Tag Werewolves

Cabin in the Woods, The (2012)

The Cabin in the Woods (2012)

If you hear a strange sound outside… have sex.

Five friends head off for a weekend at a secluded cabin in the woods. As they settle in for the night, the door to the cellar mysteriously swings open. Deciding to investigate, the group head down where they find a startling array of old artefacts, ornaments and antiques. But after one of them reads out a passage from a journal, they awaken a family of undead killers who used to live in the cabin. But they are the least of the problems that the group will encounter over the course of the night.

 

To go into any other detail regarding the plot as this stage would be to defeat the object of watching The Cabin in the Woods, quite simply one of the most unique and genre-bending horror films of recent memory. Believe the hype because if you’re a genre fan, you’re going to love this film. Written and produced by Josh Wheldon, the fan boy favourite behind the likes of cult TV shows Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Firefly and, more recently, the big budget blockbuster The Avengers, The Cabin in the Woods continues his fandom-pandering, genre-deprecating sense of humour with a film that can be appreciated on so many different levels. At its core, we have a film that has two simultaneous stories running along side-by-side and it’s up to you to try and piece together the links (before the film does it for you in the final third). But there’s so much more going on underneath.

I don’t think I’ve ever found a review as hard to write as this one. The Cabin in the Woods is best viewed without any faintest hint of what happens in it and, since the bulk of the enjoyable experience is to be constantly screaming “what the hell is going?” at the screen when things take an unexpected turn between the two concurrent stories, then it’s best if you don’t know anything. No spoilers. No clues. Nothing. Even the trailer gives away too much in my opinion. So trying to talk about a film without revealing anything or even given faint hints is really hard and I’m going to purposely avoid talking about one of the stories for that matter as I feel it would give too much away.

The Cabin in the Woods is a clever film, or at least thinks it is for the most part, which will surprise you, shock you and appease the horror nerd inside of you. For genre-busting meta-horror films, I’d say this was up there with Scream for its attempts to break through the fourth wall, only this works a lot better than Craven’s film in many aspects. Though by the sheer insanity that fills up this film’s final third, I can’t imagine wave of copy cat films coming hot on its heels like the post-modern slasher craze which followed Craven’s classic. Co-writer Drew Goddard seems to be as knowledgeable as Wheldon when it comes to horror and together the two craft a film which is high on clichés and even higher on manipulating and breaking them. It requires audience awareness of such clichés in order to succeed and even then, spells some of them out in plain English so that non-genre fans could ‘get’ the film.

But this isn’t done at the expense of the integrity of the film, far from it. This is a film which unleashes the clichés for the viewer, playing upon audience expectations of them in a way which hasn’t been done before but at the same time continuing to put the characters in serious jeopardy. It may be a game for the audience but it’s certainly not a game for the characters who have to try and survive this nightmare ordeal. With one of the major twists of the film, the audience suddenly realise they have become complicit in something that only the five characters are unaware of.

At first, The Cabin in the Woods smacks of been there, done that, got the t-shirt – a bunch of good-looking, stereotypical twentysomethings head off to a remote location for some shenanigans and hanky panky, bumping into the local whackjob on the way who warns them against going. Then of course, his predictions of doom come true and they find something that they shouldn’t really be messing with. The first third of the film is very reminiscent of The Evil Dead film with its whole ‘cabin in the woods, reading a supernatural verse and being trapped with the confines of the valley’ structure. But don’t let that fool you into thinking that it’s just a self-aware re-tread. To say anything else on that matter would be to do you a disservice if you watch it.

Taken on its own merits without the genre in-jokes and twists and turns, the film works reasonably well as an effective horror film. There are some unexpected moments of terror, the film has a decent creepy atmosphere (though there are specific reasons for that!) and there is enough gore to keep fans happy. Some of the make-up effects are brilliantly done, including the zombie Buckner family who come alive to terrorise the teenagers. The teenage characters appear to fall into stereotype at the start but over the course of the film, they develop into fully fledged characters who defy any real stereotyping. Again, to divulge more would be to ruin the enjoyable of the film.

So there you have it – a review which doesn’t say too much about the film, only that you should expect plenty of twists, turns, unexpected happenings, predictable outcomes. Everything you can think will happen, will happen. And everything you think will happen, won’t happen. It sounds confusing but sit down, watch it and let it all pan out. It will make sense then.

 

The Cabin in the Woods is definitely a one-watch only deal as once you ‘get it’ then you’ll find little to go back over, save for perhaps spotting all of the genre references. But your first run-through with it will provide you with some of the most entertaining horror moments that cinema has had to offer for a long time. Ingenious at times, infuriating at others, The Cabin in the Woods is going to be a hard act to follow.

