HOWLING V: THE REBIRTH (1989)
(Directed by Neal Sundstrom)
(Written by Clive Turner and Freddie Rowe)
(Starring Philip Davis, Ben Cole and Elizabeth Shé)
Plot: A group of strangers find themselves trapped in a mysterious Hungarian Castle, where they are subsequently picked off by a werewolf masquerading as one of them.
Of all the Howling sequels, “Howling V: The Rebirth” arguably has the strongest following, primarily because it’s the first one to find a balance between ‘competently made’ and ‘entertaining’. I have vivid memories of trying to stay awake for an ‘after hours’ Howling marathon during my childhood, where I experienced “Howling III: The Marsupials“, “Howling VI: The Freaks” and the subject of today. I enjoyed all three of them at the time, although that means little, as I also owned “Howling IV: The Original Nightmare“- so never EVER trust my younger self, as the Bible warns that “Howling 4” is the ‘Mark of the Beast’ (Revelation 13:18 Part 2). Years later, my local Hollywood Video was purging all of its VHS tapes and this caught my eye, awakening intense feelings of nostalgia. I’ve always enjoyed spooky castles and murder mysteries, so when I was a kid, I probably enjoyed “Howling 5” even more than the original cult classic. I spent $1 for the tape and also purchased “Slashed Dreams“, “Scream (1981)“, “Chopping Mall” and “Night of the Scarecrow“, but that night only my copy of “Howling 5” had an intense mating session with my VHS player…and I like to watch…But because they didn’t use a condom, they gave birth to a child, which was promptly named “My original review”. It grew up to be a disappointment and was promptly disowned once tape and player- I still have them- rekindled their passion and produced a much more successful baby, whom they named “This current review”. But one of their children might be a werewolf, so I might have to murder them!
….Wait, what was I talking about again?
Oh yeah, “Howling 5“- The most watchable of the Howling sequels (so far?)…although I guess that’s pretty faint praise! If you’re familiar with my own works, you should know that I am partial to movies with crazy ideas, and I personally believe that every movie should be werewolf-themed murder mysteries taking place inside dark and spooky Castles. “Spotlight” might’ve won the Oscar for ‘Best Picture’ at the 2016 academy awards, but can you imagine how much cooler it would’ve been if it had werewolves in castles?! Best Picture? More like BEST PICTURE EVER! So I obviously love this concept, even though “Howling 5” is a standalone story that contradicts the werewolf mythos of its predecessors. Producer, writer and actor Clive Turner was placed in charge of the franchise and is generally considered to be the monster who ruined it, either with “Howling 4” or “Howling 7“. Amusingly, the director of the former claimed that Turners’ co-writer- Freddie Rowe- did not exist and was merely an assumed name of Turner, which alone makes the back-story of “Howling 4” far more compelling than the actual “Howling 4“. Yet to the credit of Turner, I thought “Howling 5” was a fairly handsomely produced movie (considering the budget) that even boasted a…*gasp*…DECENT SCRIPT?! AND DECENT ACTORS?! IN A CASTLE!? WITH WEREWOLVES?! THIS MUST BE MY BIRTHDAY! Actually…it kind of is my Birthday, so this wasn’t a bad present! But…I’m kind of tempted to ask for the receipt so I can get a refund, because when “Howling 5” f@cks up…it really f@cks up. This is a difficult film to judge, because you can approach it from many different angles. You might praise it for being such an improvement over the previous sequels, or you might condemn it because it’s only enough of an improvement to be mediocre instead of outright bad- losing the unintentional hilarity that might’ve made this franchise tolerable for you. I must be a double agent, because I agree with both arguments and likely would take different sides depending on the argument. But “Howling 5” both impresses and frustrates me for more complicated reasons. I not only see potential with the set and premise, but I also feel like the filmmakers did a solid job at setting everything up- from the plot, location, characters and conflict. I was thoroughly invested for the right reasons, only for the film to suddenly implode around the half way point, becoming the garbage we would’ve expected it to be from the beginning.
