Howling IV: The Original Nightmare (1988)


Following the Ozploitation zany antics of The Marsupials, it’s back to basics for The Howling series as we dive into the fourth film in the sequence. So, it’s back to the USA, back to the hick horror, and back to pretty much the same plot as The Howling but without all the clutter of the “Media! Sex! Violence! LOOK AT ME!!!” framing device. Also, noticeably, without the budget, but they really do try their best.

To make it clear, it’s not an exact one-for-one remake of the first movie. It’s just got enough of a familiarity that anyone who saw the first will be going “haven’t we watched this before?”, and anyone who jumps in here fresh should be avoided because who starts watching a series on the 4th movie? Anyway, its main differences are that the heroine Marie Adams (Romy Windsor) is a writer, not a journalist, and she’s gone somewhere quiet because she keeps on seeing visions of a nun, not because she was almost raped to death by a werewolf. Also, this time her husband Richard (Michael T Weiss) is an insufferable arsehole from the moment we meet him, so are nether surprising when he shags the local art-goth nor sympathetic when he turns into a werewolf.

NICE!

We do manage to maintain sympathy for Marie, partly because she seems like an honestly okayish person and mostly because her response to being gaslighted by the local community is to go “bullshit, I’m going to find the truth!”. We also get to witness the crazy things happening around her, so even if it is all in her head we know how scary a place it is. The problem is that we, the audience, know that this is an 80s werewolf movie, so, as post-modernism hasn’t trickled down to shlock horror, we know that everything she’s experiencing is werewolves or we’re going to ask for our damn money back.

“The water is FREEZING!!!”

The film’s brief dalliance of acting like it could be something else is at best annoying and at worst time padding, especially as once it stops pissing around and admits it’s werewolves it does that kind of well. Not super well, because the film clearly has no budget, but well enough to make the movie not utterly pointless. Things like having the wolves played by sodding bit dogs are a nice touch and there are some very brief but very good wolfs-eye-view moments. There is also a truly innovative werewolf transformation scene that blends well with traditional mythology, which is pretty cool.

Fun Fact: This scene is all the innovation of the movie. But it is really quite cool

What’s not cool is all the audio being done in post-production, which makes people come across as weird due to sound/lip movement mismatch and poorly acted due to a lot of bad actors. Normally that would be forgivable, but with everything else is done so dully it becomes the main thing you would notice. Additionally, everything happens far too slowly for it to be enjoyable, especially if you are even slightly acquainted with the genre in question. Other than a few non-sequester elements, that it never bothers to explain or justify, all but the most utterly blitzed of viewers will have called and got bored with every twist and turn long before it gets played.

“Ghost nuns; I knew it!”

The brief moments of quality horror, the even briefer moments of originality, do not make up for this being both utterly formulaic and having none of the conviction you’d imagine from the fourth movie in a series. It comes across as a bad rip-off of the original, rather than a course correction or bold reimagining. It doesn’t even fulfill its alleged promise of being truer to the original books, as it nerfs all the interesting bits from them and focuses on trying to be spooky without putting the effort in. Even the now obligatory werewolf sex scene is half-hearted, with framing so comedic that you don’t know if the cameraman was stoned or taking the piss.

“Gho-old ffhin-gher!!!”

I can see what it was trying to do, after the pseudo-vampire BDSM of 2 and the batshit crazy of 3, so as a “The Howling” movie it’s at least heading in the right direction again when compared to the original. I mean, how could it not when it’s such a rip-off? And as a werewolf movie it’s fairly interesting on the mythos side, although the rest of it is pretty low blood and run of the mill. It’s just that as a horror movie overall it slumps, especially as it’s got the prestige of being in The Howling series. It spends too long trying to be clever, rather than wolfing up, and as does nothing to excite or entrance.

The Raggedyman

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