Howling IV: The Original Nightmare

Discussion in 'DVDs' started by rhett, Oct 30, 2013.

  1. rhett

    rhett Administrator

    Jul 30, 2000
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    [​IMG] Reviewer: Rhett
    Review Date: October 30, 2013

    Format: DVD
    Released by: Echo Bridge Home Entertainment
    Release date: June 15, 2004
    MSRP: $6.99
    Region 1
    Full frame 1.33:1

    inline ImageWhile many of the great franchises we know today – Friday the 13th, A Nightmare on Elm Street, Evil Dead, etc. were being forged based on a foundation of quality sequels that expanded on the original, The Howling was, quite literally, a different beast. After Joe Dante’s witty and wild werewolf wonder in ’81, it took a full 4 years before it finally received a sequel. Nowadays, Philippe Mora’s Howling II: Your Sister is a Werewolf is nearly Troll 2 level when it comes to inexplicable logic and unintentional laughs. Christopher Lee wears Ray Bans throughout, but I think it was to conceal his identity from the viewers to avoid embarrassment. Mora did little to rebuild the franchise with his The Marsupials: The Howling III, yet another wonky picture where someone thought it would be a good idea if a woman carried a were-kangaroo in its pouch for most of the movie. Under the direction of Mora, the series had gone so far off the rails, it’d be near impossible to continue on, which explains then the contradictory title Howling IV: The Original Nightmare.

    The Original Nightmare, as the title suggests, goes back to the source material of Gary Brandner’s novel and tries for a classical, soft reboot. Journeyman horror director, John Hough (The Legend of Hell House, The Incubus) was brought in to ensure things don’t get as, uh, hairy as those Mora films ever again. Two more sequels in the next two years would suggest the werewolf series was back on track, but as the title song for the film would suggest: there’s “something evil” brewing. And then you look at the maker of this DVD: Echo Bridge. “Something dangerous…”

    The Story

    inline ImageIn Gary Brandner’s original novel, protagonist Karyn Beatty was a hotel manager. That’s not sexy enough for Hollywood, so John Sayles turned her into a TV reporter for the Dante version. In this one she’s now called Marie (Romy Windsor) and she’s a famous writer. Now in the book she’s raped, leading to a miscarriage and a nervous breakdown. In Dante’s, she watches a video of a woman being raped and then gets amnesia after almost being attacked. Here, Marie just skips all that sex and baby making stuff and just has a nervous breakdown during a meeting with her agent Tom Billings (Antony Hamilton). She looks into the fire on a grill and sees a flash of a werewolf. Hot dog. Her husband, Richard (Michael T. Weiss, Bones, Freeway I & II) thinks Marie’s just a victim of an overactive imagination and needs some rest. The solution: Drago, a small rural community a few hours out of LA. They get to the cabin and all looks perfect – tranquil, serene…but the mark on the door signals a terrible omen for things to come: four sharp cuts resembling claws.

    inline ImageOn their first night there, Marie and Richard (Dick’s probably more apropos here) make love, but in the middle of their bed shimmying, Marie is started by what sounds like a wolf’s howl. Likely that overactive imagination again, right? Her mind continues to dream of wolves when in the night she imagines herself running from an attack before coming face to face with a beleaguered nun. She sees the nun again the next day, and upon tracking her down she finds out that instead it’s just the gyspy-like Elanor (Lamya Derval) who owns a trinket store in the town. Marie’s sanity is tested yet again when her dog runs away and she finds what looks like his boney remains at a cave. She hears footsteps behind her and runs home, but when Richard checks her tracks he says he finds nothing. Seems as if this healing getaway is actually turning out to be a nightmare.

    inline ImageAs if things couldn’t get worse for Marie, her husband decides to have an affair with the eclectic trinket shopkeeper Elanor. She shows him her odds and ends. When they make love one night, Marie shoots a howling wolf outside her place and that causes Elanor to howl herself. It seems Drago, and the people in it, have a hidden lycanthropic past. Marie befriends a vacationing neighbor, Janice (Susanne Severeid) who seems to know a bit about this nun that Marie has been seeing in her visions, and together the two look at uncovering the town’s dark history. Much of it stems from a bell tower that was imported from Draga, Hungary, but as Marie soon discovers, that’s just the beginning. In the end, her vacation goes up in flames, just as she had envisioned at the start.