So why did I like the first half? Ignoring the incredibly hokey prologue, I thought “Howling 5” did a good job at establishing its fairly large cast of central characters- showing us their diverse personalities, occupations, strengths, weaknesses and even giving us glimpses of motivations. I also liked how even though some characters play antagonistic roles, they aren’t necessarily without redeeming qualities. The heroes can be wrong and the jerks can be right, which made their interactions and general dynamics a lot more compelling. I even found the majority of the attempts at humor to be funny, although there is one lame moment where a cartoonish musical cue spoils the entire scene. The acting is pretty good, or at least above average for this kind of B-movie. Not every performance is perfect and sometimes the line delivery can be awkward, but at least the cast is investing themselves into the roles and they all look like they’re enjoying themselves. The castle is a very fun location, providing lots of Gothic set design and ominous labyrinths to explore. The lighting is both murky and colorful at once, but I thought the cinematography worked with the films’ atmosphere and location. The director gripped me with the suspenseful scenarios and I found myself chewing my fingernails in anticipation, wondering if something sinister was lurking around the corner. The camerawork is surprisingly fluid, most prominently when the entire cast is in one room, with the camera (and sound design) smoothly transitioning between the various conversations. Don’t get me wrong, we’re not talking “Goodfellas” here, but “Howling 5” is much more technically sophisticated than your average B-horror flick. One thing that really magnified the tension for me was that I wasn’t sure who the real protagonist was, as the first candidate ends up being one of the early victims! Then the person who I thought would take up that mantle ended up being the next victim! Eventually a hero or heroine emerges from the cast, but it’s only after the majority of the characters are dead. This added an aura of unpredictability to the story, even if the identity of the killer is pretty obvious. I figured it out even before the credits rolled…Granted, this was because I’ve already seen this movie before. Twice, with the first time being when I was a kid…But…SHUT UP! When I first saw this, I don’t really remember if I correctly predicted who the antagonist was, but it should be pretty obvious. I almost feel like the filmmakers knew they wouldn’t fool anyone, because a lot of the foreshadowing is drenched in self awareness. Cute and sometimes even clever, sure, but there is one or two moments where they’re practically winking at the camera. I didn’t mind these quirks though, as they amused me. Some have accused the score of being corny with its bombastic orchestra, but I thought those dramatic zingers were usually charming (ignoring that aforementioned cue), adding a healthy amount of cheese to the picture. But as positive as this sounds, “Howling 5” really only excels in setting everything up- with most of these praises only staying strong for the first half of the feature. It has a strong start, before COMPLETELY F@CKING UP AND DERAILING ALL OF ITS MOMENTUM.
“Howling 5” never really lost its entertainment value for me, as the narrative continues to pick up speed and even manages to inject a shot of intensity during the finale. But the script takes a nosedive in quality, ultimately revealing that the intelligence it showed early on was nothing more than a facade. Deep down, it’s just as stupid as any other horror movie, perhaps even moreso! The characters start becoming increasingly idiotic, because intelligent decisions would cause the plot to stall. This usually takes the form of someone secluding themselves for death, which becomes so ridiculous at times that I found myself wondering if this was a satire, although I found this to be more annoying than amusing (so either it fails as such, or more likely, was just lazy writing). Then the script will start dropping new pieces of information on us out of nowhere, such as a revelation that the werewolf would be the most ‘innocent’ of the group. You should not introduce important plot points like that near the end of the movie, right before it’s about to become important. Furthermore, this casts suspicion on the wrong person, which becomes maddening as it should make the real culprit that much more obvious- especially as this character was present when someone else died! HOW ARE THEY SO STUPID!? Near the end, the story drops a new bombshell on cast and audience alike, explaining that the full moon will force the werewolf into revealing its true form. Is this order of werewolf hunters comprised entirely of idiots? Why didn’t they just keep everyone in the same room at gunpoint and wait for the full moon, where they can witness the beast show itself? Why even lure them to the castle? Wouldn’t it be easier to just send agents to investigate each of the suspects, especially when the moon is full? Okay, okay, I’m now looking too deeply into this script, as that would torpedo the ‘werewolf whodunit in a castle’ gimmick that I fell in love with. But it seems like the writer just didn’t think his story through. During the first kill, the werewolf appears to be bound by chains, but their human counterpart is accounted for with everyone else. In fact, it’s IMPOSSIBLE for the killer to be the killer based on their location…at times…If you look closely, the wolfs’ fur seems to change colors, sometimes being brown and other times white. Was this a continuity error? Or were their multiple werewolves? Early on, the bus runs over ‘something’ and the hosts act very suspiciously, but we never find out what they hit. I was wondering if they were building up to a reveal that there were many werewolves prowling the area, but then why such an elaborate plan to catch this particular one? Either way, they never clarify if there are more (wasting a lot of foreshadowing), so we’re left with a nest of plot holes. Speaking of which, was I the only one who noticed that bizarre POV shot? A character sees their impending killer and reacts to them with familiarity (so he/she is in their human form), while looking up at said killer as if he/she is 10 feet tall (as if he/she was in their werewolf form). The POV is looking down upon the victim, even before the off-screen transformation begins! That was a pretty hilarious blunder.
