• The Howling Collection (Umbrella Entertainment) DVD Review

    Released by: Umbrella Entertainment
    Released on: March 6th, 2019.
    Directed by: Philippe Mora/John Hough/Neal Sundstrom/Hope Perello
    Cast: Barry Otto, William Yang, Imogen Annesley, Romy Windsor, Michael T. Weiss, Antony Hamilton, Phil Davis, Victoria Catlin, Elizabeth Shé, Brendan Hughes, Michele Matheson, Sean Sullivan
    Year: 1987/1988/1989/1991
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    The Howling Collection – Movie Reviews:

    Umbrella Entertainment offers up four of the sequels to Joe Dante’s classic on DVD with The Howling Collection. Here’s how it all plays out…

    Howling III: The Marsupials:

    Philippe Mora, the director of Mad Dog Morgan and The Beast Within, took his first step into the world of werewolfdom with 1985’s Howling II… Your Sister Is A Werewolf. Two years later, he followed that one up with this third entry in the series, also known as Howling III – The Marsupials. While the second film is widely regarded as a bit of mess, at least it had a naked Sybil Danning and ‘New Wave’ Christopher Lee in it to distract us from some of its problems. This third film? Well…

    The movie beings in Siberia where a man in a fur coat (hey, it’s cold in Siberia) is attacked and killed by a werewolf. Cut to Australia where a young filmmaker, the assistant director of a horror film, comes across a woman in a park and falls head over heels for her, offering her a part in his latest production. The affection is mutual right from the start – but this guy doesn’t realize she’s a werewolf marsupial (complete with a pouch!), and so is her grumpy dad! Still, they get it on and before you know it, she’s knocked up.

    Meanwhile, a scientist with an obsession for lycanthropes named Harry Beckmeyer (Barry Otto of The Punisher) hopes to capture a werewolf. Something to do with his grandfather being bitten years ago. While he sets about doing this, a Russian werewolf ballerina named Olga (Dagmar Bláhová) shows up as do some werewolf nuns. Compassionate man that he is, Beckmeyer manages to hypnotize a few of them in order to interview them without being mauled, but it doesn’t last long they’re running around killing people and the Australian army gets involved.

    This is a bizarre, creative and seriously weird movie that feels nothing like Joe Dante’s original picture. Had this not been affiliated with the franchise it might have been better received but since it has that branding on it, you can’t help but compare it to the two previous entries in the series and wonder just what on Earth Mora was going for here. Commercial viability doesn’t seem to have been a consideration here as the film definitely do NOT play to audience expectations. It spends more time dealing with the marsupial creatures (giving the film a uniquely Australian bent) than it does with traditional werewolf ideas but as misguided (?) as the film seems, it’s not boring even if the performances range from bad to uneven.

    Mora doesn’t seem interested in frightening his audience at all. There are no real scares here, and only occasional tension. Instead, it seems like he’s just having fun throwing a bunch of ideas to the wall and seeing what sticks. It’s clear that the budget was pretty low, not all of the effects are particularly convincing, but by throwing in some distinctly Australian elements (some might say clichés) More does at least deliver a strangely entertaining film with some distinct cultural elements. Does it always work? No, but you’ve got to admire the man for trying.

    Howling IV: The Original Nightmare

    The fourth film, directed by John Hough and an uncredited Clive Turner (who also produced), was an attempt of sorts to produce a more faithful adaptation of Gary Brandner’s novel than Joe Dante’s original film provided. As such, this one is strikingly similar to the original film at least in terms of its story, though Hough and Turner, who were at odds for most of the production, deliver a decidedly different take on the material than Dante did.

    Marie Adams (Romy Windsor) is a popular author who, on the surface, has got it all. She is, however, plagued by hallucinations of nuns and wolves. So strong are these hallucinations that she winds up institutionalized for a spell. Upon her release, her husband, Richard (Michael T. Weiss), with the best of intentions decides to take her to a quiet cabin in the serene woods of California in hopes that this will aid in her recovery.

    It doesn’t go so well. Shortly after their arrival, Marie starts to hear wolves howling throughout the night and she starts seeing strange nuns about. On top of that, she has visions involving the former residents of the cabin, and they aren’t pleasant. The local sheriff (Norman Anstey), tries to reassure here, there aren’t any wolves or other large animals around for her to be worried about, but it doesn’t do any good. Making things worse, soon the couple’s poodle turns up dead as do two hikers in the area. They head into town to try and see if they can get any help there, but the townsfolk are all a little… strange. Eventually Marie meets Janice Hatch (Susanne Severeid), a former nun in the area hoping to reconcile with her past and solve a mystery while she’s at it – she wants to find out what drove her lover, also a nun, named Ruth (Megan Kruskal) insane. If that weren’t bad enough, Richard takes a bit too much of a liking to a shopkeeper named Eleanor (Lamya Derval).

