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It's time yet again for another Rogue Reviewers Roundtable, and our subject this time around is vampire and werewolf movies. Now, you know I'd never let you down when it comes to the picking of the really, really bad movies, so naturally I chose to review what's arguably the worst werewolf movie ever made, The Howling: New Moon Rising.
If you participate in the forums at all, you only have yourself to blame for this. Left to my own devices, I never in a million years would have picked this movie, but along with Red Zone Cuba, this was one of my most requested reviews.
Initially, I was reluctant to review a sequel. (As a matter of fact, this is the first sequel I've ever reviewed.) Usually, I'm afraid of scaring away people who haven't seen the previous movies in the series. But in the case of this movie, there's nothing to worry about if you haven't seen all the other entries in the Howling series. Heck, you're in great shape even if you've never even heard of the Howling series.
This is because, right here and right now, I'm going to give you a complete, comprehensive rundown of everything you need to know about the Howling movies.
Let's see, first of all, they all have the word "Howling" in the title. And, um... they all feature a werewolf. I guess that's about it.
Yes, to the disgust of the many people who rented them at Blockbuster, every single one of the seven [!] films in the Howling series is a completely unrelated, stand-alone story. Absolutely no effort was made by anybody to connect the movies. (Okay, there are a few minor exceptions, but these only serve to make the stories even more confusing.)
To put it bluntly, if you've ever seen a movie before in your life and you speak English, you have all the knowledge required to follow The Howling: New Moon Rising (though the speaking English part is debatable). But just for the heck of it, and since my reviews are never long enough, I'll quickly sum up what transpired in each of the six films that preceded this one.
In The Howling, a TV journalist (E.T.'s Dee Wallace Stone) is violently assaulted by an unseen, animal-like attacker. Afterwards, she has a nervous breakdown, so her doctor suggests she go to a small town in the wilderness and recuperate. Unbeknownst to her however, the town is really a colony of werewolves with plans to induct her into their clan.
In Howling II: Your Sister is a Werewolf (the only sequel with any connection to the original) we learn that the TV journalist from the first movie has a brother played by none other than Reb "Space Mutiny" Brown. Together with a werewolf hunter played by horror legend Christopher Lee, they travel to Transylvania to kill Stirba, queen of the werewolves. A laughable, incoherent mess, Howling II is notable for somehow containing both Christopher Lee's worst performance and Reb Brown's best performance.
Howling III: The Marsupials is the first of many sequels with no relation to the first film. In this movie, a beautiful girl escapes from an Australian colony of werewolves named (brace yourselves) Flow. Yeah, "Flow". Just when you thought "Nilbog" was the dumbest name possible for a movie town. Anyway, the girl meets up with a filmmaker, they have a kid together, lots of bizarre stuff happens, and at the end of the movie their kid goes to college. Don't ask.
Howling IV: The Original Nightmare (bear with me folks, just three more to go) is nothing more then a low-budget, shameless rewrite of the first film. This time around, it's a writer that has a nervous breakdown. At her doctor's suggestion, she too seeks refuge in a small wilderness town that turns out to be a colony of werewolves. Lots more stuff happens, none of it interesting, and all of it of the "badly ripped off from the original Howling" variety.
Howling V: The Rebirth is an unexpectedly decent entry. A group of tourists visit a cursed Romanian castle that was mysteriously closed five hundred years ago. They begin to be killed off one by one, and they soon discover that one among them is a werewolf. It's basically a werewolf take on And Then There Were None or a cheaper version of another Christopher Lee movie, The Beast Must Die, and I was surprised to find myself mildly entertained by it.
In Howling VI: The Freaks, a werewolf tracks down the man responsible for killing his family, an evil ringmaster who runs a traveling carnival freak show. The werewolf is kidnapped and forced to perform in the freak show for a while, which eventually leads to a bloody fight to the death between the werewolf and the ringmaster, who turns out to be a vampire (or something). With relatively decent effects and a heartfelt story, this is probably the best of the Howling sequels.
