‘The Howling’ franchise has two earned reputations: the first being that Joe Dante’s film from 1981 is one of the two greatest werewolf films ever made, and the second being that the remaining seven sequels are awful films. Regardless of the latter, there are people, like me – a few in numbers for sure, who enjoy the sequels, some of whom regard them as guilty pleasures. As someone obsessed with Werewolf fiction, I won’t call these guilty pleasures. I am not ashamed to admit that I just really like this series, flaws and all; I won’t say that this is a great series: it’s a pretty inconsistent franchise in terms of creature designs, mythology and story, and although there is an effort to connect these films in a later entry in the series, it’s mostly an anthology of films that only share the title in common.
What’s interesting to me about this series is the fact that there are three of Gary Brandner’s novel series, and eight films in the franchise, but out of the eight films, only two are based on Brandner’s works – and those two, ‘The Howling’ and ‘The Howling IV: The Original Nightmare’ are based on the same novel. Despite what some of these sequels claim in their opening credits, none of them have anything to do with Brandner’s novels. This is a shame, because Brandner’s ‘The Howling II’ and ‘The Howling III’ really are great books that would be excellent films, if done right.
But the films are what they are, and what they are is a different beast entirely. So here is a list, from Worst to Best of all eight films in the franchise:
08) ‘The Howling: New Moon Rising’ (1995) –
The seventh film is the one that I’ve seen the least; partially because it’s unwatchable without alcohol, but mostly because this is the only film in the series that only exists on VHS – it never received a DVD release, and who knows if we’ll ever see it available on Blu Ray (Scream Factory has released Blu Ray’s of the first three films, so maybe in the future they’ll release the rest) – and the only way I was able to watch this was in sections on YouTube. This sequel features a whole lot of line dancing, and a painfully awful transformation. Writer/Producer/Director Clive Turner co-stars in the film as Ted, a biker who arrives at a town in a desert just as gruesome murders begin to take place in the surrounding area, and naturally as any good cop would deduce, it appears to be the work of a Werewolf. I do give this film some props for attempting to connect the previous films together and bringing back some previous characters, and I also think Clive Turner plays a pretty likable fella, but overall, this is easily the worst film in the series.
07) ‘The Howling: Reborn’ (2011) –
The eighth film has arguably the best production value out of all the sequels, but is tamed by teenage love story that overshadows its horror roots. This film follows Will Kidman (Landon Liboiron), a teenager who struggles to find his place in the world; his mother had died from serious injuries while he was in the womb, and he miraculously survived. Despite being raised by his wealthy father, something about his life seems off – or missing, and he is uncertain of his next step in life. At school he hangs with his best friend, Sashin (Jesse Rath), who is a Great Value knockoff of Evil Ed from ‘Fright Night’, but obnoxious in his own different way, and has his sights set on fellow class mate Eliana Wynter (Lindsey Shaw), an edgy teenage girl who hangs out with a tough crowd. After accepting her invitation to attend a secret rave party, Will is drugged and while in the lower area of the building he is attacked by a creature, but manages to get away. The following day he begins to experience new changes to his body, and he turns to Sashin for help, believing he is a werewolf. Will proves this to Sashin and attempts to gain knowledge on Werewolves. Later, Will learns that his mother is still alive, and that she was attacked by a werewolf, and that he too was infected while in the womb. When forced to choose between Eliana and Kathryn and a life among a pack, Will chooses love, putting him and his friends at odds with Kathryn and the other wolves.
This is not an awful movie. It’s not near the level of ‘New Moon Rising’, but it’s not one that I gravitate towards when I’m in the mood to watch a Howling movie. This is sort of the ‘Twilight’ or ‘Blood and Chocolate’ of Howling films, and that’s just not for me.
