HOWLING IV: THE ORIGINAL NIGHTMARE (1988)
(Directed by John Hough)
(Written by Clive Turner and Freddie Rowe)
(Starring Romy Windsor, Michael T. Weiss and Susanne Severeid)
Plot: Marie (Romy Windsor) is a successful Author suffering from nightmarish visions, so her husband (Michael T. Weiss) takes her on a relaxing getaway to a remote cottage, next to a mysterious town…where they hear howls at night…OHMYGODTHAT’SSOSCARY!
Sometimes ‘better’ is not actually ‘better’, as “Howling IV: The Original Nightmare” somehow manages to simultaneously be both the best and the worst of the first three Howling sequels. You can argue that it’s an improvement because as of 1988, “Howling 4” was the only sequel to have a consistent tone, decent acting from the majority of its cast, awesome special effects, polished cinematography and a pretty solid score. Yet these positive attributes are designed to ‘enhance’ the content, which “Howling 4” lacks. Does it really matter if the music is nice, when seemingly nothing is happening for a full 30 minutes? Do you care that there is no inappropriate comedy to ruin the mood, when the only mood you’re experiencing is boredom? If anything, I WISH “Howling 4” wasn’t so competently made in those areas, because I would rather have a good laugh at its expense than damn it for wasting the talents of those involved. Do you know what cracks me up though? I used to own this movie on VHS and watched it twice during my childhood. I remember falling in love with the box cover (poster), my Mother expressing concern at the ‘R’ rating and watching the flick with my Father, who fell asleep. Yet try as I might, I could not recall much of what actually occurs within the movie. I had vague memories of a ghoulish face appearing out of fire and dogs with glowing eyes pretending to be werewolves, but it was as if the experience of acquiring the movie was more memorable than the movie itself…I’m not sure that happened to that VHS tape, but I’m presuming it was a casualty of my Dad marrying my (now ex) Step Mother, who was very religious. She probably took one look at that cover with the demonic face and purged it along with the rest of my horror collection…and cat…
The concept behind “Howling 4” was pretty interesting, if only in theory. “The Howling” had immediately established itself as a cult classic, but fans of the novel were unhappy that it took so many liberties with the source material, so “Howling 4” was going to be a more faithful adaptation of Gary Brandner’s works. The problem is that while “The Howling” made plenty of changes, it actually did retain the core story of the novel, so “Howling 4” ends up covering too much of the same content. They’re trying to build a mystery, but because we’ve already seen the first film, we immediately know where it’s going. We know that the town in inhabited by werewolves, because that already happened in “The Howling“. We know that her husband will be converted by the pack, because that already happened in “The Howling“. But even if it distanced itself from the the original book and movie, why would any filmmaker ever think they can surprise us with a reveal that WEREWOLVES DID IT, four movies into a WEREWOLF franchise? So say goodbye to any suspense or intrigue, because we know the answers by proxy and there is nothing more tedious than waiting for the characters to figure out what you already knew before the opening credits begin. UGH. Does a character having visions of a nun make a story any more compelling? Perhaps if she was hot and naked, but otherwise, not really. The devil worship subplot could’ve worked, but it’s barely glanced over and doesn’t lead to anything fresh or exciting. The script is bad, but its failures are so mundane that they barely register with the viewer, in contrast to the hilarious incompetence of the previous two sequels.”Howling 2” induced groans for absurd contrivances where the werewolf hunter abandons the protagonists in enemy territory for absolutely no reason. Or what about an investigative journalist following an obvious sexual predator deep into the woods, even though his creepiness only seems to be increasing? “Howling 3” had ridiculous coincidences, such as the werewolf expert attending a private theater performance, where the lead dancer transforms into a werewolf right in front of him. Or what about the rapist step-father suddenly turning out to be a decent person? That level of badness at least is fun to lampoon and made these films more eccentric. I’m not exactly sure what was conceived by Gary Brandner or what was written exclusively for “Howling 4“, but its examples of bad writing include-
- Why is the heroine getting these visions? Was she born a psychic? The writers don’t bother filling us in and the potential explanations are contradictory. They can’t work as warnings of danger, because those visions are responsible for her being there in the first place! Is the devil or a malevolent force attempting to lure her into the feeding grounds? But then why does she experience these visions once she’s there? This angle only seems to exist to pad out the runningtime with nightmare sequences and cheap plot devices. L.A.Z.Y
- Why establish that Janice (Susanne Severeid) is an excellent shot when she never uses the rifle again? Yet Marie is shown to have poor aim and is the one who gets to shoot something? I’m guessing that the scene is merely filler, but why not use it as foreshadowing? The answer to this question: Bad writing.