But I can kind of forgive stupidity, even though it’s especially embarrassing in this case considering how sturdy the first half of the script was. What makes “Howling 5” truly unsatisfying is that it’s all build up, with no cathartic pay-off. Nearly all of the kills are off-screen, with the aftermaths being (rather tame) torn throats. Sometimes the attacks are confusing, as apparently the werewolf just bursts through a wall or door, except all we’ll see is the entry point exploding, without any werewolves in sight…speaking of which…GRRRRRRRR! If I demand anything from a werewolf movie…it’s a F@CKING WEREWOLF! More specifically, I need to see it in full view at least once! ONCE! EVEN “HOWLING II: STIRBA-WEREWOLF BITCH” GRANTED ME THAT! Throughout the first half, I figured they were building up to its climactic appearance, as they’d occasionally show some teeth, an arm, a silhouette…But then the finale comes and it becomes apparent that this wasn’t a strategy to heighten our anticipation, it was merely the budget being so small that they could not afford a werewolf suit. Even shitty special effects are preferable to no special effects in fantasy-themed stories, so this makes me RAGE SO HARD. Even the poster has more werewolf action than the movie itself, probably because they lifted that picture from “Howling 4“! Also, werewolf stories should not conclude with a struggle between two normal humans. From a narrative perspective, we’re forced to chose between two characters we know are mistaken (due to plot induced idiocy), so it’s not like we can become emotionally invested in this conflict born of STUPIDITY! In the end, I have very conflicting feelings towards “Howling 5“. I really enjoyed the first half of the movie, but was disappointed and frustrated by the second half of the movie. All of the good character writing is thrown under the bus- where it is presumably ran over and forgotten about- when everyone starts behaving like morons. The methodical buildup reveals itself to merely be budget limitations and the cleverness loses its luster because they forgot to reveal so many plot devices until the very end, right when the story requires us to know about them. Even the cinematography and setting starts becoming monotonous after awhile, as the dreary lighting and muted colors can only hold your attention for so long. The actors also look like they’ve lost enthusiasm by the time the final act begins, although their performances are still adequate enough. At least the pacing continues to be swift, so I was never bored or impatient. Just disappointed. Very. VERY. Disappointed.
I’m not entirely sure what happened behind-the-scenes for everything to start falling apart, but both times I’ve watched this as an adult, I’ve fallen for the illusion of quality. I still think the first half of this film is pretty strong and I keep finding myself wondering why I originally rated this a 2-star rating, only to come face to face with a sloppy second half that makes me question whether its initial successes were even that good to begin with. Maybe the writer(s; if they are two separate people) ran out of time around the half way point and were forced to rush through the rest, or maybe the budget got slashed and they had to do last second re-writes. Or maybe everything I considered to be well written was merely a fluke and it just happened that the stars momentarily aligned in their favor. I still enjoyed “Howling 5“, but the exceptional set-up tricked me into thinking that I was about to have an awesome experience, which it failed to deliver. That angers, frustrates and saddens me all at once and these negative emotions have yet to go away, three viewings later. I really wanted to rate this 2.5/4 stars, but “Howling 5” is akin to marrying an abusive spouse. They’re perfect during the dating process, but once you make a real commitment to them, their bad qualities start revealing themselves. You don’t want a divorce, because you still feel that the initial spark can be rekindled, which never happens…So naturally, you transform into a werewolf and eat them, because they’re too cheap provide a werewolf in THEIR F@CKING WEREWOLF MOVIE!!!
….Wait, what was I talking about again?
Violence: Rated R, but other than a cheesy decapitation, it’s pretty mild.
Nudity: There is some nudity- a female backside and breasts.
Overall: “Howling V: The Rebirth” writes checks it cannot cash, but was still an easy watch and in some ways, is my favorite of the Howling sequels (for what that statement is worth). Not bad, but very disappointing.
DISCARDED MATERIAL (The Original Review)
-Note from Author: I believe this was my first Howling review and you can tell its old based on the crude writing, shallow critiques and awkward attempts at snarky humor. Not my worst work, but I definitely needed to make a new one.
Ouch, the “Howling” series seemed to spur out numerous films, but none have been well-received. I’ve seen most of them, but my memory has retained very little. I remember one with circus freaks and a vampire, as well as one bizarre trip with a werewolf chick carrying a grotesque baby in her pouch. I remember this one as “werewolf in a castle”, and remembered liking it as a kid. Now that I’ve seen it again…..what the hell was I thinking?
What pisses me off about this movie more than anything, is it should have been good! I never thought I would say this, but the script is pretty damn impressive. Sure, there are some gaping plot holes, faulty logic issues, etc, but the plot was engaging and the characters were well written. So what happens when you get a surprisingly decent script for a failing series? You give it a half-assed budget. I try not to judge a film entirely on its budget. But I do expect a movie about werewolves to actually show a werewolf in full view, for at least one scene. Arms and teeth are not enough on their own! Sundstrom actually does do a good job building atmosphere and suspense, but he fails with the pay-offs. The kills are bland (not necessarily for the lack of gore), the slow motion was poorly used, and the tension was completely lost. This ultimately ruined the movie for me; it was all foreplay! I did love the score, but didn’t care for a random “humor” bit involving the score that felt out of place.
Additional Bonus: The cinematography was very good. I love settings that take place in castles. Also, watch this movie twice and it will crack you up if you know who the killer is. The hints are so funny! There are some brilliant bits of dialogue, which deserves praise.
Additional Criticism: Eventually, a part of the prophecy revealing a trait of the werewolf is brought up. Besides being lazy screenwriting, I didn’t understand the dudes logic as how a certain character fit this bill, when there is someone else more obvious/
As for the acting, I’m still not sure. This has a big cast and I don’t want to list everyone’s names. Sometimes the actors do well, other times they don’t. Some actors are pretty good, while others are kind of wooden.
Overall: “Howling 5” had some good build-up, wonderful cinematography, well-written characters and a lot of potential, but lets them all down with a shoddy pay-off. Perhaps if the studios put more money into it, this could have been a great film. Unfortunately, the result was simply bland.