In the interest of full disclosure, I’ll come right out and tell you that I’ve always been rather fond of the Howling franchise. From werewolf orgies to carnival freaks, there’s always been something for me to enjoy concerning the unlikely number of Roman numerals that followed Joe Dante’s classic.
Some of you might be thinking that a bad movie in this canon isn’t all that uncommon, but prior to 1995 the Howling sequels at least came equipped with a budget (usually a very small one), featured actors (at times, some very bad ones) and offered some entertainment value. Of course, New Moon Rising was the game changer, alienating its core audience’s expectations (me) of blood and nudity (and perhaps a laugh or two) in favor of a pseudo country/western documentary approach. Oh, there’s a werewolf running around somewhere in here, too, but we only hear about it. We see very little of it.
Our ‘story’ begins when a mysterious drifter by the name of Ted (writer, producer, director Clive Turner) rolls into the small California dust bowl Pioneertown – bringing with him a rash of gruesome murders. A grizzled, burnt-out detective investigates these killings with the help of an occult expert who believes a werewolf may be their culprit. While it sounds like there’s at least some semblance of story unfolding over the course of these truly interminable 90 minutes, it’s all window dressing unfolding in little vignettes that bookend endless sequences of country line dancing.
Most of New Moon Rising is set in the existing village of Pioneertown, a small, unincorporated dwelling in Southern California. Many of the locals play themselves, and while I’m sure they’re very sweet people, watching them swill beer at the local watering hole isn’t exactly entertaining. Director Clive Turner (who co-wrote Howlings IV & V) must’ve known this wouldn’t make a very appealing horror film but chose to focus the majority of the running time on their shenanigans, presumably with the hope that audiences would be charmed by the offbeat approach. Probably one of those things where you had to be there, Clive.
Surprisingly, there is some attempt (albeit a very, very sad one) to link this filth to the previous three Howling movies. Footage from The Original Nightmare (4) and The Rebirth (5) is incorporated (wrongly) here to try and make this the story of THE ultimate werewolf. Let’s look at the staggering number of reasons why it doesn’t work: Clive Turner has a supporting role in part V, but he’s hoping you won’t recall that he was killed off somewhere along the way (although that particular clip is omitted). New Moon Rising spins it into a flashback, trying to create a backstory for a character without one. Never mind that Turner played ‘Ray’ in the previous sequel and ‘Ted’ here – couldn’t he have at least been bothered to use the same name?
Howling V‘s Elizabeth Shue reprises her role in this one, but it’s a small part completely devoid of sense. Furthermore, Romy Windsor is back from part IV (an excuse for more effects laden flashbacks, most likely, since all the money shots from part IV are reused), but the preposterous way in which she is connected tries to deepen the wolf mythos. It’s some nonsense about her being controlled by the creature’s evil, but it’s a subplot that’s abandoned as quickly as it’s introduced. Plus, the actress is inexplicably dubbed during the recycled footage.
I have the admittedly nerdy tendency to put more thought into a film’s mythos than its filmmakers did, which is why I couldn’t swallow that Windsor was somehow still living near the werewolf colony which threatened to take her life a few films back – but I suppose once you’re under a wolf’s control, you have a tendency to stay local. There’s also a throwaway line about the circus just leaving town (a nod to the sixth film – but did we forget that the werewolf in Howling VI was the good guy?), but the fan lip service somehow makes this more insulting. Turner probably (rightfully) figured that no one would connect the dots, but I’m well aware of the Howling V footage spliced into the opening werewolf attack (that says a great number of sad things about me, I realize, but what can I say? I’ve got a soft spot for these movies). Flashback footage hasn’t been mishandled this poorly since Jim Wynorski’s Hard to Die attempted to pass itself off as a sequel to Slumber Party Massacre.
What of the werewolf? The poor fellow is mostly relegated to some hilariously ineffective werewolf POV shots (the film’s negative with a red tint job added), but he does get to partake in possibly the worst transformation scene in movie history: a quick morphing effect followed by ten seconds of someone wearing a wolf mask crashing through a door before it’s cut down by off camera gunfire.
Those of you who think you’re an extension of Mystery Science Theater 3000 – just try having fun with this one, it will eat you alive and without mercy. Try and crack a few beers to slog through the tedium and you’ll be asleep before you can say “hey, Clive Turner also produced Lawnmower Man 2”. Making it to the end (without fast-forwarding, of course) isn’t remotely easy, or really all that fun. You’ve never seen anything like Howling: New Moon Rising, and that’s not an endorsement.
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