 

 ★★★★★★★★☆☆ 

 

 

Howling II (1985)

Howling II (1985)

Twice the terror! Twice the torment!

After the funeral of the news reporter killed in the original werewolf sightings, her brother Ben, his girlfriend and an occult investigator go to Transylvania to take out a werewolf cult which is headed up by the alluring Stirba.

 

I can’t say I’m a big fan of the original The Howling, loosely based on the novel of the same name. But it was successful enough to not only spawn this sequel but a whole series of cheaply-made sequels, most even more terrible than the preceding one. The Howling series has gone on to become one of the worst horror series ever made. Ditching the original’s seriousness and scares, Howling II is very much the epitome of the crazy 80s horror genre. It was filmed and then shelved for two years before it was eventually sent straight-to-video. Surely an early warning sign of just how terrible everyone considered this sequel to be.

I think the best thing that can be said about Howling II is that it follows on from the original, starting up a short while afterwards at the funeral of Karen White. The fact that the main character here is her brother is the only connection that this sequel has but it’s still something that the majority of the sequels failed to bother with. But then the script is tossed out of the window and it’s anything goes for the rest of Howling II. To even consider describing it would be to do it an injustice. Not only content with completely re-writing the werewolf rules of the first film, it unleashes a series of improbable plot holes and contrived tongue-in-cheek sequences in an ‘throw everything at the screen and hope something sticks’ mentality.

Howling II is badly edited, with random shots of inanimate objects intercut into scenes as well as poor scene transition swiping, full of cheap-looking werewolf effects, loads of mystical mumbo jumbo and plenty of 80s punk rock music to boot. The emphasis on 80s music, clothing and general culture really dates this more than the other sequels. There’s no question as to what decade this was made in but I guess everyone was having so much fun expressing themselves in new ways that they forgot to include the key ingredients that film makers have been using for decades – namely a story and script. It’s films like this where it’s best not to think too hard about what is going on, sit back and see where the journey takes you.

The journey will not take you anywhere near a convincing make-up department. The werewolves look dreadful and transformations nowhere near the quality of the original. The gore effects fair a little better, with a dwarf who has his eyes pop out, but only in the sense that they’re gloriously over-the-top. Howling II also likes to emphasise the werewolf’s primal desires – namely that they like to have a lot of sex. Werewolf orgies galore take place throughout the film but unless you like your sex scenes with a lot of bodily hair, grunting and sweat then these will be more off-putting than arousing. There’s a reason why werewolf films tend not to show this side of their shaggy characters and these scenes add a sleazy touch to the film. Not that it really needed it to begin with but anyone portraying a werewolf overacts, emphasising the feral nature of the character with all the tact of a runaway train.

Even the legendary Christopher Lee can’t save this train wreck and I feel sorry and embarrassed for him to be associated with anything to do with this. Lee is slumming big time here and looks like he’d rather be anywhere else (even sporting a pair of silly 80s designer sun glasses which give him that ‘uncool granddad’ look). He’s still the best thing on display and rather amusingly apologised to Joe Dante, director of The Howling, for appearing in this when the two men made Gremlins 2: The New Batch a few years later.

Sybil Danning stars as Stirba and provides the film with its glamour quota. The end credits feature a repeated clip of the voluptuous Ms Danning ripping her shirt off and revealing her Playboy-endorsed chest (from earlier in the film) over and over again, each time followed by a random clip of someone in the film reacting to something. It’s the most sophisticated piece of editing on display anywhere in the film. Jimmy Nail pops up as LA biker, complete with his thick Geordie accent (a person from Newcastle-Upon-Tyne in England for those unsure of what a Geordie is).

 

Howling II has about as much going for it as a feature film as a cheesy 80s music video would (complete with the punk rock soundtrack) and the comparison between the two is pretty accurate. Largely unconcerned with the finer arts of film making like a story, script and characters, Howling II just lets rip with a bewildering array of 80s cheese. It’s a car crash of a film, one of the worst sequels of all time and yet strangely watchable.

 

 ★★★☆☆☆☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

Waxwork (1988)

Waxwork (1988)

Stop On By And Give Afterlife A Try.

When a mysterious waxwork museum comes to town, the enigmatic owner invites two teenage girls to bring a few friends along to a special midnight screening of the exhibit. Once in the museum, the group split up to look at the exhibits but when they cross over the ropes to examine them closer, they find themselves actually in the horror scene on display. Forced to battle vampires, mummies, werewolves and more, the group realise that if you die inside the scene,  you die for real.