06) ‘The Howling III: The Marsupials’ (1987) –
Honestly, I’m not even sure if there are words that could possibly describe the third film accurately; it’s a bizarre, and totally bonkers film with terrible acting, questionable effects and a story that’s all over the place, and yet … it is oddly fun. This was one sequel that I refused to give a re-watch to for the longest time, because once was good enough for me. I bought it blind, watched it, formed an opinion, and then let it sit on my shelf next to the rest of the films and collect dust. This past winter, upon watching some of the other sequels, I decided that I’d give this film another shot, and I ended up enjoying it more than my first viewing – make no mistake, it’s still one of my least favorite sequels, and it’s still a bad movie, but it is fun and not without potential. The film is once again Directed by Philippe Mora, who Pitched, Produced and Wrote this film to redeem himself after ‘The Howling 2’, which he was displeased with. This is set in Australia, and follows multiple characters; Breckmeyer (Barry Otto), a professor who attempts to prove the existence of Werewolves; Jerboa (Imogen Annesley), a descendant of a Marsupial Werewolf clan who flees from her tribe and step-father Thylo (Max Fairchild) in the Australian Outback and to Sydney, where a chance encounter (kind of) gets her a leading role in a horror film called “Shape Shifters 8”; Olga (Dasha Blahova), a Russian ballerina who is also a Werewolf and is in search of a mate; and then there’s Donny (Leigh Biolos), a creeper who has no qualms about stopping his vehicle in the middle of traffic and chasing a strange woman across the city just to be in a movie. Totally not creepy, dude.
There are some interesting themes and plot points within the story, but it’s the execution that is lacking; in the hands of a better writer and a better director, this movie could have been one of the best sequels in the series.
05) ‘The Howling IV: The Original Nightmare’ (1988) –
Like the first film, ‘The Howling IV: The Original Nightmare’ is a loose adaptation of Gary Brandner’s first ‘The Howling’ novel – although this one is actually much closer to the source than Joe Dante’s movie. This film follows a horror novelist named Marie Adams (Romy Windsor) whose active imagination takes a toll on her mental health, and on the instructions of her therapist, she travels with her husband, Richard (Michael T. Weiss), to an isolated town called Drago for some rest and relaxation among nature, and away from the city life. Not too long into their stay, Marie hears strange howling in the woods, and Richard becomes seduced by Elanor (Lamya Derval), a local who runs a shop in Drago. As the howling becomes more frequent, Marie has haunting hallucinations of an elderly couple who used to live in the exact cottage that she’s staying in, who try to warn her to leave. As the couple’s relationship strains, Marie befriends Janice (Susanne Severeid), a fan of Marie’s novels, and a former Nun investigating the disappearance of friends who disappeared after staying in the area. When a pair of hikers goes missing, Marie begins to suspect something is not right with the town of Drago.
Obviously, there are some changes from the source material, at least with character names and backstories, but for the most part, this is pretty dead-on to the story and structure of the first novel, and that is something I admire about this sequel – but that is also one of its faults, as its faithfulness affects the pacing of the story; it’s a very slow burn, and its low budget, direct-to-video cinematography and acting does not help guide the viewers through the film pleasantly. There is one good effects sequence in the third act, but it’s definitely a slow-paced, and dare I say, a boring-at-times movie. I regard this one positively when discussing these movies mostly because I like Brander’s books, and I like that this was about as faithful to the source as we’ll ever get.