    inline ImageHowling IV: The Original Nightmare is a great horror movie – for the last ten minutes. That would be the only time in this movie where we actually see werewolves. Yep, a movie called The Howling doesn’t have a werewolf fully on screen until the 80-minute mark. Before that, it’s a whole lot of talking, walking, cooking, driving, sleeping, reading, writing…pretty much everything possible that doesn’t actually involve action. What happens is all the wrote things you’d expect from a horror movie – age old superstitions manifesting themselves, the protagonist’s ideas continually doubted, demonic seduction, that sort of thing. It’s not that it’s poorly made, John Hough has always had a strong handling on storytelling and here too ensures we are invested in Marie’s journey, it’s just that it’s all exposition and hypothesizing and expelling history rather than showing us anything. For a 90-minute movie, this might just have the most dialogue scenes in the history of horror.

    inline ImageSo the film is mostly uneventful as we, and the characters, wait for something to happen, but once Richard starts to turn suddenly at 1:19:59, so too does the film into a wild gory, scary and thrilling werewolf chiller. It’s amazing the tonal shift, especially since all the premonitions and predating murders (all done through a lazy, bloodless POV style) seem to suggest that the film has no makeup or special effects budget. Turns out Hough was just saving it all for his finale. We are treated to no less than two sensational and slimy transformation scenes, and that’s supported by sequences of packs of wolves with glowing eyes, and then a whole town full of leering werewolves lumbering towards the protagonists. While the first transformation, where Richard slowly rots into a pool of goo as his flesh falls off and from his skeletal remains grows a teeth and snout, is great fun in the Evil Dead tradition of gore, the second scene manages to be altogether frightening. The second werewolf might just be the scariest I’ve ever seen on camera, coupled with some perfectly ravenous growls on the soundtrack it’s turn the lights on scary. How the hell is this from the same movie where a woman has a lengthy afternoon cup of cola with the quaint old lady from the general store?

    inline ImageIf the majority of this film is bogged down by story you can sort of give it a pass because of its intent to stay truer to the original Brandner novel compared to Dante’s version. I say truer because while the film keeps a tone more classically in line with Bradner’s novel (and with Hough’s British horror roots), it still has a number of alterations from the founding story. In the novel, Karyn (Marie here) shoots the lady with which her husband was having an affair with a silver bullet. Here, a number of scenes are spent setting up the rifle as an important story point, even so much as showing a shot of Marie practicing her firing skills. Yet, once the conclusion kicks into high gear, it’s as if she and the film just forget about the gun and the entire adulterer character in favor of a fiery climax that centers on this whole bell tower construction for the film. With the abrupt note on which the film ends, I wonder if there was a demise planned for Elanor that was just never shot. At any rate, this movie aims to be a more practical telling of the story, eschewing cliché tropes with no bearing in reality, like silver bullets, in favor of the visceral and real fire setpieces.

    inline ImageOf course, the abrupt ending might just be because the film ran out of money. Howling IV was shot in an arid South Africa, doubling not all that well for California. Yet, this obvious budgetary concession works somewhat in the films favor, since it makes the entire town of Drago seem familiar yet somewhat alien. For a community of werewolves masquerading as regular townsfolk, the landscape, building construction and supporting actors all exude the je ne sais quoi of another place. You could argue the Mora films have that too, but in addition to that they are more just ce qui la baise suis-je regardais or “what the fuck am I watching?” For all its first eighty faults, I still applaud Howling IV for trying to rein in the franchise and take itself seriously again.