 

Ah the 80s. Only in this decade could such a frankly shallow premise have spawned such a gloriously over-the-top, tongue-in-cheek comedy-horror fest. Waxwork is like a warped cross between a slasher film, featuring a group of 80s caricatures being picked off one-by-one in a strange place, and a loving homage to the classic horrors of old. Never scary in the slightest and filled with so much camp, it would make a drag queen blush, Waxwork defines the 80s comedy-horror to a tee. And let’s face it, if you’ve ever been to a waxworks (especially a decent one) then the figures can look a little too life-like for their own good. It’s perfect horror material to mine!

Ok, so the plot sounds a bit daft and it’s a very sketchy premise which isn’t overly well-explained (like just who is the waxwork owner, Lincoln, and why is he out to destroy the world). But the beauty with Waxwork is that because the film is basically a series of short films interlocked by the MacGuffin plot about the exhibits coming to life, then every five or ten minutes a new ‘scene’ comes to life which keeps the film fresh and fast-moving. So if werewolves aren’t your thing, then sit tight because a few minutes later you’ll have vampires and then a bit later on some zombies or a mummy. It’s a ‘something for everyone’ approach which is reminiscent of the old Amicus anthologies and works, even if the lesser scenes are unfortunately dragged out longer than the more exciting scenes.

Each scene works on different levels. The zombie scene, with its black and white throwbacks to Night of the Living Dead, adds some much-needed sinister mood and some great zombie make-up but it’s all way too brief. The werewolf scene is well executed, featuring a pre-Lord of the Rings John Rhys-Davies as the man afraid of the full moon and providing some decent werewolf make-up effects as well as a whole batch of deliciously over-the-top gore.  I’ve never been a major vampire fan but the segment here works well, living up to the usual clichés of the sub-genre and featuring some silly comedy moments involving a man chained to a table with half a leg missing. It also stars the stunning Michelle Johnson as the target of the vampire’s affection so it’s easy on the eyes. The mummy scene does what you’d expect a mummy film to do – the numerous Universal Mummy sequels of the 40s proved that the limited narrative couldn’t stretch out too far – and provides the requisite stuntman-in-bandages and Egyptian curses come to life.

The most out-of-place segment comes when the virginal girl (Deborah Foreman of April Fool’s Day fame) enters the sadistic realm of the Maquis de Sade. He’s hardly known as an iconic horror character and the perverse nature of the scene involving sexual torture seems a bit of place with the comedy-horror throwbacks to the wolf man and the mummy. Foreman’s acting in this scene is mesmerizingly erotic but leaves a bit of a weird taste afterwards. It is Waxwork ‘s ‘everything but the kitchen sink’ finale that really spoils the film as ex-Avenger (not the Marvel superhero team but the old TV series) Patrick Macnee and his band of do-gooders storm the museum and engage in mortal combat with the wax exhibits that have come to life. The scene is in total disarray, with people doing what they like on camera and there’s no choreography or anything – just loads of extras fighting each other with anything they can lay their hands upon. It’s hard to keep track of what is going on and it’s almost as if the director just sat back and soaked in the chaos without a clue as to what was intended. All the while Zach Galligan, of Gremlins, has this dozy look on his face an seems almost bemused as the audience as to what is going on.

Waxwork looks to be a decent production though. The museum looks suitably creepy, the individual wax sets look top drawer on their own and then the individual scenes (when the sets come to life) look good as well. Gore is plentiful in that gratuitous 80s style so expect plenty of ludicrous squishy moments, including the mummy crushing a guy’s head under his foot and a werewolf ripping the head off an old man. The gore doesn’t take itself seriously so neither should you. And rounding off the madness is David Warner, who is dressed up like a sinister Willy Wonka and has a hoot as Lincoln, and his two servants: an Eastern European-speaking midget and a giant Lurch-like butler.

 

Nothing really makes much sense but then the film feels like a dozen films all rolled together anyway so just sit back and enjoy Waxwork, a great slice of 80s comedy-horror with a large side-order of ‘fun’ slapped into it. It’s an enjoyable cult film which is sadly hampered from total greatness by a weak plot and disappointing finale.

 

 ★★★★★★★☆☆☆ 

 

 

Howling III: The Marsupials (1987)

Howling III: The Marsupials (1987)

Just When You Thought It Was Safe To Go Down Under

A young woman escapes from a small tribe in the Australian outback and heads to the city where a chance meeting with an assistant film director who decides to cast her in his latest film “Shape Shifters Part 8.” But what he doesn’t know is that she is actually a werewolf. Meanwhile, a scientist looking for evidence that werewolves exist uncovers the tribe and must protect them when the government wants to destroy them, seeing them as a threat to mankind.