04) ‘The Howling VI: The Freaks’ (1991) –
While the fifth film looks and feels like a low-budget, direct-to-video sequel in a series that has fallen far in quality since the first film, it does offer a larger scope to the world of The Howling with the introduction to a variety of different freaks, oddities, and even a vampire. The film follows Ian Richards (Brendan Hughes), a drifter who arrives to the town of Canton Bluff looking for a job. Ian meets a local named Dewey (Jered Barclay), who takes Ian in, in exchange for help in restoring an old church that Dewey just purchased. Ian meets Dewey’s daughter Elizabeth (Michele Matheson), and the two start to get the fuzzies for each other. As Ian and Dewey complete the church, Harker’s Travelling Circus rolls into town; it turns out that Ian has been keeping track of Harker’s circus, believing that they hold the answer to his past, as it’s revealed that Ian is in fact a Werewolf. On the night of the full moon, Ian transforms, unaware that one of Harker’s assistants his watching. Once Harker (Bruce Payne) is made aware of the presence of a Werewolf in town, he and his goons go out to capture the beast. When Dewey and Elizabeth attempt to intervene in Ian’s kidnapping, Harker invokes a transformation, revealing Ian’s secret to his friends. Ian is brought to the circus and locked up, to be used as a new side-show exhibit; Ian willingly stays after Harker lies and tells Ian that he tore Elizabeth to pieces. Meanwhile, back in town Dewey has a change of heart about Ian and believes that the young man he took in was in allegiance with the devil. Elizabeth, however, doesn’t believe what her father says and desperately urges Sheriff Fuller (Gary Cervantes) to help free Ian from Harker. Fuller agrees and attempts to free Ian, and reveals that Elizabeth is still alive, but Ian stays anyway. As Fuller leaves, he catches a clue that links Harker’s circus to the mysterious disappearances of numerous citizens, and later on attempts to arrest Harker, but is killed in the process. After Fuller’s body is discovered, Dewey and the other locals believe that Ian is responsible; once discovering that Harker is the one who killed his family and cursed Ian seeks out Harker for revenge, leading to a showdown between the two creatures and angry townspeople.
This sequel has probably some of the most likable characters in the series, as well as some decent make-up effects work, particularly on Harker in vampire form, and Winston (Sean Gregory Sullivan), a sympathetic man held against his will in the circus and displayed as the Alligator Boy due to a rare skin decease. In fact, the majority of the circus related stuff is well done all around. My only real issue with this sequel is the Wolf-Man approach to the werewolf design – I would have much preferred a design that was more in line with that of the first film. Other than that, I dig this movie.
03) ‘The Howling II: Your Sister is a Werewolf’ (1985) –
‘The Howling II: Your Sister is a Werewolf’, also known by its original title ‘The Howling II: Stirba — Werewolf Bitch’, is a direct sequel to the first film. It is Directed by Philippe Mora, who would later go on to direct ‘The Howling III: The Marsupials’, and it is co-written by novelist Gary Brandner – it also just happens to star the legendary Christopher Lee – and while the involvement of the latter two may sound appealing, it’s not really as good as it SHOULD have been, despite the fact that this film is one of the best sequels that this series has to offer. Odd statement, I know. The story begins at the funeral for Karen White, who was played by Dee Wallace in the original film. Karen’s brother Ben (Reb Brown) and friend Jenny Templeton (Annie McEnroe) are approached by paranormal investigator Stefan Crosscoe (Christopher Lee) who insists that Karen did not die from the gunshots, and that she is now a Werewolf. Stefan shows them the footage of Karen’s transformation on live television, but they don’t believe it. Knowing that Stefan means business, Ben and Jenny anticipate his arrival at the mortuary, and attempt to stop him from mutilating Karen’s body; however, soon after their arrival, they’re attacked by a group of Werewolves who have come to free Karen from her grave. Ben, Jenny and Stefan fight off the attacking Werewolves and manage to capture one. The captured Werewolf spills his beans about Stirba (Cybill Danning), whom Stefan knows really well. Now knowing about the truth about the existence of Werewolves, and that Stefan had been correct about Karen’s fate, Ben and Jenny agree to tag along with Stefan to Transylvania to put an end to Stirba and her tribe once and for all.
It’s a fun movie with a catchy soundtrack and loads of nudity, and some interesting creature visuals. It’s far from being on the level of the first film, but it has its own charm. When I first watched this, I was a little taken back with the fact that they didn’t pick-up with the ending of the first film, which revealed that Marsha Quist is still alive, or even tackle what happened to Chris Halloran after he shot Karen on live television. It’s not the sequel I wanted, but after watching it a second time, now knowing exactly what to expect, I do get a kick out of this movie.
