Howling movie, but it is actually closer the novel than the first movie was. The director was also not a total B-movie no-namer this time around, as John Hough signed on at the last minute. I'm not exactly familiar with Hough's films, but I have seen Escape From Witch Mountain and its sequel before, so the man wasn't exactly an unknown. However, despite the attempts to start fresh again with the series, the film wasn't able to get cinematic distribution and ended up going straight-to-video (as did all future Howling movies)... that doesn't necessarily mean that it sucked, but it's usually not a good sign. It also doesn't help that the movie had its budget slashed when financial backers pulled out. Cliver Turner was actually supposed to direct originally, but when the financiers pulled out he had to get Hough in to complete the movie with what little money was left. Interestingly, Hough filmed most of the movie in South Africa, but there was so little money available that entire sections of the movie were filmed without sound. Wow, I didn't even realize that was a budgetary consideration.


One of the major problems with Howling IV is the actors. Literally, from the first line of dialogue spoken in the film, you can tell that the performances are going to be god-awful. Almost everyone (especially Romy Walthal, who is supposed to be the freaking lead) are absolutely atrocious. The only one who puts in a moderately decent performance is Susanne Severeid, who plays former nun Janice. She's still pretty bad, but is noticeably a step above everyone else which makes her a bit more sympathetic. I know that bad acting is a hallmark of the Howling series, but it really hurts Howling IV more than the others for reasons I'll get to soon. If nothing else, Howling IV feels like a far inferior copy of the original movie, if only because the acting is so bad.

As for the plot of the movie itself, it obviously feels very similar to The Howling. It sort of makes me wonder if the producers weren't trying to pull a Return of the Living Dead: Part II, where it's basically the same movie done over again, rather than trying to freshen up the series (that part was speculation by me). Whatever the case, Hough decided to cut out the camp and sleaziness that the Howling films had reveled in for the past 7 years and instead went for a serious take on the source material to differentiate it... unfortunately, the aforementioned terrible acting makes taking the film seriously next to impossible. The movie also has some questionable logic gaps which further hurt its cause. For example, there's a major plot point that a character who repeated "We all live in fear" was actually saying "Werewolves are here"... umm, those sound absolutely nothing alike, no matter how many times you slur them together to try to convince us otherwise. Also, if the only way to kill the werewolves is in the bell tower, why did they transplant that bell tower from Transylvania to America?


However, the movie's biggest problem though is that it's just plain boring and I didn't really care about much of anything that happened. I can't even tell you half of the characters names. Nothing happens until 80 minutes in (of a 90 minute movie), at which point one of the characters spontaneously starts melting. It's a really weird scene because it's completely out of left field, but it sets off about 10 minutes of mediocre werewolf action. At least the other Howling movies were a bit of exploitative fun, even if I didn't particularly enjoy them. By trying to be serious, the movie ends up just being a slog (its equivalent of the "sleazy" character from the first movie ends up being rather flat... well, in the acting department anyway; I dunno what her character's name really was but I think "torpedo tits" is probably the most appropriate honorary nickname for her).

That's a werewolf, apparently...

The movie also suffers from having some terrible looking werewolf effects. While the main creature actually looks quite good, all the other ones are embarrassingly bad. They look like ugly, old people with prosthetic teeth and dark makeup around their eyes. And then there's the even more embarrassing scene where a dozen German Shepherds with red overlays over their eyes come running in - this is supposed to be an army of werewolves. Of course, this is likely due to the budget getting slashed, but that's no excuse for what we end up getting subjected to.


Clearly I don't have a lot to say about Howling IV... and that's because there isn't much to say about it. It's largely boring, shoddy and has yet another retarded ending. The movie would have benefited immensely from some better acting, proper makeup and quicker pacing, at which point it might have actually surpassed the first movie. However, as it is, Howling IV just feels like a really weak remake.

3/10

Be sure to come back soon for part 5 of this retrospective: Howling V: The Rebirth.