 

The third of The Howling series, this second sequel decides to ditch any connection with the previous films (save for the werewolves) and goes off and does its own thing in Australia of all places. But if you thought the last sequel was bad then you haven’t seen anything yet. Director Philippe Mora, returning from Howling II: Your Sister is a Werewolf, promised to deliver a better sequel after the critical and financial backlash his film received. He denied it was his doing, blamed the producers for meddling and then went off to make his own film free of studio constraint. Adding a touch of humour – scratch that –throwing in a huge dollop of cheese and ham, Mora manages to create an even worse cornball sequel and prove that he was the one behind the big pile of werewolf poo, not the producers.

There is so much wrong with Howling III: The Marsupials, it’s hard to know where to start. The film seems to have no specific main plot, with about ten sub-plots all being crammed in and desperately fighting for some screen time. The basic story about Jerboa and Donny would have been enough for most film makers to base their film around but Mora throws in everything-but-the-kitchen-sink. Without a single direction to follow, the film drifts around aimlessly and rather confusingly at times. I’m sure that by the time the film has finished, it has spanned something like twenty years of story. It’s just too much for a ninety-minute movie.

Australians should prosecute the makers of this film for being so damned stereotypical. In one scene, we see an Aborigine pop out of nowhere and actually shout “wanna throw another shrimp on the barby?” Talk about stereotyping an entire country. To completely kill off the last microscopic thread of credibility that the film has, that famous Australian export, Dame Edna Everage, makes a cameo appearance at the end. All the film needed was Crocodile Dundee and a couple of cans of Fosters and this would have been the advertisement of the century – actually a couple of Mick Dundee’s friends from Crocodile Dundee (Nugget and Donk) appear as hunters in this one.

Another of the film’s many weaknesses is that of the acting, which is dreadful. I don’t know who to start on – ah yes I do. The fat bloke who plays the ‘film director’ is an abomination of an actor. He just looks like someone off the street who was given £20, told to say a few lines and then returned to walking his dog or whatever he was doing. He’s symbolic of the rest of the cast, clearly people untrained in the arts of presence, delivery and emotion.

Then we move onto what should have been the real star attraction of the film – the werewolves. At least the original The Howling had some fantastic make-up effects and a great transformation scene. The effects in here are lame, cheap and it’s easy to see that they are men in suits. The werewolves (actually not even proper werewolves, they’re marsupials) look nothing like the rabid chap on the poster, instead possessing more of a goofy cartoon character vibe. Case in point: the scene in which three of the werewolves/marsupials disguise themselves as nuns to rescue Jerboa. There is also very little gore and in many of the werewolf attack scenes, the werewolves don’t even kill their victims. No signs of howling or full moons – just what was Mora playing at?

 

Howling III: The Marsupials is the most bizarre of the sequels but definitely not the worst simply for the fact that you have no idea what is going to come next. From Russian werewolf ballerinas to newly-born marsupials scurrying into pouches, the film succeeds in making itself intentionally terrible. Entertaining? Not in the slightest. But intriguing to see the lengths that some people will go to make their films stand out.

 

 ★☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

Howling VI: The Freaks (1991)

Howling VI: The Freaks (1991)

The carnival has come to town …

Drifter Ian Richards arrives in a small town and is taken in by the local preacher and his daughter. His appearance coincides with the arrival of a carnival and freak show. It turns out that the owner of the freak show is actually a vampire and he placed a curse on Richards’ family years ago. Whenever there is a full moon, Richards turns into a werewolf. Harker, the carnival ringmaster, now wants to enslave him into his freak show.

 

Between 1985 and 1989, four progressively cheaper Howling sequels were churned out, each with varying levels of quality, though most without any distinguishing features save for their ever-deepening levels awfulness. By doing so, the series had transformed itself into one of the worst horror franchises ever made. With a small break in production after Howling V: The Rebirth, a miracle happened to the series – the addition of Howling VI: The Freaks, arguably the best sequel of the entire bunch.

Having viewed the previous instalments, and feeling someone walking over my grave whilst I type this, I was expecting this fifth sequel to be the worst film ever. Seriously, the franchise couldn’t really get any lower. But what we get with Howling VI: The Freaks is a far cry from the other sequels. Sure its not without its problems but Howling VI: The Freaks isn’t just another rehash of the same tired plot about someone going somewhere remote and uncovering a group of werewolves living together. This one has new, fresh ideas and for the most part, they work. Like the later Hellraiser sequels, it may be the case that this started as a stand alone werewolf film and the producers decided to slap the Howling moniker onto it to make a bit more money.

Building a better film from the ground up involved constructing a decent story and that’s the first thing you’ll notice here. The film actually has some purpose and an end goal in sight to channel the direction of the film towards the final third. The characters are given priority here and are allowed to develop so that we come to sympathise or hate them. Keeping the focus of the film onto a handful of characters, the narrative is able to move forward in a logic and coherent manner – unlike some of the earlier sequels, there are no masses of sub-plots fighting over screen time.

