It’s the end of peak Howling, as we get to the end of a glorious run of a new straight-to-video release each year. And whilst it doesn’t have much in common with The Original Nightmare with regards tone, plot, or team behind it, we get a continuation in the demonic curse mythos. Not the same mythos, obviously, but it’s still a pleasant little connection. There also appears to be an increase in the budget, which lets this one really stretch its legs!
The film starts with what can only be described as an ode to Hammer Horror, complete with a sumptuous set, overblown acting, and a stack of dead bodies. History buffs might squirm at the location being described as “Budapest, 1489”, but anyone else will just be excited by the drama, the tragedy, and the delightful hokum that is happening on screen. It does set your expectations high, but thankfully it maintains the qualities and tones of what makes this scene great. Which is another way of saying “if you don’t like this moment, you’re going to hate the rest”
Snap to modern-day (well, 1989) and we get to meet the meat of the story. That consists of an assortment of Europeans and Americans from an assortment of backgrounds and attitude problems, all brought to the city by the mysterious and earnest The Count (Phil Davis). He explains that they have been picked to be the first people to spend the night in a castle that has been abandoned for 500 years, and not one of them asks “how can that be safe?” or “how is it even still standing?” because that would kill the story.
The important thing is that these are all interesting, well-acted, and mostly likable characters. You may dislike a couple of them, but, through conversation, we discover that even the wrong ‘uns aren’t that bad. It’s just a group of actual people. That’s because for whatever this film may lack in A plot, the interrelation between the characters is a joy to behold. They behave like real people would when given an all-expenses trip to an abandoned castle; they eat, they chat, some of them try to hook up, and they mostly try to get along because why not?
Inevitably, the plot starts barking and eating away at this merry little group. Over the next hour we find out why they are all there, what the opening sequence was all about, how come they can’t do a legger, and which order they die in. Death lurks around most corners, and there are plenty of jump scares are bodies hit the floor. Nothing is too grotesque, but the usage of low lighting and fast cuts makes everything look squelchy enough for its 15 rating.
The werewolf looks pretty dark good, it has to be said, although it’s mostly in fleeting and fast-paced moments. However, unlike in previous movies we don’t get to see any transformation scenes. This is because this is functionally a slasher/whodunnit movie, as we try to work out who barks at the moon. A nice change from the previous movies in the series, but don’t expect to be able to solve the puzzle on a second viewing. Also, don’t be surprised if the very end makes you go “…what? No! That’s not half as clever as you think it is”, because it’s the journey and the friends we see eaten along the way that’s the true Treasure here.
Two things might quieten people’s excitement for the movie, other than it being a proper cheese-fest that manages to skirt just the right side of pompous nonsense. The first is that it’s very clearly not that up to speed on “What Hungary is actually like”, and just treats it’s an Ethnicistan, full of Old Eastern European exoticness and backwardness. At least the approach to the werewolf mythos is relatively on the money for that region and the time the story kicks off, even if the locals are presented as regressive and dumb.
The other problem is the “It’s the Howling, so there must be nudity” moments. Well, half of them. The first, between the “will they, won’t they” pair of Marylou (Elizabeth Shé) and David (Ben Cole) is perfectly fine and relatively equal opportunities. The other scene is Anna (Mary Stavin) getting out of a shower and wandering around with an open towel, even though we’ve established it’s pretty cold in the castle. Here the camera is hyper-focused on her boobs, to such exclusion that it’s like the rest of her body is extraneous, and that’s just disconcerting to the point of making it a deeply unsexy bit of sexploitation. Boobs need the context of the rest of the body, is what I’m saying. Oggling them as their own, separated thing is just creepy.
Also, no werewolf sex. First time in the whole series, so worth a mention.
Anyway, those two bits aside: what we have here is a decent horror. Not the best made, even within the confines of the era, but if you’re in the mood for a bit of mild peril and spooky happenings then it is available here. It’s also a pretty okayish werewolf film, leaning heavily into the traditional European mythos. It loses most of the modern take of the first four, but by doing that it keeps things interesting and is a nice addition to The Howling tales. All that also means it’s a pretty reasonable film in itself, especially once the character interactions are taken into account. This is a proper return to form for the series, even if it did have to look back to the 60s to find its footing.