Saturday, May 21, 2011

The Howling: Is It Still Jumping The Shark When It Involves Wolves?

Sorry folks, I know I said I was gonna tackle Friday today, but for some reason I've got this craving for something... worse.
Now, I'm a fan of the classic monsters. I love vampires when done right (monsterous. They don't have to be ugly, they can be beautiful, but I want them to still have a level of... horribleness to them; see the Interview with the Vampire movie.) I love zombies, I even love cheesy mummy movies despite the conflict my inner egyptologist suffers watching them. Of course, this also means I love werewolves.
Werewolves, honestly, tend to fair better than vampires if you ask me. Sure, it's easier to name more awesome vampire films (Nosferatu,1930s Dracula, Hammer Dracula, Coppola Dracula, Interview, to name a few), but it's also easier to name more awful vampire films (Dracula 2000, Forsaken, Queen of the Damned, and a certain inflammatory series that I'll just refer to as 'Dusk.')
Werewolf movies? Much more middleground. You've got a few classics (The Howling, American Werewolf in London, the classic Wolf Man, Curse of the Wolf Man), but not that many, and a few of those aren't even all that mainstream. Also aside from Cursed, I can't think of many big name awful werewolf films.

Well, The Howling, even if many of you haven't seen it, as a franchise, actually crosses from one extreme to the other. And it's not just some downward slope like most franchises do, it's more like an insanely designed rollercoaster.

First, we go back in time. The year is 1981. Maybe you aren't born yet, but let's pretend you are. You're fresh out of the 70s and experiencing a new decade full of cocaine, Ronald Reagan, and keyboard ties. But first you get a year with two of the most important werewolf movies ever.
You see, The Howling and An American Werewolf in London, easily two of the best modern werewolf films in my opinion, came out in the same year, and the latter... largely ended up taking attention away from the former. Due to this, you're far more likely to see references to AWL rather than Howling. In fact, as far as references and parodies are concerned, to date, the only reference to Howling I've ever seen was a bit in Dogma featuring someone quoting "Consider it a gift" and referring to Silent Bob as "Bright boy."
Now, I'm not gonna say which of the two is better. I see them compared all the time, and honestly I see it as sort of an apples and oranges thing. The Howling is a more traditional horror film, whereas London is much more of a really dark comedy-horror hybrid.
The original Howling is honestly pretty good. The special effects are fantastic, it has a few genuinely scary moments (one was even featured on AMC's list of 100 scariest film moments.)
The only real negative points I could name would probably be that the special effects for a late-film transformation looks... not as good as it does elsewhere in the movie, suggesting maybe they went over budget before filming that scene. Beyond that? This is a horror classic to me, albeit a very underrated one.
Seriously, go rent it.

Sadly, as with many great horror films, and as with the previous franchise I wrote about, the series instantly gets one of its worst films with its first sequel.
The Howling 2 is an uncomfortable, half-assed, confusing piece of crap that for some reason stars Christopher Lee, which makes it even more uncomfortable watching. It's like watching your favorite comedian bomb on stage.
The film picks up right where the second film ends, and wastes no time showing us some average werewolf makeup effects intercut with a new wave band playing some song that... sadly we have to hear throughout the movie. Seriously, we keep cutting back to this band at random times. This film then takes us to Romania, where Christopher Lee, his midget sidekick, and two people you won't really care about seek to fight a... werewolf... queen... thing?
To be honest I can't explain it much clearer than that. It's almost like the worst points of a Phantasm film stretched out for the film's final half.
For those that like bad horror films, you'll at least enjoy the gore (it's gorier than the first film, but it's still pretty average by horror standards I'd say) and random nudity.
Also you'll enjoy this.

I can't not laugh a little seeing this. There's just something awesome about Christopher Lee in a pair of snazzy over-the-top 80s sunglasses.

The credits also give us a drinking game of sorts, if you want to quickly drink away the memory of watching this film.
Take a shot each time you see a pair of breasts.
No, that's not to say the film suddenly brings out a horde of topless women. There's a scene earlier in the movie where a werewolf chick rips off her top. The credits reuses this footage at least ten times while we're treated to that same damn new wave song from earlier.

