What do you do when your horror franchise has gone so far off the rail that it is barely recognizable from whence it came? To screenwriters Freddie Rowe and Clive Turner the obvious answers was to get back to the basics and return to the source material, in this case, that meant trying to make an entry that was a more faithful adaptation of Gary Brandner’s original novel, which was the basis of 1981’s The Howling in the first place. A noble idea to be sure, but to say things didn’t turn out quite as they’d hope would be a bit of an understatement.
The film’s protagonist is best-selling author Marie Adams (Romy Windsor) who after being plagued by images of a nun and a fiery demonic form she is declared to be suffering from a nervous breakdown due to her overactive imagination – which I’m pretty sure isn’t a thing – and her boyfriend Richard (Michael T. Weiss) is told that she needs rest and relaxation and so he takes her to a cottage near the small town of Drago, some hours from Los Angeles. Almost immediately Marie becomes rather concerned about the howling she hears during the night, which both the townsfolk and her asshat husband try to convince her is probably just an owl, but when her little poodle goes missing she becomes even more distraught. What should be more concerning is her husband’s wandering eye when it comes to the mysterious Eleanor (Lamya Derval), a local artist who owns a shop of antiques and knick-knacks.
Howling IV: The Original Nightmare may include several elements from Gary Brandner’s original novel, such as the town being named Drago, a local woman seducing the protagonist’s husband and the big reveal that all the local townsfolk are werewolves, but aside from that it has even less in common with the source material than Joe Dante’s movie. This “reboot” throws in a mystery surrounding a missing nun and the disappearance of the previous owner of the cottage Richard rented for them and none of it quite gels; we get an ex-nun named Janice Hatch (Susanne Severeid), who is investigating the disappearance of her closest friend, Sister Ruth (Megan Kruskal), who went missing over a year ago – a picture reveals that this nun is the one Marie had disturbing visions of – and later Marie gets a ghostly warning from the cottage’s previous owners, which leads to Marie and Janice going all Nancy Drew in an around the town of Drago. It’s at this point most viewers will be wondering, “What has any of this have to do with werewolves?”
To say not much happens in this fourth entry in The Howling franchise would be a vast understatement, as not only is this film almost devoid of either horror or action but when the film finally crawls to its “explosive” conclusion we are left with a rather anti-climactic “Who cares” feeling as the film never bothered to get us to care about any of the characters. I suppose we are were to feel some sympathy for Marie but she is such a bland dishrag of a protagonist that I was actively praying for her to get eaten. The bulk of the film is her claiming to have seen or heard something and then everyone telling her it’s just her overactive imagination, and when her husband is finally bitten he goes from “Oh my god, I wolf attacked me!” to a Stepford Husband claiming to have just fallen down a ravine and scratched his shoulder. It’s not that these nonsensical moments are intrinsically bad it’s just that the filmmakers don’t bother to properly explain anything, and when we eventually get a transformation it’s of Richard turning into a puddle of goo that a wolf then emerges from.
• If the cottage in the woods you are renting has large claw marks in the door maybe a different vacation spot would be advisable.
• In the original film the husband only became a dick after being bitten by a werewolf while in this one he’s a complete douchebag from the start.
• Her best friend and literary agent would appear to be the one who would show up at the end with silver bullets, if one were going by the source material, alas he dies pointlessly.
• It’s not a good idea to make the viewer wait over an hour for a werewolf attack, especially when your film is only 90-minutes in length, but worse is the fact that the first attack barely lasts two seconds.
• When the big finale does arrive we do get some unique werewolves but as we’re at the 84-minute mark by this point it’s a case of too little too late.
It should be noted that Howling III: The Marsupials had pretty much nothing to do with either the source material, or the original film for that matter, but it at least was balls-to-wall crazy and thus provided some entertainment value while this particular outing is guilty of the cardinal sin of being incredibly boring and without merit of any kind. The acting is bad, the pacing is beyond lethargic and the eventual arrival of werewolves in the last act almost seems like they’ve wandered in from a different movie. I know much of the problem this film suffers from stems from director John Hough and co-producer Clive Turner not seeing eye-to-eye on anything, not to mention the lack of a decent budget, but that all said the end result is unforgivably bad.
Howling IV: The Original Nightmare (1988)
Movie Rank - 3/10
Why this entry was called Howling IV is beyond me, it could just easily have been simply titled The Howling as it was basically an attempted re-boot of the franchise, what with it ignoring all previous films and going back to the original source material, but regardless of what they called it the end result was a real dog.