- Did Marie kill the wolf (she shot)? Its companions react with horror when she brings up that she shot one and yet apparently didn’t know about the incident until she said something…If it lived, why weren’t they aware of this? If it died, how come the body is missing and more importantly, how come the finale claims that they can only die according to the legend where they’re burned to death? Somebody didn’t think their bad writing through!
- What were the wolves motivations? In the original movie, you were under the impression that they had no plans on harming the lead couple, but the selfish desires of a few deranged psychos dragged them all into the conflict. Here, they are all demon worshipers, but why wouldn’t they just ambush the couple immediately? Why wait so long? Why howl all night when that might only annoy the couple into leaving, especially once they lose their dog? Or was their plan to scare them away? But then why claim that there are no big animals in the area? Why howl outside of their cabin? Why didn’t the werewolf chick bite the husband during their first tryst? Why wait until the second? Have they considered the potential repercussions of murdering a celebrity? I DON’T KNOW WHAT THEY WANTED! Maybe I just need to read the book…Although if this is a more faithful adaption, maybe I shouldn’t…
- I’m not a fan of random strangers simply showing up in the middle of nowhere so that they can function as victim fodder. Furthermore, how come Marie didn’t hear their screams, even though they should be nearby?
- Are werewolves still unable to break through f@cking car windows?! The dumbest part of “The Howling” certainly did not need a reprisal!
- The “oh my God, werewolves did it!” revelation is silly enough, but didn’t that character figure this out much earlier? It lead to a rift between her and the heroine, so why does she seem genuinely shocked when she comes across that same conclusion the second time?
- Did they just recycle the same scenes over and over again? How many times do we need to see the lead couple in bed within such a short time span? Every other scene is just her having a nightmare and him telling her that she’s just imagining things. It should also be noted that the nightmares are premonitions, so expect to see them again later on.
- Where are the inhabitants of the town? They lampshade how it seems empty, but we never get an answer and there are a lot of werewolves during the finale so…Oh, I bet they couldn’t afford the extras.
Did any of that sound interesting to you? That’s bad writing, but it’s not entertainingly bad writing. These are the kinds of flaws that leads to emotional detachment, which is the first step to becoming boring. I will give credit to the filmmakers for never straying from the grim tone, with “Howling 4” arguably being the bleakest entry within the entire franchise. But this only draws more attention to the plodding narrative, as very little is allowed to happen until the finale, where the bulk of the action takes place. “The Howling” was also a slower paced affair and spent its time building up to the finale too, but at least that films’ sense of humor kept me engaged. Without the comedy, “Howling 4” becomes a hollow shell of the 1981 film, with nothing to anchor my attention. I suppose there is a chance you will make an attachment to the characters, although I can’t imagine why. Their interactions are all designed to make you uncomfortable. Marie is introduced flirting with Tom (Antony Hamilton), even to the point of kissing him, before we find out that she is married to Richard (Michael T. Weiss). She isn’t shown to be cheating, but that seems odd and inappropriate, especially considering how Tom is obviously smitten with her and Richard is the jealous type. My own interpretation of her actions was that she’s leading Tom on for manipulation purposes and pushing Richards’ berserk buttons out of spite. However, I suspect we’re supposed to believe that she is sincerely oblivious to their feelings, even though they are glaring at each-other in all of their interactions. If she’s not prodding them into a battle for her heart, then she’s an idiot for not noticing the tension between the two. But don’t worry, Richard is not any better considering how he and the seductive Eleneor (Lamya Derval) are giving each-other ‘F@ck me’ eyes during their first meeting…even though his wife is standing right next time him…In the original, the husband is a somewhat tragic figure who only gets seduced after he has been bitten. Here, the husband is a sleazeball from the very beginning and I didn’t buy these two characters as a married couple. Yet Richard is only there to be antagonistic and we’re supposed to think he’s a jerk, so why are the writers so intent on making Marie look so bad? She pesters the Sheriff about her dog who has been missing for a day and it’s rude to refer to the woods of a local inhabitant as ‘sinister’ after knowing them for maybe a day. She doesn’t win any points where she rants at her friend- the only person who doesn’t think she’s hallucinating’- about the implausibility of werewolves…Apparently she forgot her previous theory that she was being haunted by ghosts? This character is dumb and I don’t like her very much…or anyone else in this movie…Another reason for me to drift into slumber-land.
