NOVEMBER 26, 2012
Since I don't even love the original all that much, my opinion on the matter probably doesn't mean much, but Howling V: The Rebirth is probably the best sequel, despite having a. zero relation whatsoever to the others and b. not even a lot of werewolf action. But what it DOES have is a goofy spin on the "Ten Little Indians" scenario, and unlike the last film, doesn't try to pass off Europeans as Americans - they're playing actual Europeans!
The setting is a castle in Budapest, and our core group of protagonists have been assembled from all over under mysterious circumstances (we learn that they all have the same birthmark and are all orphans). Turns out the guy who owns the place believes one of them to be a werewolf, and has gotten them all here to figure it out. I'm not sure if part of the Count's plan involved hanging back and doing nothing while the wolf picked a bunch of them off to make it easier, like a sick violent game of Guess Who?, but either way that's what happens. It's not too difficult to figure out who it is (I had two suspects; one was right and the other was the Count's 3rd act pick), but there's some fun to be had as options are canceled out via throat rips and such.
I must put emphasis on SOME fun, however. It's a rather slow-paced affair, with more than a couple deaths largely/entirely off-screen (presumably to keep someone as a potential suspect when in reality their corpse will turn up near the end) and a lot of wandering down hallways and tunnels. The location is fine, but director Neal Sundstrom (co-director of the MST3k classic Space Mutiny) doesn't exploit it enough, favoring establishing shots of snow falling on the castle instead of anything that might give us an idea of its layout. When they're in the maze of hidden tunnels, fine, but I couldn't even understand where the dinner table was in relation to their rooms, making it hard to get a sense of the danger anyone might be in when you see the wolf attack in one location before cutting to the next.
And why is the wolf out at all? The Count tells us that the wolf won't appear until the full moon is revealed from behind the clouds, but we see it fully formed throughout the film. Weirder still, when the moon IS fully shown, the character that's actually a wolf doesn't change! He/she just smiles as their eyes get a bit yellow, and that's it; the movie ends without them transforming. It's odd enough that the sequels to a film with one of the best wolf transformations ever created never even TRY to measure up, but it's even weirder when it contradicts what it's setting up as its storyline. Unless they were just trying to prove that the Count was an idiot or something? I don't get it.
There are actually a lot of things that have no payoff. One of the servants destroys the film in a guy's camera, even though he never took any incriminating photos with it that I can recall, and the thing about their birthmark doesn't make much sense - if they're all descendants shouldn't they all be werewolves? And also related? If so, no one considers the amount of distant incest going on, since there are a couple of hook-ups along the way. They also seem to be suggesting that there are two (or more) werewolves at times, but if that's the case it's never resolved. I can't help but wonder if the few wolf shots we DO see were added later by a worried producer - it would certainly make more sense if we never saw one, given the whole "it will appear when the full moon is clear" thing.
So, yeah, it's a mess, but if you ignore its placement in a werewolf series and just try to focus on the "who is the killer" murder mystery, it's kind of enjoyable, with enough Euro-flavor to satisfy me (I need to find a new giallo or something, and soon). I also like how they milk the mystery until the last shot of the movie, rather than have the reveal and then a big chase like a typical slasher (which the movie basically is since the damn wolf is only in it for like 9 shots). It's also got some charming but mean-spirited lines, like when a girl says she's an actress and one of the protagonists replies "Oh yeah, what restaurant do you work at?" BURN. I also like how happy him and one of the other guys are later when they discover a third male in their party has hooked up with one of the females - for a bunch of strangers in a weird situation, they bond pretty quickly, and the few squabbles seem justified (though one lady, played by Blackie from Twin Peaks, is just wholly unpleasant for the first half). Ah, the good ol' days, when horror movies weren't constantly populated by unlikeable assholes!
The movie has never been given a good release on DVD, available in a full frame transfer (seemingly from a VHS tape) alongside the 6th film, subtitled The Freaks. I'll watch that one later this week, and then there will only be one left for me to review - another complete franchise given the HMAD treatment! Hopefully one of those remaining two will be better than "That was OK" to make it more worth my while.
What say you?