How could that get any worse, you might wonder? Well, The Howling 3's subtitle is THE MARSUPIALS.
You want were-kangaroos? You get were-kangaroos.
This film is a confusing mess. It's not a horror film, it's like a comedy only you won't laugh, at all. The film's set in Australia as our heroine, a weremarsupial, escapes her werewolf colony and teams up with some weird effeminate z-grade horror film director that makes me think of late-era Marlon Brando merged with Andy Warhol.
We're then treated to weremarsupials dressed as nuns, a really not-sexy sex scene, some terrible cartoony weremarsupial effects, a pretty much bloodless fight between hunters and weremarsupials (there's pretty much no gore in this film at all, really)... and then finally an ending that goes on so long it gives Return of the King: Extended Edition a run for its money. At least -that- was clear and gave everyone closure The Howling 3's ending is so awkward and poorly done that I started to get Manos the Hands of Fate flashbacks.

Thankfully, the trend stops there, we aren't treated to a film that somehow is even worse than WEREMARSUPIALS. Instead we get The Howling 4, which is basically just a low budget remake of the original film that seems very, very much like a Lifetime movie with werewolfs thrown in.
A famous author goes to some far out colony-town in the woods with her asshole husband who cheats on her with a local, turns into a werewolf, and she's stuck playing investigator with her newfound female friend to uncover the mystery of this werewolf town.
Is it as bad as 3? No. Is it as bad as 2? Yes, maybe worse. But still, it's not weremarsupials, and at least no celebrity I like had to have this film tarnish their image.

Moving along to Howling 5, which is also a remake, but not of a Howling film. Strangely enough this is basically just a remake of the awesome Peter Cushing werewolf-mystery movie "The Beast Must Die."
A rich man from Foreigncountrystan, located in Eastern Europe and having a weird mix of Romanian, Russian, Hungarian, and Polish culture, invites a bunch of people to is dark, foreboding castle because one of them's a werewolf, and he wants to kill them.
It's kind of like a crappy whodunnit movie filled with gore and one instance of random nudity (extremely random, I'm serious, this scene... why?).
The effects aren't bad (besides the fakest sword in movie history, featured in the opening), the acting's better than the last two films, and it's at least entertaining, also the ending is... actually pretty awesome, in that it wasn't predictable but at the same time didn't require some shocking swerve to make it make sense.

Here's where Howling does the unthinkable. Howling 6 is a pretty damn good movie. You heard me. The sixth film in a franchise actually being pretty good. That's rare, especially by horror standards.
For the second time we're given a werewolf hero, this time he's managed to mostly control his urges, but he's taken in by a weird, creepy travelling carnival run by that bald blue-lipped guy from the Dungeons & Dragons movie.
The story's original, the plot twist is pretty neat, the effects are awesome, the acting is pretty good... this is honestly the 2nd best film in the series. Sadly, the only way to even buy this movie is in a double-sided DVD release with Howling 5. At least it didn't come with Howling 7.

Yea, there's a 7th. No, don't look it up. Don't watch it. Please god don't watch it.
The film has no budget at all, most of the actors are just actual townspeople from the town it was filmed in, the others are friends and family of the director. The effects are awful, the writing is awful, the acting is awful, I literally cannot say -anything good- about this movie beyond that at least we never got an 8th film.
Seriously, this film is bad even by bad horror movie sequels standards. Jason Goes To Hell is a better movie than this. All of the Puppet Master sequels are better than this. All of the -Hellraiser- sequels are better than this.
It's not even a movie that you can save by riffing, it's too boring for that. You will seriously be hardpressed to find -any- entertainment value in this, this is coming from someone that watches bad horror films for fun.

Thankfully, that's it for the franchise. No more sequels, no remake, The Howling is as good as dead.
Join me tommorow when I finally tackle Jason, unless I get bored or something else takes over.

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