I actually thought the acting was OK, even if the lack of sound equipment meant that their voices had to be dubbed. I was under the impression that the cast was talented, but had no passion for the material. Their delivery is very monotonous. Fine, but lifeless and uninvolving. The only time a performance really jumped out as terrible is when Richard is bitten and he suddenly becomes a human robot. The dialogue wasn’t necessarily horrendous, but it felt like the writers were using some fancy words which sounds unnatural when spoken aloud. While I despise nightmare sequences, I will admit that that the lighting and fog created a fairly haunting atmosphere, with the fluid camerawork catching some eye popping imagery. The cinematography makes the best use of the location and you can tell that the director (John Hough) has a significant amount of talent. He has some respectable credits to his name (“Legend of Hell House“) and while this isn’t a stylish picture by any stretch of the imagination, the visuals were adequately framed and there was even decent suspense, even if they ultimately build up to nothing. I liked some of the artistic touches, such as splicing in footage of fire during a sex scene. But the script doesn’t give Hugh a lot to work with, as it wants to be a mystery, so he isn’t allowed to showcase the werewolves until the last 20 minutes. There is nothing wrong with crafting a psychological thriller, but those stories usually require nuance and compelling performances from the actors, which “Howling 4” does not have. But there is a lot of walking…and more walking…and sometimes if we’re really lucky, someone will stare at something…Riveting…You can’t make gold out of clay and unfortunately, Hough and his DOP have the task of making gold out of fecal matter. The budget must’ve been incredibly small, because apparently there was only enough money to film two or three ‘scary’ scenes. They work around this problem by packaging the ‘allegedly frightening’ material as premonitions (dreams), and then showing them again in real time. This creates problems with continuity, as day can turn into night and back into day in the same scene, since it’s THE EXACT SAME FOOTAGE, but now with a different context. Yet it’s not like these moments were that effective to begin with, so it’s just dull watching them for a second time. The soundtrack is moody, even if the scare chords are a little too dramatic to actually be dramatic.
The special effects are shockingly awesome, possibly even being on par with “The Howling“. Granted, like everything else, they lead to disappointment…but…this is “Howling 4“…From a story perspective, these beasts make absolutely no sense. The earliest stage of the werewolf cycle is merely a furry human, but the makeup is good and I expect the metamorphosis to be gradual…except it’s very inconsistent, as sometimes the transformations are instantaneous and other times they’re much more elaborate, depending on what the plot requires at that time. When Richard breaks his wolf cherry, his flesh literally melts into a gooey substance in the most surreal and epic scene in the entire movie, with the resulting puddle giving birth to a monster. The main antagonist isn’t able to top that level of grotesque body horror, but it’s still freaky seeing him tear his own skin off, revealing his true form. I thought these effects were surprisingly convincing, with just the right amount of cheese to satisfy my 1980’s horror cravings. The second stage of the werewolf transformation is the large Howling-esque beast, which we only see twice, but they’re also very impressive. The first is so brief that you’ll almost miss that one of the glowing eyes is malfunctioning (whoops), but the design is menacing and let’s face it…that is the closest thing we’ve gotten to a realistic effect since the conclusion of the first movie…Yet that is merely a taste of what the SFX crew are capable of, as they turn in arguably the coolest, scariest looking monstrosity to ever appear in this franchise. The design of this creature fits snugly within the Howling mythos, and yet is enhanced by a demonic appearance, which sets it apart from all the rest. You can tell a lot of work went into the makeup, body suit, puppetry and the effort ALMOST makes the tedium worth enduring…except that it’s such an elaborate effect for such a low budgeted movie, that they are unable to do anything with it. I complained that the wolves from “The Howling” didn’t do enough, but this creation is outright immobile. It stands around and roars in the exact same spot, without any attempts from the filmmakers to create an illusion that this thing can do anything except look imposing…What a waste! Adding salt into the wound, the final form of these wolves is…a normal wolf? Actually, they’re dogs with glowing eyes, but we’re supposed to use our imaginations and pretend that they are wolves. Ugh, THAT MAKES ME SO ANGRY! The special effects deserve praise, but the rest of the movie deserves criticism for utilizing them very poorly. But more than likely, you will fall asleep before you even reach that point. “Howling 4” is a snoozer that just takes too long to get going, without offering anything interesting or substantial during the buildup. When interesting stuff finally begins to occur within the last 20 minutes, it ends so anti-climactically that I was left very unsatisfied. It’s tragic to see talent wasted on such a boring film, especially considering that this probably would’ve been a lot more enjoyable if there was no talent involved…I’d much rather 45 minutes of shitty werewolf effects than 5 minutes of awesome werewolf effects, if the movie itself is going to suck anyway. I’d much rather Reb Brown wield a shotgun and be awesomely terrible instead of Romy Windsor give an adequate performance as she stares off into the distance with a pensive expression. In the realm of cinema, boring is the worst form of bad and “Howling IV: The Original Nightmare” is pretty damn boring.
Violence: Rated R. The transformations were very gruesome.
Nudity: You see some nipples in a sex scene.
Overall: “Howling IV: The Original Nightmare” is a great sleeping pill, although you should check out the last 15 minutes or so, if you can somehow avoid the rest of the movie.