Review Date: December 23, 2002
Released by: Prism Leisure
Release date: 9/2001
Region 2, PAL
Full Frame 1.33:1
Sometimes I'll get into a mood where I want to overdose on a certain type of horror movie. I've gone through all different mood types - zombies, vampires, slashers, classics, werewolves, and so on. The problem is, whenever I get into a werewolf mood, I'm stuck with Howling or An American Werewolf in London. Those are, without a doubt, the two best werewolf movies in existence. And after watching them, I'm always craving more! Why oh why hasn't there been any decent werewolf movies? Before everyone starts screaming, I'll admit that there have been a few - Bad Moon, Wolfen, Ginger Snaps, and even Silver Bullet was okay. But in comparison to The Howling and AWIL, only Bad Moon manages to temporarily satisfy my desire for more. I won't even get into the CGI nightmare that is An American Werewolf in Paris.
After watching The Howling DVD recently, I once again confirmed that it is one of the two definitive werewolf movies. I won't go into details, as I've already posted my thoughts in The Howling: Special Ed. laserdisc review. After watching The Howling DVD, I was once again left wanting more. A thought occurred to me: Why not try some of The Howling sequels? Sure, I've always heard they were horrible, but in the end you have got to decide for yourself. Being one that tries to avoid VHS at all costs, I did some searching around on the Internet to discover that both Howling VI: The Freaks and Howling IV: The Original Nightmare had been released onto Region 2 PAL DVD by a company called Prism Leisure. Great news, except that both went quickly out of print after release. Fortunately, copies are still to be found on places like Ebay UK (many sellers will ship worldwide). After placing a bid and winning, I managed to snag Howling VI for under $20.00 shipped after currency conversion. Howling II, Howling IV, and Howling V laserdiscs are all on their way to me, and all at a cost of around $5-8 per movie. Depending on whether I like Howling IV or not, I may bite and pickup the PAL DVD of that one as well.
While PAL certainly is a technically superior standard over NTSC, many PAL horror DVDs have low cost production, resulting in a poor transfer that is often full of MPEG artifacts. Of course, the same can happen, and has happened, with NTSC horror DVDs. It's all a matter of the company that releases it and the money they put into restoration and authoring. Now I'm not saying Howling VI is going to suffer such a fate, but I do worry considering how quickly it went out of print. Was it a rights issue or a problem with Prism Leisure, the company that released it? I have no idea. So, without further ranting, lets take a look at Prism Leisure's Howling VI: The Freaks DVD and find out for ourselves the quality of both the movie and DVD.
Ian Richards (Brendan Hughes) is a drifter making his way across the country in search of H.B. Harker's "World of Wonder" - a traveling carnival that has a freak show as the main attraction. Ian's latest stop is at Canton Bluff, a small farming community in the middle of Nowhere, U.S.A. As Ian is being questioned by the town's suspicious sheriff, Sheriff Fuller (Carlos Cervantes), Dewey - the town's would-be pastor - comes by and hires Ian to help him fix up the local church. It's Dewey's hope to reopen the church someday, and perhaps even start preaching again. While Dewey has no money to offer Ian, he can pay Ian with a bed to sleep on and a home cooked meal by his daughter Elizabeth (Michele Matheson).
Ian gets settled in at Dewey's and the two soon begin working on the church (with the appropriate "We Have Been Blessed By the Lord" hokey music playing in the background). The two make such good progress, Dewey starts to believe his hope of reopening the church will soon become a reality. The town's everyday boring cycle come to a screeching halt when H.B. Harker's "World of Wonder" arrives in town. Ian has at last found what he's been searching for. Releazing that a confrontation is near, Ian begins to grow distant from Elizabeth, whom he had previously been getting close with. Ian has his own dark little secret that he's been hiding from the town. A secret which will soon be discovered.
As a full moon begins to rise, Ian transforms into a werewolf and heads off into the night. Harker (Bruce Payne), realizing that he recognizes Ian from somewhere, gathers up a few of his carnies and heads off into the night in search of Ian. When Harker discovers that Ian is a werewolf, he captures him and adds him as a main attraction to the freak show. Harker himself has his own dark little secret. He is a vampire; a vampire that has traveled from town to town, killing off locals and feeding off their blood. The locals, believing that Ian is responsible for several deaths in town, gather up and head out towards the carnival with one goal in mind: killing Ian. When Harker and the locals clash, what's left is a battle between vampire and werewolf.