Friday, 19 April 2013

Retrospective: Howling III: The Marsupials (1987)

Welcome back to part 3 of The Howling retrospective! In this entry, we're going to tackle the third entry in the series, Howling III: The Marsupials! And just before we get into that, I want to draw your attention to this article, where some idiot claims that R-rated movies are responsible for lower ticket sales. Honestly, I'm not a ratings whore like many people I run into while scouring the Internet, but there aren't nearly enough R-rated movies. Too often, studios either neuter an R-rated movie into a PG-13 movie and make it feel cheap as a result (see AVP, Priest, Live Free or Die Hard, and I imagine World War Z will end up like this as well), or they'll just refuse to greenlight it at all (the Halo movie apparently). Honestly, ticket sales are down, in part because of piracy, but mainly because of ridiculous ticket prices and a lack of good movies to see. Personally, I'll go see any movie in theaters that catches my fancy... but in the last 4 months, the only movie that's caught my interest was Evil Dead. That's a pretty terrible record. Hollywood needs to stop cramming all their movies into the summer season, stop playing it so damn conservatively and give theater chains their fair shake... ok, rant over, let's talk about were-kangaroos.

Not-so-subtly sexual tagline... check.

Philipe Mora, director of the previous Howling movie (which, if you didn't read the previous retrospective, was bat-shit insane), was unsatisfied with how Stirba - Werewolf Bitch turned out. Apparently, the studio tinkered with it after he was done and probably forced him to do some of the absolutely insane things which happened in that movie. So, as a matter of making amends, he personally financed a third Howling movie to get more control over it, casting largely unknown/no-name actors... and then, for some reason, decided to set it in Australia. Now obviously I have nothing against a werewolf movie in Australia per se, but it's how Mora handles this decision that's a bit ridiculous - he decided to incorporate Australian mythology and make a marsupial evolution of the werewolf running parallel to the normal kind. And yes, this means that they have a pouch (although they're not actually were-kangaroos, thank God). I'm gonna drop pretenses of ambiguity on this one - it's strange ideas like making the werewolves marsupials that make Howling III any incredibly loony film.

Also, interesting note: Nicole Kidman was originally supposed to be Jerboa apparently. Good for her that she wasn't, she may never have recovered...


First, let's look at the acting in the film. The acting is, on the whole, better than in Howling II, with Imogen Annesley (Jerboa) and Barry Otto (Prof. Harry Beckmeyer) putting in decent performances. I also quite liked Burnum Burnum (Kendi). Sure, his performance was kind of flat, but he had a ton of charisma, and made me laugh basically every time he opened his mouth (on purpose, mind you). His crowning moment was in his death too where he puts out this gem:


Jerboa: You're going to turn into a river Kendi, then a rainbow...
Kendi: No way, I'm just gonna die! *Dies*


That said, it's still a Howling sequel, and so there are plenty of duds in the acting department - Lee Biolos (Donny Martin) puts in a particularly flat performance as the love interest, and Dagmar Bláhová (Olga) just goes absolutely off the rails at times... as pictured below:

Is it just me, or do the werewolf contact lenses in this movie make everyone look googly-eyed?

While the acting is, in general, better than Howling II, there are some moments where the acting and writing drop far below even that modest standard. There's a pretty awesome one in the first 5 minutes that goes like this:


Guy 1: Weird shit? I've got a weird feeling...
Guy 2: *Crazy emphasis* Indigestion?
Guy 1: No. Fear.

Oh, and then there's one of my absolute favourite moments in all of cinema, a combination of terrible acting and dialogue in one beautiful package. You have to see this to believe it:


That priest acts more in the last 2 seconds of that video than he did in the 16 preceding it. He's clearly reading his lines off the back of the seat in front of him. Did they hire him 2 minutes before they shot the scene? Unlike a Youtube video of The Wicker Man remake, that scene is even more random in context. I could go on all day about just that one clip, but we have to move on.

The effect in this movie are pretty horrible. I was hesitant to say they were worse than Howling II, but around the midway point I had to concede that they definitely were. You never really saw any fully-transformed werewolves in Your Sister is a Werewolf, but at least they didn't look like this:


Even the half-transformed werewolves in Howling II looked better than the ones in this one (and there are A LOT of them):

You can see it in motion here.

And then there's some just plain ridiculous decisions. First off, Jerboa has a trio of werewolf sisters who dress like nuns. For some reason when they transform they're completely hairless.

Why is the one on the left a pig?

