Joe Dante's werewolf classic, The Howling, is one of the best horror films of the eighties. And as we all know, with success comes sequels, and in the case of The Howling series, there were a bunch of them. Artisan has recently released two of the later entries in the series: The Howling V: The Rebirth and The Howling VI: The Freaks.
Part V starts off with a scene of mass slaughter centuries ago, in a strange castle in Budapest. We learn that the only survivor is a baby, who we never see, but his cries let us know he has survived. Five hundred years later, a group of people, some American, some British, and some from continental Europe, are invited by a mysterious Baron to the castle from the opening scene that has since been reopened as a tourist attraction after laying dormant and sealed up for hundreds of years.
One by one, certain members of the troupe are turning up dead with their throats torn out, and they soon figure out that one of the is a werewolf and that they are all somehow connected to the mysterious past that the castle hides in it's history.
While there are a lot of great ideas thrown about in the movie, it's really nothing that we haven't seen a few times before and it borrow very heavily from Ten Little Indians but isn't nearly as good. The main problem with the film though is the dialogue and the performances, both of which are painful to watch and listen to. Actors deliver some of the most stilted dialogue I've ever heard (and I've seen a lot of bad movies) and it is literally difficult to sit through without cringing.
Part VI is a slight improvement over the earlier film. This time we find a lone stranger named Ian wandering out of the desert into a small southern town called Cotton Bluff. He soon finds work with the local preacher, helping to restore the rundown church and falling for his pretty young daughter, Lizzie.
Everything appears to be coming up roses for Ian until one day when a circus sideshow called Harker's World of Oddities comes strolling into town. When the moon turns full and Ian transforms, it doesn't take long before Harker clues in and decides to kidnap Ian and put him in his freak show.
Things of course get more complicated as the film goes on as Lizzie, obviously in love with Ian, tries to clear his name when some of the townspeople end up dead. Is Ian the one responsible or is Harker harboring a darker secret that we don't know about?
Once again, this sequel foregoes the manic sexual energy and black comedy of Dante's classic and instead shovels at us tripe dialogue and mediocre acting. Some of the ideas are again kind of interesting and the premise of the lone stranger finding himself the star of a freak show is one that had potential, but with such poor scripting and half-assed performances, it's really hard to care about what happens to the characters, no matter how hard we want to try.
Both films are presented in fullframe, but this does appear to be their correct aspect ratio and I'm going to hazard a guess that they were in fact composed and shot this way. Part V looks a little haggard in a few spots, particularly the opening scene but it does clear up and the only real problem visually is that the blacks don't look as deep as they should and have a tendency to look a little washed out. Part VI, on the other hand, does look very nice with bright colors and deeper blacks and only some very minor print damage visible in a couple of spots.
Both films feature Dolby Digital 2.0 soundtracks and while the levels on V are a little bit low, this can be easily adjust by turning the volume up a little bit. Other than that, the mixes for both films are pretty decent with a few nice moments of semi-active channel separation during a few of the werewolf attack scenes and action scenes in the films. Bass response is lively though not too over the top and overall things sound pretty good.
This release is barebones. It does feature scene selection, but it literally has no other extra features at all (unless you count the paper insert with the chapter stops listed on it).
While the price point for this double feature is right, these films aren't really anything to write home about and I justifiably recommend them unless you're a hardcore collector of the series. If you're not, just save your fond memories of the original film and spend your money on something else.
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.