Brendan Hughes gives a good account of himself as Ian Richards and Michelle Matheson, although a bit bland, at least makes her character likeable enough to warrant some levels of romantic interest between the two. Plus she’s cute and is very eager to shed her clothes for the drifter (a little too eagerly if you ask me, though the romantic sub-plot never actually goes anywhere). It’s Bruce Payne who steals the show as Harker, the freak show master. For a start he looks downright creepy and has a very eerie voice (British bad guys are the best!), delivering some excellent lines and making for a highly dangerous villain.

One of the main issues that people tend to have with the sequels is their lack of monster screen time. This is the case with Howling VI: The Freaks as the werewolf and vampire moments are few and far between, mainly confined to the final third as both Richards and Harker reveal their true nature. When you eventually see the special effects, you can see why the characters were given so much focus. The transformation scenes are very watered down and some of the make-up doesn’t look particularly convincing – but it’s an almighty improvement over the last few films. At least the monsters in this one look scary enough, not like the daft warped cartoon characters of Howling III or the angry dogs from Howling IV: The Original Nightmare.

It is actually the finale that really spoils the film when werewolf and vampire collide (sort of pre-dating Twilight by a good couple of decades). The story was quite interesting for the most but it really gets bogged down in the final third. It seemed as though they ran out of ideas and decided to let the special effects do the talking.

 

For a Howling sequel, this is excellent stuff by default alone, though werewolf lovers are better off getting their fix elsewhere. Howling VI: The Freaks is the best of the sequels but you get the sense after watching that the potential was there to go even further.

 

 ★★★★★☆☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

Howling IV: The Original Nightmare (1988)

Howling VI: The Original Nightmare

Fear is breeding … fast

When she starts having weird hallucinations, writer Marie Adams and her husband head off to stay at a cottage in the remote village of Drago. However her hallucinations get worse as they come to realise that everyone in town is actually a werewolf.

 

I don’t know how. It seemed impossible. But this third sequel to The Howling is actually worse than the previous two sequels by a long way and that in itself is a big task. I’m not quite sure how I even managed to make it this far into the series without giving up but I’m a completist and like to make sure I’ve given franchises a fair crack. Call it insanity if you like but there’s always hope that franchises pick themselves up, dust themselves off after a stinker and get back to what they do best. Only in the case of The Howling films, the only thing they’re good at doing is stinking….and stinking badly.

A troubled production where filming was halted for a brief period until director John Hough stepped in to pick up the slack, The Howling IV: The Original Nightmare is apparently a more straight adaptation of the original novel. But just because it’s a more faithful adaptation doesn’t mean to say that it’s any better as a result and in fact the opposite is true. I guess this is where the creative licence of Joe Dante came in handy to spruce up the material and make it a little more exciting in The Howling. Though I think he understood the necessity to feature a werewolf in a film about werewolves: the writers of this one have seemingly forgotten even that saving grace.

There is hardly a werewolf in sight (not counting the chest hair of one of the actors) with the exception of the poor finale when the werewolf angle is wheeled out for token screen time. Even here, the werewolves are either a bunch of actors dressed up in shoddy, cheap werewolf fancy dress costumes or simply dogs with red gleams added to their eyes. The best scene of the film involves a pre-werewolf transformation as one unlucky guy simply melts into a puddle of human goo. It’s a great effect but in a film about werewolves, it’s not really that relevant.

The Howling IV: The Original Nightmare is a basic rehash of the original with two people heading to somewhere remote and stumbling upon a population of werewolves. I was never a huge fan of the original but I can at least acknowledge its place as one of the most famous werewolf films. But here, it seems that the story has been sucked dry of anything even remotely interesting. I’ve said it before in other reviews but the cardinal sin a film can make is that it is boring and The Howling IV: The Original Nightmare is a prime example of how to fill seventy minutes of nothing. The film does attempt to create some mystery but guess what? We know that it’s a film about werewolves so the whole angle is a bit of a waste of time because we know what the eventual outcome is going to be.

Devoid of any action or excitement, a flawed pace and no style whatsoever, the film is even badly made from a technical standpoint with continuity errors, poor lighting and awful sound. Like really awful sound – the actors sound dubbed at times, especially the male leads with their really deep and dreary monotonous voices. Not forgetting the almighty mullet that Michael T. Weiss sports, a definite symbol of its 80s time. These are mere side distractions though and the bottom line is that there is nothing here, quite literally.

 

Do not watch this film. Do not watch it at any cost. Pretend it didn’t happen. Even if you have a burning desire to watch all of The Howling films, avoid this at all cost and pretend that they just got their Roman numerals mixed up.