Like I said earlier, there are just a lot of really strange decisions made in this movie, and the nuns are barely scratching the surface from the costume design standpoint. At the start of the movie there's a werewolf tied to a stake, but they're clearly only half in costume, so I'm not sure if this was intentional or not. There's also some absolutely baffling decisions made, such as covering the otherwise fairly attractive Jerboa in thick fur, or the fact that female werewolves grow 2 more pairs of boobs when they transform now.

I couldn't make up this shit...

Moving onto the plot, which is surprisingly way more complicated than you'd think. Typically Howling movies have a fairly straightforward plot, but Howling III goes a bit off the rails. The story is ridiculously excessive, throwing in probably 5 or 6 acts before the credits roll. There's also all sorts of narrative dead-ends and pointless stuff thrown in which bogs things down even further (those nun werewolves for example). Honestly, the movie is just paced terribly - it was hard finding the screenshots for this film because most scenes don't last more than a minute or two, and so I was having to skip through with a fine comb to find exactly what I was looking for. It also has the side-effect that the movie is just incredibly boring at times, especially after the first 40 minutes or so. The werewolf carnage is pretty rare too, with only one decent attack in the whole thing. Strangely enough, this also means that this is the only Howling with a PG-13 rating.

Anyway, the plot's pretty nuts. Jerboa runs away from her hometown of Flow (Flow...? Wait a second...) because her step-father tried to rape her, and he's a werewolf. While sitting on a bench, this happens:


Despite the fact that basically anyone who would hire you for a movie on the basis that you are "beautiful and wild looking" is casting for a porno (her first scene involves a monster gang rape... that wasn't a joke), Jerboa accepts and she and Donny fall in love and have sex. Somehow, Donny doesn't find it odd that Jerboa has more body hair than he does (it was the 80s), but soon she transforms and gets captured by scientists. However, she gets broken out by her nun sisters and taken back to Flow (there's something subtle about that name...). Meanwhile, a Soviet ballerina named Olga is in town and it turns out she's a werewolf. The scientists, Olga and Donny head to Flow, but then they make a startling discovery...

Holy shit, no way!!!!

Jerboa gives birth (more on that later) and then she and Donny run off into the wild as the military captures the people of Flow. After a convoluted series of events, Olga and Prof. Beckmeyer run off to live in the wild with Jerboa and Donny. The military come chasing after them, but Kendi kills a shitload of them, but stops when he gets stabbed and dies... just kidding, his freaking skeleton attacks another group of soldiers, but he's finally put down. However, those 2 guys get killed by another werewolf, who only dies because one of these soliders sleeps with a rocket launcher... anyway, eventually everyone decides to stop living in the wild and go back into civilization. Donny becomes a famous director and Jerboa becomes a famous actress (and for some reason, Beckmeyer doesn't know about this), but at the Academy Awards, Jerboa turns into a werewolf. The end. Umm... wow. Did I mention that the movie's just over 90 minutes long? That's a lot of convoluted crap to fit in there, and while it can be done (Scott Pilgrim anyone?), Philipe Mora DOES NOT manage it at all.

Do you remember how I said the werewolf threesome in Howling II was one of the most awkward things I've ever seen in a movie? Well I think the #1 honour might have to go to the birthing scene in Howling III. First, Jerboa strips down into her fur suit and then suddenly this little puppet starts crawling out of her vagina.

I wish I was joking.

The damn thing crawls up her pubes, while she's all smiling and happy, like this is supposed to be a touching moment... it's not. It's gross and extremely awkward for all involved. Anyway, the damn thing crawls up her body and goes straight into her damned pouch. ARGH, it's awkward just describing it.


And while the newborn baby's hardly endearing, it gets even worse as it grows older. Look at this fugly thing:


Ugh, kill it! Every time that thing showed up on screen, it's supposed to be a cute, touching moment, but the baby's so fugly looking that it made me retch. Some people believe all babies are cute, but this one needs to be put to the torch.

So that's Howling III in a nut-shell. He's an absolutely insane movie, but even then it somehow manages to not be quite as bad as Howling II was. It has a lot of ambition, it just executes pretty much everything it aims for completely incompetently.

1.5/10

Be sure to come back soon for part 4 of this retrospective: Howling IV: The Original Nightmare!

