NOVEMBER 28, 2012
I've often wondered why more horror films don't take place at carnivals/circuses, since the background can do half of the director's job - it's naturally colorful AND inherently creepy, what with all the clowns, carnies, and llamas that populate the place. Yet, Howling VI: The Freaks is one of maybe 5 or 6 that I've seen in the past almost 6 years, one of which is a Ghoulies movie so that doesn't even count. I guess that the unavoidable comparisons to Tod Browning's Freaks are too daunting, but come on; it doesn't stop anyone from making Exorcist or Psycho wannabes.
Anyway, this isn't bad for a Howling flick, maybe even better than its disc-mate Howling V. Like it, there isn't a lot of werewolf action (and the movie is even longer), but there IS a transformation scene this time, which was an ironic surprise - "Oh wow, this actually has the thing you would assume would be a given." And the FX are decent; the makeup comes courtesy of Steve Johnson, who provides some fine concepts for both the werewolf and the other titular freaks at the carnival - "Alligator Boy" in particular looks great. And (spoiler) there's a vampire too, with a Salem's Lot-ish design that also looks terrific. All I ask for from my DTV sequels to monster movies is that they give me some monsters to look at, so if they can do that much it's already ahead of like half of the pack.
But it's also got a nice, Wolf Man-y sympathetic tone for the lead - our guy is cursed and hates it, and actively tries to keep people from getting close, turns down the advances of a lovely woman, etc. Poor bastard. The plot finds him taking on one of his odd jobs as he drifts through life, only to get captured by the evil ringmaster (Bruce "I Will Play The Bad Guys Julian Sands Turns Down" Payne) who would love to add a werewolf to his roster. And some folks die every now and then, so there's a sort of mystery to it since you're not sure if it's the hero in wolf form or one of the other "freaks". In between these rare murders we get some decent character development (relatively speaking) and some back-story about how the town is dying, so overall it gives off a sense of "The filmmakers were trying to do something interesting here", which I can appreciate. It's Howling VI - the only other modern horror franchise that had gotten that far at the time was Friday the 13th (the 6th Elm Street would hit later that year), so it's not like these things were expected to be any good.
Also, no one was probably expecting any sort of continuity at this point, so it's a nice little surprise when Mary Lou (from Rebirth) shows up, though she's just part of the crowd watching the circus and doesn't do anything. Still, it's the closest thing to any sort of relation between entries since Howling II, as far as I can recall (not far, but series expert/apologist (and werewolf novel author!) Matt Serafini seemed to agree), so, again, at least they're trying. I don't ask much from my Howling movies, so if they can show that they're trying to justify their sequel-ness, I'm already pleased on some level.
Still, it's just too long for something this low on action. 100 minutes (including an abnormally long but not slow-running credit sequence) seems to be asking a lot, and there are a number of sequences that go on forever. If you are a construction worker or part of the Extreme Makeover: Home Edition team, maybe you will like 10 minutes of our hero and another guy fixing up a church, but I'd prefer you all just get on to the circus, please. The hero, Brendan Hughes (who appeared in Return To Horror High, the very first HMAD movie! He also looks a bit like Truman from Twin Peaks) also has a lengthy fantasy scene about the girl before telling her off, which just seems like padding for a movie that didn't need it. That said, the ending is a bit abrupt - two characters (one who may or may not be cursed now) just sort of wander off into the desert and then it ends. Maybe they planned to continue the story with part 7, but while Mary Lou comes back, as does someone from 4 I guess, no one from this entry seems to be in it.
It DOES seem to be pretty awful, however; I loaded up a thread on its IMDb page where people were ranking the series and every single one of them had the 7th film (New Moon Rising) ranked last. And that's on a board specific for that entry! I suppose there's something perversely laudable about somehow being the absolute worst entry in a series that never delivered a good sequel, but it's hardly enticing me to seek it out. However, as soon as I hit "publish" on this post, it will be the only entry in the series not yet HMAD-ified, and my OCD won't allow me to skip it. I'll just save it for the last week.
What say you?