 

 ☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

Werewolf of Washington, The (1973)

The Werewolf of Washington (1973)

Makes it perfectly clear.

Jack Whittier is a presidential aid but after an affair with the President’s daughter he requests a post in Hungary. There he is bitten by a werewolf and upon his return to America as a press secretary he proceeds to wreak havoc around the White House every full moon as the werewolf of Washington. Despite his best efforts to tell everyone, no one will believe him as the body count begins to rise.

 

Intended to be both a comedy and a political satire with horror elements thrown in for good measure, The Werewolf of Washington sort of fails on all counts. Released in 1973 in the midst of the Watergate scandal in America (only a few months before Nixon resigned), the film is definitely one for the older viewer who was alive at the time or who has a passing interest in politics.

Apart from one or two half-decent scenes, The Werewolf of Washington is a pretty lame horror flick and the werewolf scenes sometimes seem to exist entirely in their own separate film as if they were only added to a pre-made political drama. The early scenes in Hungary promise much with some effective imagery and plenty of the Wolf Man lore coming into play – gypsies, mysterious canes, etc. But once it the story gets back to Washington, the horror elements seem to work fine on their own when they need to but they uncomfortably mix with the political scenes and the humour. Taken on their own merit, the attack scenes do have a certain aggressiveness to them (the scene in which the werewolf rides atop a car pulling into a service station is highly memorable) and the werewolf transformation scenes may look a little dated now but certainly manage to convince with it’s frame-by-frame transformation. The werewolf looks alright too, with a streak of silver in him as opposed to the generic black werewolf we’re used to seeing.

Dean Stockwell is quite good as a man torn between his two lives and puts plenty of energy into his performance with the make-up on. He leaps and bounces all over the place as the werewolf and has the mannerisms down to a tee. But this is where the problems lie. Once the werewolf scenes are over, the political satire is terrible. I have no real interest in the goings of the White House and most of the jokes would have gone straight over me. I have a limited knowledge of the Nixon scandal but if I want to know more about it, I’m sure to watch something a little more explanatory than The Werewolf of Washington and its attempts to parody it. Having said that, Biff McGuire is hilarious as the President – he reminded me a bit of the Lloyd Bridges portrayal of the President of the USA in Hot Shots! Part Deux.

I’m guessing that the comedy (such as characters getting their fingers stuck in bowling balls – oh the hilarity!) is intended to soften the damaging blows of the political satire but the truth is that the gags fall flat too. The political satire is rarely scathing and it’s as though director Milton Moses Greenberg (now there’s a name) was a little too worried about making anything overly damaging in its depictions of the government, sleaze and corruption at the highest levels and all manner of back corridor dodgy dealings in the White House.

 

The Werewolf of Washington never once comes across as a horror film and aims for the Watergate scandal parody route with little effect. Neither work very well and you get the feeling they could easily have ditched either theme and had a better film as a result.

 

 ★★★☆☆☆☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

Howling VII: Mystery Woman (1995)

Howling VII: Mystery Woman (1995)

Somewhere Out There a New Terror is Breeding

A number of vicious murders take place in a small Californian town not long after a mysterious stranger has arrived. The local detective talks with the local priest who reveals that the killer is in fact a werewolf. Is the stranger in town all he is cracked up to be or is someone else out there using him as a scapegoat?

 

Who cares? This pathetic series has provided so little in the way of entertainment or decent filmmaking that I’ve gone beyond caring for plots. I’m only watching them because I’m a completist and need to watch all of the films in a series just so I can say I’ve seen them all. As inept as some of the previous Howling were, this one is right up there (or should that be down there) with the worst – scratch that, it is the worst and by a long, long, long way. I don’t know where to start.

As with most of the films in this series, the fact it has Howling in the title is little indication that it’s a direct sequel, more so a standalone werewolf flick with that title added on. Having said that, director (and lead actor) Clive Turner has seen fit to carve up the previous films and rewrite history. He does manage to link this one with the others but in rather bizarre and pointless ways, including referring to a circus which was in town a while ago (from Howling VI: The Freaks) and even using a scene with a character from Howling IV: The Original Nightmare having a phone conversation with one of this film’s main characters. I don’t know why I’m being too harsh on it to be honest, it’s actually quite ingenious how all of the little bits have been connected together to try and connect all of the films in one. It just ends up confusing the hell out of the plot as characters are used and events happen that only happen because footage is being reused. Turner has tried to wrap too much up from the previous films when he should have kept it as a minimal as possible.

It really makes no difference though because the film blows and when its trump card is lifting scenes from slightly-better-but-still-shit films, you’re in trouble. Turner’s most blatant rewrite of history is when he has the scary-looking priest constantly babble on about a werewolf sighting in a castle in Hungary. Footage from Howling V: The Rebirth is shown which, ironically enough, starred Clive Turner as a different character. But not anymore, now his character is the same one, travelling from place to place fighting werewolves or turning into one (see the film wants to make you think he is the werewolf but this recap scene just kills that notion).