Wednesday, 17 April 2013

Retrospective: Howling II: Your Sister Is a Werewolf (1985)

Welcome back to part 2 of The Howling retrospective! Sorry it took so long to post this, as I have been very busy between final assignments and paintballing like a boss. However, now that that's out of the way, we can get back on schedule and take a look at Howling II: Stirba - Werewolf Bitch (Your Sister is a Werewolf: It's Not Over Yet)... ok, maybe that's not the real title, but seriously, look it up. The movie has so many damn alternative titles that it's ridiculous. Is the title the only misguided thing about this movie? Well read on and find out...

That poster is sooooooo 80s (in a bad way)...

Howling II is directed by Phillipe Mora, rather than Joe Dante who directed the first film. I'm having difficulty finding actual reviews of Mora's films, but from what I see he is generally known for terrible, low-budget b-movies. To be fair, Joe Dante came from a background with the king of the b-movie, Roger Corman, so this isn't a huge knock against Mora. Also interestingly, Gary Brandner, the guy who wrote the Howling trilogy of novels, co-wrote the screenplay for this entry. This is actually kind of strange since it apparently has nothing to do with the novels, and so I'm not sure how much actual input he had on it. This becomes even stranger because apparently Brandner didn't like the first Howling simply because it diverged from the plot of his novel. In terms of the cast, the movie features 2 notables: Christopher freaking Lee (who is as awesome as he always is) and cult favourite, Sybil Danning (whose... uh... "performance" is sure not to disappoint her "fans").


I can't find any budget numbers for this movie, but it's pretty clear that it probably had less than the rather modest $1 million which the original Howling had... either that, or the production crew wasted far more of it, which is a distinct possibility, since they managed to wrangle Christopher Lee and shot about half of the film on location in Soviet-controlled Czechoslovakia. Whatever the case may be, compared to the first movie, the special effects look like ass. Check out the "werewolves":



Ugh, they look terrible, especially when compared to the great werewolves in the first movie. Throughout the movie, the filmmakers can't decide if they want Halloween costume werewolves or if they want fugly-looking wolfmen, and so their designs literally change throughout - sometimes we get full-on werewolves, sometimes we get hair old dudes, sometimes we get full werewolf costumes with regular human faces... and sometimes we get Planet of the Apes costume department rejects. Also, that shot of Christopher Lee just a little ways up the page, where he's standing in front of stars with a random skeleton, is from the opening... and it looks like something out of a 50s sci-fi movie.


So the special effects, the best part about the first movie, suck... well how about the acting? The movie's got Christopher Lee in it, so it can't be that bad right? Well you're sort of on the dot there. Christopher Lee plays supernatural beast slayer Stephan quite well, but everyone else in this ranges from bad to abysmal. Sybil Danning's titular werewolf bitch, Stirba, is absolutely bonkers, making all manner of ridiculously overacted facial expressions in basically every scene. The other two leads, Annie McEnroe's Jenny and Reb Brown's Ben, are so bad that apparently Christopher Lee refused to act on set with them. McEnroe's character is extremely flat and dull with basically no personality. Reb Brown's character is noteworthy, but for all the wrong reasons - he's basically your stereotypical, macho, angry, gunslinging, American hero who runs around yelling whenever he fires his gun off and thinks that he's somehow qualified to kill werewolves. They're basically useless tag-alongs who serve no real useful function to the plot, but merely tie it into the previous movie very tenuously (Ben is Karen's brother, hence the "Your Sister is a Werewolf" thing in the title). Also, their lack of chemistry makes their "romance" and especially their sex scene really awkward and out of place. The other characters can basically be summed up in one sentence: Marsha Hunt's Mariana is apparently an extremely dangerous werewolf (although we never actually see such) and Jirí Krytinár plays a midget named Vasile who throws knives and gets his eyes blown out by Stirba's magical voice.

That wasn't a joke.