And then, finally, and appallingly, there's the seventh entry in the series, The Howling: New Moon Rising. In a clear sign that the series was headed for whole new levels of suck, former Howling V bit player Clive Tuner wrote, directed, and starred in this movie.
Clive also co-wrote the screenplays for Howling IV and V, and ironically, this means New Moon Rising is the only film that even attempts to tie together any of the sequels. Of course, it does it in the cheapest, most idiotic way possible: Namely, by editing in clips from previous films and pretending like there's any kind of connection between them. Worst of all, voiceover narration here will actually change the stories of previous movies as seen in these clips.
Obviously, none of that is a recipe for success, but what really and truly sinks this film and makes it a legendary bomb is its cast. For reasons that may never fully be understood, Clive Turner decided what would really jumpstart the Howling franchise was an entry set in a jerkwater town, complete with the town's entire real-life population as its cast.
New Moon Rising was shot in Pioneertown, California, a one-stoplight mudhole built in the 1940s specifically to serve as a backdrop for movie westerns. As you'll note in the cast of characters above, nearly all of the actors in this movie are using their real names. Sadly, this means that the entire town is playing itself, and I might add, doing a terrible job of it. While this may have saved the studio a whole lot of money on salaries (other than all the beer and pizza, I presume), it ending up pushing the Howling franchise way past "horrible" and well into "nightmarish".
And that studio, unbelievably, was New Line Cinema [!]. We actually see trailers before the movie for Se7en, National Lampoon's Senior Trip, and Mortal Kombat. (Okay, so two of those movies aren't any good, but they're Ben-Hur compared to what we're about to watch.) One can only wonder, how many of his first-born children did Clive Turner sacrifice to get this movie financed by the same studio that brought us the Freddy Krueger movies and Blade? And what if, instead of giving 300 million dollars to Peter Jackson to make the The Lord of the Rings trilogy, New Line had given that money to Clive Turner instead? The implications of this are truly frightening, and probably the scariest thing about the whole movie.
The video starts with a disclaimer stating, "This Film Has Been Modified From Its Original Version. It Has Been Formatted To Fit Your TV." Okay, first of all, Does Every Word Have To Be Capitalized? Second of all, this movie, quite obviously, was direct-to-video. So what in the world was "modified" for this video release, and why would it have not fit on my TV screen otherwise?
The movie opens on stock footage of buzzards flying. On the desert floor, there's a skeleton in ragged shreds of clothes. Three shaggy hicks stand above it, with each man trying to top the other two in terms of sheer horrid acting ability. "Jesus Christ," Michael McDonald's stand-in mutters. "Holy shit," says Brigham Young, Jr. "Mother of God," mumbles a guy in a suit.
A big old American car pulls up, and out hops a puffy-faced, white-haired man in a white suit. In that outfit, I immediately took him to be a sidewalk preacher, or possibly a bad salesman with a suitcase full of snake oil in his trunk. Instead, he turns out to be a police inspector, and I use that term very loosely.
The Inspector walks over and the three hairy men just stare at him. Then he joins in as they go back to staring at the skeleton. Meanwhile, in the background, we hear the type of smoky guitar wail heard on later seasons of Beverly Hills 90210.
"Yep." "Yep." "Yep." "Mmm-hmm."
Now, get ready for our first line, and like most of the lines in this movie, it's a really dumb joke. The guy in the suit says, "He's dead, Inspector!" The Inspector gives him a patronizing look and says, "Very good, Watson!" Hah hah! The hillbillies tried to make a funny!
The Wailing Guitar of Dylan McKay continues as the Inspector heads back to his car. Watson turns to the other two men and chokes out, "Who's Watson?" Seriously, he reads the line almost like he was clearing his throat, and if not for the closed captions, I'd have no idea what he said. Anyway, making Sherlock Holmes references is unfortunately going to be one of the Inspector's "key character traits", again using the term loosely.
