Back in October, I spoke at some length on how HOWLING III: THE MARSUPIALS served as a low point in the already-risible-by-the-first-sequel series, citing its cheekiness and utterly bizarre creative choices as indicative of its poor quality. Since that time, I’ve come to understand that unorthodox artistic decisions do not go hand-in-hand with badness. There were other elements that were closer to the heart of its problems–namely the frenetic speed it took in depicting its briefly-seen oddities–but if that film and its writer/director Phillipe Mora can be commended for anything, it should be for the willingness to go beyond the “normal” conventions of horror cinema and werewolf mythology to depict something that, though mishandled, is hardly forgettable.
HOWLING IV, on the other hand, is not only blundered even more than its predecessor but also imaginatively bankrupt and bereft of the series’ rampant goofiness. As far as truth in advertising is concerned, HOWLING IV only gets it half-right: this is by no stretch an original film, but it certainly feels like an endless nightmare. Virtually a remake of Joe Dante’s 1981 picture and reportedly more “faithful” to Gary Brandner’s novel (the credits list all three of Brandner’s HOWLING books as source material, pointing to a picking-and-choosing cannibalization of the series by screenwriters Freddie Rowe and Clive Turner), the film is terribly slapdash in its depiction of a famous novelist (Romy Windsor, credited as Romy Walthall) seeking the foresty solitude of a lone cabin with her hairy hubby (Michael T. Weiss) after she begins suffering from disturbing visions due to the stress of impending deadlines. Quist the rapist is exonerated in this adaptation, but we still have the commune of friendly weirdos and the sexy homewrecker (Lamya Derval, whose makeup, hair, and excessive jewelry make her look older than she is, like a bingo hall vamp) who inducts the heroine’s husband into the furry fold. Also on hand is a ghostly nun who vanishes like Amanda Krueger and a buttload of denim clothing.
HOWLING IV suffers from lazy (probably closer to hasty) editing that makes a mess of the handful of various action and establishing shots that the second unit squeezes in to suggest a modicum of competency. Reactions appear abrupt or not at all, transitions between scenes are arbitrary at best, and other moments begin in media res; it all makes for a discombobulating affair. It’s a shame that an entry in the series helmed by a genre veteran like John Hough (THE LEGEND OF HELL HOUSE, TWINS OF EVIL, AMERICAN GOTHIC) should be so slipshod, entirely deserving of its destiny as straight-to-video head cheese. The leaden dialogue Rowe and Turner (who shows up in the film as a mulleted tow truck driver/werewolf) provide scream of a particularly bad first draft; at one point Windsor regales the local law officer with “Hello, sheriff. My dog is a missing. It’s a white poodle.”
Like THE BEAST WITHIN (1982), which was directed by Mora, HOWLING IV waits until the final ten minutes to roll out its special makeup effects in a liquefying finale that tries its best to convince the viewer that the rest of the film was just as interesting. But even with the admittedly interesting touch of having a werewolf form anew from the soupy puddle of its formerly human flesh, it can’t make us forget the dishwater we had to slog through to get there, a description that applies both to its level of excitement and its cinematography. Justin Hayward, lead singer of the Moody Blues, provides the movie’s theme song, “Something Evil, Something Dangerous.”