Predictably, the story is absolutely nuts. The Howling at least tried to take itself seriously, but Howling II is so strange that I have no idea what the hell they were thinking when they came up with it. The movie opens with Stephan reading from the book of Revelations (for some reason... it reminds me of the "PULL THE STRING!" speech from Glen or Glenda?), and then cuts to Karen's funeral, where Stephan tells Jenny that Karen was a werewolf. However, things immediately get nuts, because it turns out that extracting a silver bullet from a werewolf makes them regenerate and come back to life, and the only permanent way to kill them is with... titanium. Umm... ok... One person who reviewed the movie noted that this is actually kind of funny because titanium is more common and cheaper than silver is... But anyway, the writers of Howling II don't seem to understand werewolf lore at all, claiming that holy water, garlic and stakes to the heart are all effective against them (while they do use stakes, I don't think they ever actually hit any of the werewolves in the heart with them). Anyway, apparently Karen turning into a werewolf on live TV was somehow covered up and no one knows the truth about it. Also, it's conveniently Stirba's 10,000th birthday, at which point all werewolves will take over the world, even though there's no real sense of urgency about this throughout the entire movie.

As you can see from just the first few minutes of the movie, the plot is a mish-mashed mess of silliness, camp and just plain terrible ideas. There's also a strange 80s New Wave style running through the movie (as demonstrated by the poster's tagline), which seems to have influenced the "fashion sense" of the werewolves apparently (why is Stirba wearing sunglasses at night?). New Wave music is also really prevalent throughout the movie, as Phillipe Mora seems to have hired the band, Babel, to do the soundtrack for the movie. I actually dig their theme song quite a bit, and would actually say it's one of the best parts of the whole movie. Unfortunately, whoever edited the film seemed to agree, and spammed the shit out of it. Howling II is only a 90 minute movie, but the song appears on 10 separate occasions (and Babel themselves appear 3 different times as well), so I wouldn't be surprised if you were sick of it by the end.


Speaking of editing, the filmmakers have a thing for wipe transitions. Tons of really diverse and distracting transitions are used in this movie for no discernible reason. The editing is also rather strange, jumping back and forth between events which are likely happening hours apart from each other (either that, or werewolves "get it on" for hours). The credits also seem to suffer from this problem. The movie is generally rather sleazy, with lots of cleavage and a couple scenes with topless women, but the credits throw this into ridiculous overdrive. The credits basically turn into a Babel music video of the band playing music with scenes from the movie cut over it. There is a scene in Howling II of Sybil Danning tearing off her... uh, fetish vest, or whatever the hell it is... Anyway, this one shot is repeated so many times in the credits that I lost count (thankfully the Internet tells me that it's 17 times).

Of course, no review of Howling II is complete without mentioning one of the the most awkward things I've ever seen put to film: the werewolf three-way orgy. So Stirba has just had her youth magically rejuvenated and literally the first thing she decides to do is engage in a 3 way. I guess no one wanted to do that with granny-Stirba or something... Whatever the case, the movie has been pushing a sleazy tone throughout so it's obvious that they want this to carry over to this scene as well... but they fail spectacularly. The scene ends up being a bunch of people in fur suits (without werewolf faces, inexplicably) hissing and growling at each other while rubbing up against one another. It's just extremely awkward to watch (and goes on for a good couple minutes), and extremely un-erotic. I'm pretty sure the only people who'd get turned on by this are furries.

Random Internet Commentator: "Yiff in hell furfags!!!1!"

Anyway, the movie ends on just as bonkers a note as it does at the beginning, with Stephan and Stirba spontaneously combusting and Ben and Jenny being visited by Dr. Zaius. Howling II is... an experience. It's a failure on almost every conceivable angle, its only bright spots being Christopher Lee's performance and Babel's theme song. However, so great is its failure that it's hilariously watchable (like Troll 2). That said, I'd only recommend it to bad movie enthusiasts and people who really need to see all the werewolf movies.

1/10

Once it has been seen, it cannot be un-seen...

Be sure to come back soon for part 3 of this retrospective: Howling III: The Marsupials!

Wednesday, 10 April 2013

Retrospective: The Howling (1981)

It's that time again folks, to dive into another movie series to see how it has changed. And if you can read the text above you, you'll know that our latest subject of examination is The Howling series! However, before I commence with the retrospective I just want to mention a couple things briefly. The first has to do with my Project X review. Yes, I am still hung up on that bloody movie. Anyway, at the end I threw in a little post-script defending my position on the movie regarding any questions of my objectivity in regards to giving the movie a 0.5/10. However, after giving it a little thought, I don't think that that post-script was really warranted. A film review is simply one person's analysis of a movie, and I found Project X morally indefensible. While I do try to temper my personal feelings somewhat (for example, Triumph of the Will is an expertly crafted movie, even if it is Nazi propaganda), if I have to excise my feelings entirely then it's hardly my review of a movie then, is it? I expect my readers to engage with reviews from a critical perspective, so if you don't agree with me then that's fine - you're entitled to your own opinion.