The premise of Howling VI is good. I like the idea of vampire versus werewolf. Actually, I just like the idea of anything horror related versus anything horror related. I think doing a 'versus' movie can be a lot of fun, but only if it's done right. That's the problem - doing it right. Werewolves are basically wild animals that feed off humans, whereas vampires are often intelligent and sophisticated beings that feed off humans. It would be very hard to mix the two and get enjoyable results. Unfortunately, Howling VI fails miserably in its attempt to mix the two creatures of the night.
The first problem I have with Howling VI is the long, drawn out story. The movie is nearly half over before Ian makes his first transformation. While I realize this is the case in many other enjoyable werewolf movies, the problem with Howling VI is that there's absolutely nothing to tide you over during the wait. No blood, no gore, and - most importantly - no story to enjoy. Instead you basically get a large doze of Ian, Dewey, and Elizabeth building a church and supposedly bonding with each other. There's no character development to speak of, making it hard to relate with or enjoy any of the characters. When the transformation does finally take place, it's lackluster at best. There's a closeup of both hands and nails elongating, but otherwise it essentially goes from a man to a man with a hairy head. Look, I know many out there enjoy the wolfmen creatures from various werewolf movies. Myself, I want WEREWOLVES! I want a creature that is essentially a killer wolf on two legs, not a man with a hairy head. Plus, this is a Howling sequel. As such, a werewolf creature should be an absolute requirement.
What I did enjoy about Howling VI is the vampire angle. The freak idea works well, and I think having more freaks in the movie and giving them more screen time could have helped with the pacing. I can believe Harker using a freak show to travel around the country in search of fresh victims. The vampire creature, while in no way looking like a traditional Dracula-like vampire, certainly looks good in terms of effects. It can debated what the vampire should look like, but I was happy it didn't look as human as the wolfman creature did. The final "battle" between vampire and werewolf was also disappointing. Again, this movie had the potential. I suppose by Howling VI the budgets for these movies drooped significantly, thus limiting any potential this movie may have had.
Howling VI may be good for a one time rental, but I would definitely be hesitant in recommending this as a purchase to anyone. This is coming from someone who loves both werewolves and vampires. The concept is good; Howling VI is not.
Fortunately, the transfer on Howling VI: The Freaks proved to be better than expected. First, the player used for this review was the JVC XV-S500, which does an amazing job at PAL-NTSC conversion. Since Howling VI was direct to video, it's safe to assume the 1.33:1 presentation is full frame or open matte. No MPEG artifacts were present during the conversion or through native PAL playback on my computer. There are several signs of minor print damage, most of which is just a few specks of dirt and the occasional scratch on the print. Colors are slightly dark and the image is a bit soft and lacking in detail. Also, no noticeable grain was present. While not a perfect transfer, I'm rating it slightly above satisfactory with a C+. I'd be willing to bet that it's better than both the laserdisc and VHS releases from the early 90s.
As with video, I'd rate sound as slightly above satisfactory. There is no noticeable channel separation, but soundtrack and dialogue remain clear and audible throughout playback.
No supplements; not even a trailer. Of course, on the back of the DVD cover it does list 'Chapter Selections' as a supplement, but we all know that doesn't count. Especially when there are only 6 chapter stops.
The 'Werewolf versus Vampire' premise behind Howling VI has lost of possibilities, but the movie ultimately fails to do anything with it. Instead we are given a slow moving story, weak special effects on the werewolf, and a lackluster ending. The transfer and sound on this Prism DVD are both satisfactory; there are no supplements to speak of. While the DVD has gone OOP, it's available for reasonable prices on Ebay UK.
The only people I can recommend this DVD to are people who have already seen the movie and liked it, or completionists wanting to own as many Howling movies on DVD as possible. In that case, I'd have to wonder if anyone out there would really buy Howling New Moon Rising! For everyone else, it's best to avoid Howling VI - it's a real stinker.
Movie - D+
Image Quality - C+
Sound - C+
Supplements - N/A
- Running Time - 1 hour 38 minutes
- Rated 18
- 1 Disc
- Chapter stops
- Dolby Digital 2.0