Right from the opening moments of a bunch of cops standing around a body, each of them trying to outdo the previous one in terms of exclamations (“Jesus Christ” is followed by “Holy Shit” and then “Mother of God”), you know this film is going to test your patience. Big montages of cars and bikes moving around the town are shown for the titles. I also hope you like country music and line dancing because there’s way too much of it in here. I had to check the DVD cover to make sure I’d picked up a horror film and not one of those ‘Learn To Line Dance’ DVDs. It’s a gruelling combination of bad music and even more horrible dancing. Time seems to stop as characters have conversations with each, with day and night happening in other scenes (the priest and detective seem to talk to each for the entire duration of the film whilst everyone else gets on with their lives). The conversations suck too because not only is this film completely jokey and throwaway, there’s also no actors! All of the people use their real names and seem to play the roles they actually work in real life in the town. It tells because they can’t emote to save their lives. Everything is drawn out in a monotonous, reading-the-autocue style of acting.

In case you’ve forgotten this is actually a werewolf. In the midst of this juxtaposition of country music, line dancing, endless clips of bikes, confusing story and locals playing themselves, there is actually a werewolf story. There are a few kills and the werewolf gets a Predator-esque POV. But you never see it or even glimpse it until the final two minutes when there is a terribly executed transformation (watch as the curtains around the person pixilate as well thanks to the crappy computer effects) and a woman bursts through a door wearing a Halloween costume.

 

At least Turner finally finished off the Howling series (at least for a long while, until an attempt recent reboot) with this mercy killing of a movie, which injected a lethal dose of poison into the flagging franchise. Pray for small mercies whilst you can!

 

 ☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

Wolfman, The (2010)

The Wolfman (2010)

When the moon is full the legend comes to life

Successful stage actor Lawrence Talbot receives a letter from his brother Ben’s fiancé telling him that he has gone missing and asking for his help. He returns home to Talbot Hall where he has not set foot since a young boy and meets up with his estranged father, Sir John Talbot, to learn that Ben’s body has been found. It was in a horrific state as if he has been attacked by a savage wild beast. Lawrence investigates further and ends up at a gypsy camp where he has an encounter with a werewolf that bites him. After seemingly recovering from his injuries after a few days, Lawrence begins to transform into a werewolf when the moon is full.

 

The original is a classic – one of the landmarks films in the horror genre. Unfortunately because it’s so old, the wolfman story has been portrayed on film so many times in so many guises, with various sequels, spin-offs, spoofs, etc. I dare anyone with even a vague interest in film in general not to be able to explain the story or at least cover most of the basics of the wolfman mythology. It’s this familiarity with the story and character that is easily The Wolfman’s biggest obstacle. We know the story. We’ve seen it countless times in countless forms. So is there really anything new to add to it?

With such a chaotic production history, it’s amazing that The Wolfman has even made it to release. Directorial replacements at the last minute, re-shoots and script re-writes amongst other things, the problems are evident in the final version which is a mess that somehow manages to limp for 103 minutes before dropping dead at the end credits. It’s not that The Wolfman is a terrible film, far from it. It’s just that it’s one of the most unemotionally-investing films that I can recall watching. It’s a film that is hollow and shallow and seems to go through the motions. There’s little energy in it. There’s little sense of urgency. You get the sense that everyone here is just glad to be paid and that’s about it. It drifts from one sub-plot to the next, not sure of which direction it’s going in. Threads are picked up and dropped later in the film. It’s blatantly clear where the re-writes came and the film was chopped and changed around. Pacing is also a major problem as the film is dull as dishwater at times. The wolfman will then strike and suddenly the film becomes exciting. But then it fails to capitalise on this momentum and drifts back into its slumber, ready for the next transformation.

Let’s go with some good news though. It isn’t all bad. The wolfman himself is a mixture of CGI and traditional make-up and as poor as the CGI scenes are with the wolfman running across rooftops and the like, the practical make-up by Rick Baker is awesome and proves that computers can replace many things but not make them convincing. The make-up is terrifying at times and gives Benicio Del Toro the real chance to roar and howl like he’s never done before. The wolfman has never been more brutal than he is here. He’s a snarling, rabid animal who rips apart his victims in a shower of blood, limbs and entrails. I was pleasantly surprised and pleased by the amount of gore on display here.