The second thing I need to mention is the passing of Roger Ebert. I'm sure that most of you have heard about this by now. While I myself did not follow him very closely, and found myself clashing with his reviews on occasion (most notably on his assessment of Kick-Ass), but for any film buff the news of his death is quite tragic. He was a very visible face of the profession, and his absence will most assuredly be missed.

This seriously made me tear up...

And now my final little thing before we get into The Howling. As soon as I published my last blog post (or perhaps the one before it), Metal Gear Solid V was announced. Suffice to say, as a fan of the series, I'm psyched. Sure, there has been a fair bit of fan backlash from David Hayter apparently not being involved (we'll see...), but let's be honest - that's hardly going to break the game. In any case, the uncertainty about the game and the backlash about Hayter has me thinking towards the future: specifically, where will the series go from here? It's looking like Ground Zeroes and Metal Gear Solid V will feed directly into the original Metal Gear, and so, aside from interquels, there's no where really to go but into the future. I mean, sure, there's the Rising series which is doing that, but they don't have the same core gameplay which defines the Solid series. In any case, what direction do you go into the future? Do you have to bring back Solid Snake to avoid losing fans? And will doing so stretch narrative credibility (already convoluted narrative aside)? Well I think I have a great solution for these problems (if anyone who is reading this can pass this off to Konami or Kojima, PLEASE DO SO).


Make the next game star Meryl Silverburgh. Snake's story was finished in Guns of the Patriots, and I sincerely hope that he will not come back and have that conclusion ruined. Rather, I think it's time for Meryl to step up and earn the "Snake" codename. Part of the problem which Metal Gear Solid 2 had was that Raiden just came out of nowhere. He was a new character with no prior history for us to be introduced to him, and now suddenly he had to fill in Solid Snake's shoes. However, Meryl gets around this problem - we've gotten to know her quite well over the course of 2 games, seeing her grow her skills and mature. Look at the above picture - she has even adopted Snake's trademark headband. Kojima loves circularity in the Metal Gear story, and Snake/Meryl have a bit of a The Boss/Big Boss dynamic going on. Maybe FOXHOUND reforms and she gets to lead it or something along those lines. Furthermore, as Snake's "apprentice", she would fit in perfectly with Solid's stealth gameplay style. Another very key element is that she'd be a great female lead. Video gamers (and by extension, developers and producers) are often knocked for being sexist, and for not taking risks with female lead characters - I've read about production companies killing games on the basis that "no one wants to buy a game with a female character". Making a Metal Gear game starring Meryl gets around some of these problems, putting a female face on a very high-profile game franchise (the only other one I can think of being Lara Croft). The fact that she is not an objectified and sexualized character also really helps give this a lot of credence (in contrast to, say, Mass Effect's Miranda, for whom the camera constantly focuses in on her ass). Sure, they may lose some douchebag fans in the process who can't accept any form of change, but I think that this is where the Metal Gear series needs to go in the future in order to remain relevant.


Ok... wow I wrote way more than I intended to there. Well, let's get into the meat of this post then: welcome to the first post in The Howling retrospective! In this entry we will be focusing on the first movie in the series, The Howling (1981)! For those who don't know, I love werewolves as a monster. The idea for them is just so rock-solid: they represent our inner-beast, the Id, the overpowering impulse for violence, primal fear and so on. Also, a giant wolf that runs around and kills people is just plain cool. Unfortunately, werewolves have had a rough time translating to film in comparison to the other two classic movie monsters - zombies and vampires. Among the more notable examples of the genre are The Howling movies. Many werewolf aficionados will point to the original Howling movie as being one of (if not THE) best werewolf movies ever made. As for the sequels... well, we'll get to those in the coming weeks. Anyway, is their assessment of The Howling spot-on? Is it really a must-see classic, if not in general, then for werewolf junkies? Well read on and find out...

Another great, iconic poster!

