Monday, March 1, 2010

Not as bad as 'Howling V', but still weak

The Howling VI: The Freaks (1991)
Starring: Brendan Hughes, Bruce Martyn Payne, Jered Barclay, Michele Matheson, Gary Cerventes, and Sean Gregoy Sullivan
Director: Hope Perello
Rating: Four of Ten Stars

Ian (Hughes), a drifter with a mysterious past settles in a small desert community, living peacefully until the arrival of a traveling carnival led by the sinister ringmaster Harker (Payne) comes to town. When Harker discovers Ian secret--that he's a werewolf--he captures him and forces him to become part of the carnival's sideshow. As Ian's new friends try to free him, they discover that Harker has secrets of his own, triggering a night of violence and terror.

"Howling VI: The Freaks" is a surprisingly good little movie, partly because "Howling V" was such a steaming pile of werewolf droppings (review here) and partly because this is a fast-paced, enjoyable movie that hits all the notes of a classic werewolf film (and I mean "classic" as in the Universal Pictures wolfman monster-mashes like "House of Dracula" and "House of Frankenstein") while giving us sympathetic heroes and bystanders and villains of the most evil and petty kind. It's not high art, but it is great fun if you like a little melodrama with your horror.

The performances by Bruce Payne (as the smarmy, blackhearted carnival master) and Brendan Hughes (as the reluctant werewolf) are both major contributors to making this movie as much fun as it is. A decent supporting cast with meaty roles to perform also help... in fact, it wouldn't be overstating things to say that this film has one of the best scripts I've seen in films at this budget level. There are several points when the script allows a character to break the standard B-movie mold--with the town sheriff being the best and most unexpected example of this--and although I knew Harker was bound to have a secret and perhaps even be a monster himself, I didn't expect the Big Reveal to be what it was. Even when we were offered hints, I was taken by surprise, first by the revelation and then by how deftly it was handled. (It was the biggest of two "I didn't see that coming!" moments "Howling VI" has to offer.)

For its good parts, the film also has some bad parts. It's got lame transformation scenes that end up at some of the worst werewolf make-up to ever be featured in a supposedly professional productions. As awful as "Howling V: The Rebirth" was, it at least had a decent-looking werewolf. An off-the-shelf Halloween mask with some some tufts of insulation glued on would have been preferable to what we get here. There's also a meaningless denouement that ends up wrecking an otherwise thrilling ending and subsequently manages to undermine what is otherwise a pretty decent film.

"Howling VI" may not be a classic. but it's also not a film that those involved in should be ashamed of. It's one of the best entries in this series.

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