With this intriguing "teaser" complete, we abruptly cut to the movie's title, all distorted and wavy, utilizing top of the line special effects seen ten years earlier on episodes of Tales from the Darkside. As the Inspector cruises off, we cut to a black-clad biker on a big chopper heading down a two-lane blacktop. Meanwhile, we hear the kind of plodding "rock" number in the background that wouldn't have made the cut for the soundtrack to Never Too Young to Die.
For no reason, we're shown every last moment of the Inspector pulling into a gas station [?]. Then there's a shot of an old sign reading "Pioneertown" in a "wild West" font. The biker on the big chopper continues on into Pioneertown, while the Inspector drives past a sign announcing the city limits of Barstow. Oh, boy, Barstow! For those of you who are unfamiliar, Barstow is where you stop to fill up your tank when you're driving from Los Angeles to Las Vegas. Seriously, people stopping for gas is what drives their whole economy.
This credit sequence quickly becomes mind-numbing, because for about five minutes all we get is a million shots of the Inspector's car cruising down the highway, intercut with shots of the biker on his big chopper cruising through downtown Pioneertown. Which is actually the same as uptown Pioneertown, because the whole town is one block long.
Anyway, the biker finally rides past a rustic motel, while the Inspector pulls up to a small, post-modern church with a tall pyramid-like cross out front.
The Inspector heads into the church and is instantly talking to a priest. The Inspector says he knows the priest "investigates Satanic possessions, the occult, and just about anything the Church deems unsanitary!" Which I assume includes songs by Rod Stewart and the Captain and Tennille.
Cut to the priest, who's a particularly scary-looking clergyman. To be honest, he reminds me a lot more of Anton LaVey, the late High Priest of the Church of Satan, than any man of the cloth.
The priest looks over a series of glossy eight-by-tens of the skeleton, while the Inspector explains the body was found "about four weeks after the circus left town." As much as it pains me (and I mean pains me) to admit this, this line was probably an attempt to link this movie with Howling VI: The Freaks. Unfortunately, Clive Turner obviously wasn't paying much attention when he watched that movie, because it took place at a carnival, not a circus.
The Inspector says the body is that of a "transient" who was last seen snatching a woman's bag. The Inspector produces a black and white photo of the woman whose bag was snatched, and with her feathered hair and disconcerted expression, she looks like a low-rent version of Linda Hamilton. And considering Linda's been making Lifetime Network TV movies for the past ten years, that's a pretty sad statement.
Father LaVey notes it's an "old photo". I guess it's the feathered hair that gave it away. He wonders if this is "the right woman", so the Inspector pulls a video tape out of his binder [?].
The Inspector says the woman disappeared soon after her bag was stolen, and that they identified her through home videos shot at the circus. The priest's TV shows these home videos, which contain lots of cuts and multiple camera angles, almost like these "home videos" were professionally edited together like a movie. Like a movie called, say, Howling VI: The Freaks.
The Ominous Synth Chord of Brandon Walsh returns as the video cuts to a woman the priest recognizes as "Mary Lou Summers", probably because he was one of the few people who saw Howling V: The Rebirth. Mary Lou was one of the main characters in part V, and had a useless cameo in part VI where they flashed her face on screen for roughly half a second. The Inspector wants to know why the priest filed a Missing Persons report on Mary Lou.
Father LaVey first wants to know more about the murder. The Inspector says it was probably done by a wolf, but one that had to have been "twice the size of the Hound of the Baskervilles." Hey, I warned you about the Sherlock Holmes thing. You can't say I didn't warn you. Father LaVey goes, "What?" and the Inspector begins to explain that it's a Sherlock Holmes story. The priest just cuts him off and asks again about the murder.
The Inspector says the wolf must have been standing on its hind legs, because it was over six feet tall. The priest asks if he knows what kind of wolf it was, and the Inspector says, "A very big one?" And the scene ends there. Meaning, I assume, that this was supposed to be the scene's punchline. Sorry, but I'll have to take a raincheck on actually laughing at that.