The film itself looks visually stunning and it has the Gothic atmosphere nailed down to a tee. Some of the moonlight shots of the village or the fog-drenched forest are beautiful – almost Tim Burton-like at times. There’s so much eye candy on display as the sets are lavishly furnished, faithfully recreated from days gone by and brought to life with superb cinematography. The sweeping Victorian settings are faithfully recreated and it’s good to be able to see where money was well spent – take for instance the bustling streets of London during the asylum escape sequence. The nearest film I can recall to conjuring up such a world was Sleepy Hollow and I was getting the same moody vibe here.

It’s the acting and casting that is one of the film’s biggest weaknesses. Benicio Del Toro is dreadful as Lawrence Talbot. He’s bland and unemotional in his human state and has about as much go about him as a dead parrot. As attractive as she is, Emily Blunt is wasted in a throwaway role as the love interest. She’s there to pout, cry, look good and then provide some sort of moment towards the end of the film where she confronts the wolfman and he shows a brief moment of humanity. But was the romantic plot necessary? After all, she was her brother’s fiancé and he hasn’t been dead two minutes before she’s already moved onto his sibling.

Anthony Hopkins is equally as dismal as Sir John Talbot. He chews up the scenery with little conviction and slums through his dialogue as if he’s been woken up after a night out. Hugo Weaving is decent as Inspector Abberline but arrives too late in the film to save it.

 

The Wolfman is decent at times, dreadful at others. Maybe that this is the best we could have expected given the much-publicised problems it had during production but with the talent in front of and behind the camera, it should have been way better. Let’s hope that lessons will be learned from this episode and the wolfman story is given the proverbial silver bullet for the foreseeable future.

 

 ★★★★★☆☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

Wild Country (2005)

Wild Country (2005)

The Chase Is On

After being forced to give her baby girl up for adoption, Kelly Ann decides to go on a hike across the Scottish Highlands with a group of friends. Things don’t go according to schedule when the group come across an abandoned baby in the ruins of an old castle. Deciding to take the baby to safety, the group heads off home but are soon attacked by a mysterious wolf-like beast that begins picking them off one-by-one.

 

It’s nice to see plenty of low budget attempts to get the horror bandwagon rolling again in the UK and Ireland. Over the last few years we’ve seen many varying efforts like Dog Soldiers, The Cottage, Isolation and Dead Meat attempt to bust the Hollywood and Asian monopoly on the genre. There is something refreshing about watching home-grown horror because we don’t just remake old films all of the time like Hollywood has a tendency to do right now. Granted, most of the films recycle tried and tested plots but when was the last time you saw a UK remake of a horror film made ten or twenty years ago?

The films aren’t made by ex-MTV editors looking to step into films. They have been made by people with love and respect for the genre. Even low budgeted titles such as this one benefit from the love that the director clearly has for the genre. With just the right amount of tension, action, comedy and drama, Wild Country does what it can with a limited budget and does it reasonably well.

Wild Country clocks in at a very slim seventy-two minutes which means there is little time to waste and director Craig Strachan does a pretty good job of getting us to the good stuff as quickly as he can without compromising his characters. It’s not exactly a film where past relationships are going to matter once everything goes tits up so what little development the characters are given does enough to warrant us caring a little about some of them. The Scottish actors do grind your ears a bit with their accents at first but once you get used to it, the accents aren’t that bad (although that’s coming from an Englishman living down the road from Scotland – Johnny Foreigner may have some trouble in understanding what they are talking about!). They also talk like they are having a proper conversation between mates and not just spewing out the script which does help with the film’s sense of realism. The scenes when they spend their first night on the Highlands will bring back memories of An American Werewolf in London and it’s a shame that more isn’t made of this setting early on instead of just letting the monster loose at the first given opportunity.

The werewolf has a lot to be desired though. It looks ok in the dark because all you can really see are sharp teeth and an odd glint in its eye. In fact the night attacks are well-staged. But the problem is that most of the creature action happens during the day! So you get to see the rather rubbish guy-in-a-suit-on-all-fours monster plodding around slowly like a pantomime horse. Quite how it is supposed to chase after the characters (as it was supposedly doing in the dark) remains to be seen.

It does kind of ruin the suspense that is built early on when you don’t actually get a good look at it and you conjure up all sorts of scary images. Dog Soldiers managed to give us some truly scary-looking werewolves on a limit budget so it’s a pity that more wasn’t made of these fur balls too. The scenes during the night are also very dark. I’m not trying to sound too stupid because I understand the need for realism and you’re not going to find any light on the Highlands but it’s a film and you need to see at least part of what is happening, not just presume from the noises and screams.

 

Wild Country is a decent stab at a werewolf film, made more remarkable given that it only had a £1m budget which is pittance nowadays. It shows that British horror is still alive and kicking – it just needs the money men to put more of their cash into the films to take them to the next level.

 

 ★★★★☆☆☆☆☆☆