02) ‘The Howling V: The Rebirth’ (1989) –
The fifth film is my favorite sequel in the franchise, even though the Werewolf itself is rarely seen. This film is presented as a whodunit murder mystery and follows a collection of characters, all strangers, who have won a special trip to an ancient castle in Budapest that has been shut down for hundreds of years. The film opens five hundred years earlier, showing the aftermath of a brutal slaying of an entire family in the castle; the perpetrators attempt to kill themselves after, believing that their deed of riding the earth of evil is finished. However, as they take their last breathes, they hear the sounds of a baby crying – a sole survivor who carries a wicked curse. In present time, after arriving at the castle, the circumstances surrounding the castle’s closing are debated philosophically among several characters, who are intrigued by the castle’s history and the supernatural beliefs that come with it. When a blizzard hits, the group of strangers find themselves stuck in the castle, and as the night goes on, members of the party start disappearing one by one, as one of them isn’t who they claim to be. Soon the survivors discover that a Werewolf walks among them, and that their invitations were no coincidence: they are all descendants of the family that once occupied the castle before the mass slaying in five hundred years earlier, and one of them is the descendant of the baby that survived.
There are lots of things that I really enjoy about this movie: I love the setting, the location, the score, the story and the mystery approach to the story, which sets it apart from the rest of the series. The characters and acting aren’t too bad, either, and the movie does a pretty good job of building suspense and setting up red herrings, keeping any first-time viewer guessing until the end.
01) ‘The Howling’ (1981) –
There is a great divide among horror fans as to which film, ‘The Howling’ or ‘An American Werewolf in London’, holds the title of the greatest werewolf film ever made, and while I do tend to lean a little closer to the side of ‘An American Werewolf in London’, there is no denying the greatness of the first Howling movie. This understandably loose adaptation of Gary Brandner’s novel follows Karen White (Dee Wallace) a News Anchor who is cooperating with the police in an effort to apprehend a deranged serial killer who has been making calls to Karen. The killer, later identified as Eddie Quist (Robert Picardo) agrees to meet Karen; as she approaches the rendezvous point, her police escort loses site of her, and while in a porno booth, Eddie makes his move, but is gunned down by the police who track her down just in the nick of time. Karen is traumatized by the encounter, and has frequent nightmares of that night, but the memory of what actually transpired and what she actually witnessed in the booth have been suppressed from her mind. At the suggestion of Dr. Waggner (Patrick Macnee), Karen and her husband Bill (Christopher Stone) travel to the doctor’s isolated retreat called “The Colony”, to be among nature and with some of his other patients. On the night of their first stay at the Colony, Karen is startled by the sounds of howling outside of their cottage, but her concerns are dismissed by Bill and the other residents. As Karen and Bill’s relationship strains due to her trauma, Bill becomes seduced by Marsha (Elisabeth Brooks), who bites Bill and infects him with the curse. Meanwhile, Karen’s colleagues from the news program, Chris Halloran (Dennis Dugan) and Terri Fisher (Belinda Balaski), investigate Karen’s attacker, discovering his fondness of art and the occult – and that Eddie is a resident of the Colony!
Rob Bottin’s special effects work is outstanding in this movie, especially for the first full on transformation scene. The Werewolf design itself is easily one the best I’ve seen on screen. The script is smartly written and keeps the essence of the novel intact, but enhances the story so that it’s engaging and at appropriate pace for film. I like to tease a good friend of mine that the book is better than the movie, but that’s not entirely true. I enjoy the book a lot, and I don’t mind slow burn stories, but if ‘The Howling IV: The Original Nightmare’ taught us anything, it’s that being faithful to this particular story can be off-putting and effect pacing. I believe that screenwriter John Sayles and Director Joe Dante made smart choices when developing this adaptation. This is a great Werewolf movie.
So how do you rank the films in this franchise? Do you agree? disagree? Please let us know in the comments!