    Romy Windsor of Up The Creek makes for a likeable enough lead though but her acting is only slightly better than the rest of the cast, and that’s not such a good thing as the rest of the cast is pretty flat. For a film that features as much sex, violence and carnage in it as this one does, it’s surprising how uninvested the principal actors really are. They all look the part and handle the physical side of things well enough, but the delivery here is just lacking in enthusiasm for some reason.

    As to the rest of the movie’s qualities? Despite the low budget there are some very cool effects set pieces in here. No, they don’t touch the original in terms of scope but the practical effects work featured in the film, particularly in the last third of the picture, isn’t bad at all – in fact some of the gore is top notch. It’s a shame that the movie’s South African shooting locations don’t do a very good job of doubling for California – you can tell very quickly that this wasn’t shot where it’s set.

    Howling V: The Rebirth:

    The Rebirth, directed by Neal Sundstrom, starts off with a scene of mass slaughter centuries ago, in a strange castle in Budapest. We learn that the only survivor is a baby, who we never see, but his cries let us know he has survived. Five hundred years later, a group of people - some American, some British, and some from continental Europe - are invited by a mysterious Baron to the castle from the opening scene that has since been reopened as a tourist attraction after lying dormant and sealed up for hundreds of years.

    One by one, certain members of the troupe are turning up dead with their throats torn out, and they soon figure out that one of the is a werewolf and that they are all somehow connected to the mysterious past that the castle hides in its history.

    While there are a lot of great ideas thrown about in the movie, it's really nothing that we haven't seen a few times before and it borrows very heavily from Ten Little Indians without being nearly as good. The main problem with the film though is the dialogue and the performances, both of which are painful to watch and listen to. Actors deliver some of the most stilted dialogue you’ve ever heard and it is literally difficult to sit through without cringing. The location work is great though, the castle setting goes a long way towards making this reasonably atmospheric and effective at times.

    The effects are decent enough given the film’s modest budget and the castle setting works quite well. It has a lot of similarities to the first film in that it deals with some people at a remote retreat who quickly learn that things are not as they seem, but it lacks that film’s tight direction and strong cast. still, if you can look past the wooden acting and hokey dialogue, it’s an entertaining enough time killer even if it is far from a classic.

    Howling VI: The Freaks:

    Howling VI: The Freaks, directed by Hope Perello, is an improvement over the earlier film. The film opens with a lone stranger named Ian (Brendan Hughes) wandering out of the desert into a small southern town called Cotton Bluff. He soon finds work with the local preacher, helping to restore the rundown church and falling for his pretty young daughter, Lizzie (Michele Matheson).

    Everything appears to be coming up roses for Ian until one day when a circus sideshow called Harker's World of Oddities comes strolling into town. When the moon turns full and Ian transforms, it doesn't take long before the circus’ owner, R.B. Harker (Bruce Payne) clues in to what he’s got here and decides to kidnap Ian and put him in his freak show.

    Things, of course, get more complicated as the film goes on. Lizzie, obviously in love with Ian, tries to clear his name when some of the townspeople end up dead… but is Ian the one responsible or is Harker harboring a darker secret that we don't know about?

    Once again, this sequel foregoes the manic sexual energy and black comedy of Dante's classic and instead shovels at us some hokey dialogue and mediocre acting. That said, some of the ideas are again kind of interesting and the premise of the lone stranger finding himself the star of a freak show is one that had potential. There are times when the scripting feels rushed and the performances half-assed, and this does make it tough to care about the plight of some of the characters but the circus setting gives the movie a certain ‘something’ that keeps it going. The pacing isn’t bad and, again, for the modest budget this was made on, the effects aren’t awful. There’s some pretty cool ‘guy in a rubber suit’ action here and some of the creature design is neat.

    Hughes, of Return To Horror High, is decent enough in the lead while Matheson, probably best known for playing Angela on Mr. Belvedere, is cute, likeable and good in her part. Bruce Payne, of Warlock III, chews a bit of scenery as the circus owner, but you want him to do that so he gets a pass.

    The Howling Collection – DVD Review:

    The four films in this collection are each presented on their own single layered DVD and in 1.33.1 fullframe (except for Howling III which is 1.78.1 anamorphic widescreen). These are all transferred from older, analogue sources and so they don’t look amazing, though the Howling III transfer is better than the others. The other movies are at least framed properly, but some of the darker scenes are too dark and detail isn’t ever all that strong even by the standards of the format. To be fair, the quality here is about on par with the other releases that the films have seen in other territories in terms of the presentation.

    Each film in the set is given the Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo treatment in its original English language. No alternate language or subtitle options are provided here. The audio on The Original Nightmare is a bit muffled but the other movies sound better and feature reasonably clean, clear dialogue and properly balanced levels.

    There are no extras included on any of the DVDs in this collection.

    The Howling Collection – The Final Word:

    None of the films in The Howling Collection are on par with the classic original but they have their moments. For fans of the series, Umbrella offers up a chance to get most of the sequels in one set even if the quality isn’t going to blow anyone away.