The Howling is based on a novel by Gary Bradner, and was directed by Joe Dante, a Roger Corman alumni (hey don't knock that credit, Corman is practically responsible for modern cinema). At the time, Dante was fresh off of the well-received original Piranha and was approached to adapt The Howling to film. Aside from these two films, his other two major credits include the two Gremlins movies; clearly Dante was an accomplished creature-feature director, in addition to having an awesome name. The other major player in this movie was special makeup effects creator, Rob Bottin. Originally Rick Baker was hired, but he left to work on another werewolf movie, An American Werewolf in London instead. The Howling was really Bottin's first major makeup effects job, but it was a key one - his very next movie was The Thing, and I think we all know how much his expertise propelled that movie into the territory of "classic". I'm not particularly familiar with the cast unfortunately, but the one big name I see in it is Dee Wallace, a vertan of Wes Craven's The Hills Have Eyes, and who would later go on to appear in such movies as ET and Cujo. So all-in-all, the movie had assembled a decent director and cast and an amazing effects creator: certainly within the boundaries to create a horror classic.

The Howling was released in 1981 - a particularly notable year, as there were 3 other major werewolf-themed movies released which sparked a renewed interest in the creature (the other two movies were An American Werewolf in London and Wulfen, the latter of which is not technically a werewolf movie but rather a movie featuring extremely intelligent wolves... but it's close enough to still count). In terms of its story, The Howling is quite unique. The film revolves around a news reporter, Karen White (Dee Wallace), who is traumatized by her encounter with a serial killer who she was luring for the police. She ends up being referred to a rehabilitation resort called "The Colony". However, it soon becomes clear that The Colony is a secret place for werewolves to segregate themselves from humanity and that Karen and her companions are in danger as a result. Running through this narrative are themes of the tolls of psychological trauma (particularly in the scenes where Karen can't have sex with her husband, Bill, and drives a rift into their relationship as a result). All-in-all, the movie takes itself and its subject matter quite seriously, an assessment which is somewhat at odds with some other peoples' - the movie's Wikipedia entry in particular claims that the movie is supposed to be self-aware and a satire, although I did not get this impression at all. The only way that it may be considered a satire is that The Colony seems to be based on Hippy Free Love communes... although, again, it doesn't really seem to be commenting on them all that much. Of course, Wikipedia also says that the wolf allusions in the movie are "subtle" but they're really not. Almost every single scene has someone watching a movie about wolves, reading a book about wolves or even eating freaking Wolf-brand chili. They're so in your face that there's no way you'd be surprised that it was a werewolf movie. In any case, The Howling feels like it was trying to be like Alien: B-movie subject matter trying to be taken as serious, A-level material.


That said, while the movie has A-level pretensions, it doesn't live up to them. Instead, it really does feel like the B-movie it's trying to emulate. There's one sleazy character who basically only exists to be an "Elvira-esque" character, showing off her cleavage all the time and, in one scene, her... uh, pubes (it was the 80s). Another problem with the movie's A-level aspirations is that the performances are very dull. Dee Wallace puts in a particularly flat performance, which is pretty crippling since she's supposed to be carrying the narrative. Of all the characters, the only one I really sympathized with was Belinda Balaski's Terry Fisher, and this is mostly due to her performance rather than any material she was given to work with. The story, while an interesting premise, actually is paced too slowly and really becomes rather boring at times. There's also silly script conveniences, such as the guy I'd dub "Chekov's Occult Book Seller", who just so happens to know everything about werewolves, especially how to kill them, despite not even believing in them. Oh, and then there's the fact that he says that the stuff about werewolves the characters know is "Hollywood bull crap", but then proceeds to immediately spout out Hollywood bull crap about them himself (silver bullets do not appear in werewolf folklore, they were popularized by Hollywood horror films). Another complaint is that the music in the movie occasionally feels really out of place. I get the feeling that they just grabbed some stock horror music and just threw it into the movie and said "good enough".


