Joe Dante's THE HOWLING, written by John Sayles early in his career as independent auteur and screenwriter-for-hire, revitalized werewolf movies, giving the classic legend a hip new spin. But the sequels have been a sorry bunch, with derivative stories, cheap thrills and sub-par special effects. HOWLING VI - THE FREAKS is easily not only the best of them,...read more
Joe Dante's THE HOWLING, written by John Sayles early in his career as independent auteur and screenwriter-for-hire, revitalized werewolf movies, giving the classic legend a hip new spin. But the sequels have been a sorry bunch, with derivative stories, cheap thrills and sub-par special
effects. HOWLING VI - THE FREAKS is easily not only the best of them, striking out in an entirely new direction, but an interesting movie in its own right.
It's scorching hot in the isolated town of Canton Bluff. Crops are dying, farms are failing, and even the local bank has seen better days. Handsome young Ian (Brendan Hughes)--who seems haunted by some secret sorrow--drifts into town with little more than the clothes on his back, and finds work
restoring the town's dilapidated church. He resists the townspeople's attempts to befriend him, and when the preacher's pretty daughter (Michele Matheson) develops a crush on him (not a surprising development, given the shortage of good looking young men in town), he rebuffs her sharply. Why won't
Ian let anyone get close to him, and what is his obsession with the phases of the moon? The answers to these questions become clear when a creepy travelling carnival comes to town. Its owner, the handsome and remote Harker (Bruce Martyn Payne), has a freak show whose exhibits include a dwarf, a
hermaphrodite, a geek (Antonio Fargas) and a pathetic alligator boy named Winston (Sean Gregory Sullivan). Harker blackmails Ian into joining his show, because he knows Ian's dirty little secret: Ian is a werewolf. Harker knows a monster when he sees one, since he himself is a vampire and, unlike
Ian, revels in his monstrousness. Harker humiliates Ian by displaying him like an animal, and at the same time preys on the townspeople--starting with Miss Eddington (Carol Lynley), the local spinster--and allows them to believe Ian is to blame. Ian befriends Winston and plots his escape from
Harker and his malicious henchmen. His chance comes when the townspeople--led by the preacher (Jered Barclay), who's convinced it's the devil's playground--storm the carnival grounds. Ian kills Harker, but he's too late to save Winston. Ian again takes to the road, doomed to loneliness.
The inspiration for HOWLING VI - THE FREAKS seems to owe something to both HOUSE OF FRANKENSTEIN and VAMPIRE CIRCUS, in which vampire carnivals terrorize the countryside, but first-time director Hope Parello brings a remarkable sense of perverse menace to the material and elicits good
performances from her cast. The overall look of HOWLING VI is lush and deliberate. In contrast to the bright, parched town of Canton Bluff, Harker's World of Wonders is dark, mysterious and full of rich colors and textures; it's like an entirely different world, as indeed it is.
Todd Masters's werewolf effects--which include the by now de rigueur transformation scenes--are nicely done, and Steve Johnson's vampire makeup is both unusual and elegant: the transformed Harker is a sleek, purple monster unlike any vampire ever seen before in the movies. Deliberate and
melancholy, HOWLING VI's great disadvantage is that there's no real element of surprise possible, given the familiarity of its basic elements. (Violence, sexual situations.)
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