    inline ImageHowling IV begins on a high note with the catchiest song in the franchise that's not sung by Babel, and something that rivals other big franchise songs like Alice Cooper’s “Man Behind the Mask” or Dokken’s “Dream Warriors”. “Something Evil, Something Dangerous” by Justin Hayward, he of The Moody Blues, has a catchy, repetitive build that pretty accurately teases the slow burn that Marie, and the audience, is about to experience. Catchy as hell, too. So basically, you have a nice musical prelude, 75-minutes of people talking and trying to understand Brandner’s story, and then 10-minutes of wild werewolf action. I’m willing to give any film that’s 90-minutes a chance to wow me, so even if Howling IV takes its sweet ass time, it still ultimately delivers when it counts. Or to pull a metaphor for the film…when it’s thrown in the fire, Howling IV rings the bell. Worth the wait for patient werewolf fans…or just a great 10-minute short for anyone else.

    Image Quality

    inline ImageIf you’ve ever bought an Echo Bridge disc, you know two things: the disc will be cheap, but it won’t look like a Criterion. This one is interlaced and runs at a mediocre 5.5 Mbps bitrate throughout. As a result it’s soft and with a lot of compression noise in flat colors and textures. The color grading is actually pretty decent, with a wide range on display throughout, from the blue-cast night scenes to the sun-kissed town scenes. The print shows erratic dust and specs, but is overall pretty clean and without any major print damage. The film was released direct to video in North America, but the high headroom framing indicates that the compositions were at some point meant for theatrical matting. If this cheapie disc ever gets in the hands of a Scream Factory type, I’d love to see what it looked progressive and with a 1.85:1 matte. Overall, you shouldn’t expect much for the $6.99 list price (it usually sells in the $4 range), and with that in mind Howling IV is perfectly acceptable, hell, maybe even a bit of a positive.


    inline ImageHowling IV understandably comes with a no-frills mono – well, what the hell, I’ll be…it’s a Dolby Digital 5.1 track. Don’t expect much directionality, because there isn’t any, but the track demonstrates a pretty full range, able to project sounds like the screeching halt of a car to wind chimes on the town’s shop door with nice clarity. The LFE track becomes noticeable in those last 10-minutes, too, once that synth bass thump starts to kick in. As I mentioned in the review proper, there are some gross, eerie sound effects, from the werewolf howls to the slime dropping from Richard’s body during the transformation that all come through with some force on this track. In the quieter scenes you can hear some hiss during dialogue bits because of a high noise floor, but that’s more a fault of the live recording than it is this mix. If the video track was a little above average considering the budget, then the 5.1 sound is a very pleasant surprise.

    inline ImageSupplemental Material

    As per usual with Echo Bridge, there are no extras and yet another insultingly bad menu that looks like it was done for a Grade 6 media project. Take a look for yourself…who the hell works for their creative department?

    Final Thoughts

    inline ImageHowling IV is a definite yardstick for horror fans. It’s often a slog through a lot of plot, and without any practical effects up to the 80-minute mark, it sure doesn’t come across as anything but cheap and procedural. Then the final 10-minutes kick in, and it’s a messy menagerie of werewolves and gore effects. Built with a plodding, but nevertheless calculated pace, vet director John Hough sure rewards horror viewers for their patience. If you like your movies quickly paced and witty like the first Howling, or wall to wall crazy like the second and third, this one is not for you. If you can wait out the first eighty for the final Hough and puff of the big bad wolves at the end though, you’re in for a pretty satisfying classical werewolf entry. Considering Echo Bridge delivers a pretty impressive audio and video assembly for the cheap $6.99 this movie barks, it’s a pretty minimal risk and a good Amazon stuffer to get you into free shipping territory on your next order.

    If you need any other incentive to check it out, here’s a fun drinking game: Drink once every time a character in this film says “howling”. You’ll be drunk well before the end of the first act. Just make sure you’re conscious enough for that wicked werewolf finale. Aaaaaaa-oooooooooooooooo!!!!


    [​IMG] Movie - C+

    Image Quality - C

    Sound - B

    Supplements - N/A

    Technical Info.
    • Colour
    • Running time - 1 hour, 32 minutes
    • Rated R
    • 1 Disc
    • Chapter Stops
    • English Dolby Digital 5.1
    Supplemental Material
    • N/A

    Other Photos

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