I've really been ragging on The Howling thus far and that's because, quite frankly, I think that it's massively overrated among werewolf fans. However, it does have a few very notable sequences which certainly make it worth a viewing. There's a 10 minute section where we finally get some good werewolf action when Terry gets trapped inside of an office with one of the werewolves, and it's awesome. We get some great looks at the makeup effects, and they're quite good. My one complaint with the werewolf design would be that the ears are way too damn big, making them look more like were-jack rabbits, but other than that I quite like them. The other notable scene is the famous transformation. Check it out:


Pretty impressive... but you may have noticed a pretty major flaw with the whole sequence. For one thing, it's WAY too drawn out (almost 3 minutes!), when normally the werewolves seem to take less than 5 seconds to transform. Also, more importantly, why the hell doesn't Dee Wallace run away while he's transforming? It's just another plot convenience really, and literally as soon as he finishes transforming, she splashes his face with acid. So much for that. The only other really cool scene is the one where Karen and Chris escape The Colony while under attack from werewolves on all sides.

And then there's the ending. Oh God, the ending. Even people who love this movie hate the ending. Karen gets bit by a werewolf and now she too becomes one. She decides that she has to reveal this to the world, and so goes on TV and transforms on the news. We are treated to this abomination:


That the f--k is that!?! Why did she transform into a cross between a wookie and a shih-tzu!!? And to make things even stranger, Chris then shoots her, on live TV. Oh, and to put a final nail in the ending, it is then revealed that the skank I mentioned earlier somehow avoided getting burnt to a cinder in the barn and is now on the loose. Then credits, superimposed over footage of a tasty-looking burger (cue Samuel L. Jackson). It's just such an odd-ball ending, made worse by the terrible werewolf design that they decided to give to Dee Wallace.


All-in-all, I didn't really care that much for The Howling. It has some cool sequences, but it hardly deserves its reputation as a classic werewolf movie. When doing a bit of research for this retrospective, I came across this post on IMDb and I think it sums up some of the big problems with the movie quite well:

"I feel like it's more enjoyable if you lived through the 60s and 70s and dealt with the 80s, with all of the excess and fear those decades imparted. It deals with the umbridling of passions(freelove blah blah) and the backlash of that freedom from selfcontrol (AIDS yaddayadda). I think the Howling has lost a lot of its impact as the years have progressed. Most of us who grew up after the fact aren't as affected by the shock value of these issues. We grew up in, or are growing in an environment where the 60s look ridiculous, the 70s look like a car crash, and the 80s were just a thin layer of make up trying to make American society look like it hadn't just been beaten by an abusive partner."

If you're interested in werewolf movies, then I'd recommend seeing The Howling, but there are much better movies in the sub-genre. I would definitely recommend An American Werewolf in London, Dog Soldiers and Ginger Snaps - they're all classics.

5.5/10

Be sure to come back soon for Part 2 of this retrospective: The Howling 2: Your Sister is a Werewolf (AKA Stirba - Werewolf Bitch)!

Wednesday, 3 April 2013

Quick Fix: Updates

I apologize in advance, this is going to be a pretty brief post. I'm right in the middle of final assignments period here, I have at least ~21 pages to write in the next 5 days, so that's gonna be fun. However, there are a few interesting updates that I want to bring up so feel free to read on.

First of all, I'm paintballing on the 13th of April at the PRZ (Picton Recreational Zone). It's an amazing field that I'd been wanting to attend for 3 years now - it's about 2 hours from where I live inside of an abandoned asylum. It's going to be epic, there'll be around 400 people all fighting for it, including my team, The Stormrunners, and other affiliated scenario teams, such as Citrus Connection and The Sentinels. I'll be recording the footage on my Contour HD helmet cam, so if you're interested, the footage should be uploaded to Youtube around the 20th. You can view my channel here, and don't forget to like and subscribe!


Secondly, I plan on starting the next retrospective exactly 1 week from now. This gives you a date to look ahead to, and it gives me a deadline. With papers starting to wind down at that point, it should be very do-able for me! Be sure to check them out, this is going to be a very fun series you won't want to miss.

The last thing to mention is something... disgusting. After writing my post on Project X, I was looking up some more info on the movie when I discovered something horrific. J.B., the useless fat kid who contributed absolutely nothing to the movie, has entered the porn industry. This immediately set off two thoughts in my mind:
  1. I'm surprised that he fell into the industry so quickly, I would have figured that he'd at least get 2 or 3 crappy roles before having to fall back on porn.
  2. The fat kid? Ew. Gross. No. I'm not posting any pictures of that.
WHAT DID I JUST SAY!?!?!

So... umm... yeah. Do your best not to picture that.

Oh God, I can't not see it now...