... aka: Howling 4
... aka: Pueblo Maldito (Damned Town)
Joe Dante's The Howling (1981) was one of the great cult horror hits of the early 80s and a lot of that had to do with the director's ability to work a good sense of humor into the proceedings without sacrificing the scares in the process. However, it also took major liberties with the source novel of the same name by Gary Brandner, which displeased some fans. This third sequel attempts to right that wrong by presenting a more faithful version of the first book in Brandner's series. The basic plots of Howling I and Howling IV are nearly identical, but the approach to the material is not. Gone from this one are the slick production values, the sense of humor, the scares, the trend-setting special effects and the great cast. This much-lower-budgeted film simply comes off as by-the-numbers, humorless, dull and surprisingly amateurish considering the fact the director is very experienced in the horror genre and has such competent genre films as Twins of Evil (1971) and The Legend of Hell House (1973) already on his resume. While there was potential in the concept of approaching the book in a completely serious fashion, this wasn't the way to go about it.
Bestselling author Marie Adams (the very cute Romy Windsor) is haunted by visions of a nun and wolf faces and ends up spending time in an asylum as a result. After she's released, her husband Richard (Michael T. Weiss) takes her to a remote cabin located deep in the woods so she can have some quiet, peaceful time to recuperate. It isn't long before our troubled heroine begins doubting her sanity once again. Every night she hears wolves howling in the woods, despite the fact the sheriff (Norman Anstey) keeps insisting there are no large animals in the area. She's haunted by more visions of the nun as well as the home's former occupants, her poodle Pierre disappears and is later found with its head cut off and a pair of hikers vanish without a trace. To make matters even more stressful and sinister, all of the people living in the small neighboring town of Drago behave strangely and secretively.
Loose ends start to finally come together once Marie meets Janice Hatch (Susanne Severeid). A former nun herself, Janice is there looking for answers as to why another nun from her convent, Sister Ruth (Megan Kruskal), went crazy and died after spending some time in the area. It's rather personal for Janice because Ruth was her lover and it also becomes personal for Marie seeing how her hubby has been spending a little too much time making special trips into town to visit an exotic, seductive shop owner named Eleanor (Lamya Derval). It should come as no surprise to anyone reading that the entire town is actually a haven for werewolves.
There are three major problems that sink this film early on. The first is atrocious monotone acting from nearly everyone in the cast. It seems like many have been dubbed over and the audio recording is terrible to start with, so that may play some part is the thoroughly inept performances seen from nearly everyone in this film. That's especially unfortunate because, physically, all of the actors seem to be well-cast in their respective parts and their facial expressions hint at more acting competence than what's usually coming out of their mouths. The second major issue is the location. This is supposed to be taking place in Northern California but it was filmed in dusty, dry South Africa, which looks absolutely nothing like Northern California. The final major problem with this one is the pacing. It plays out like a boring made-for-TV "thriller" with endlessly talky scenes that don't contribute a thing of interest to an already utterly predictable plot. Even worse, this film wastes so much time on nothing for the first hour that it must then quickly rush through a choppily-edited finale in just a few minutes.
The only positives in this one happen at the very end and those are some gory Steve Johnson special effects, including a human meltdown and a guy ripping his face apart. Still, this is far from Johnson's best work. Aside from a few brief flashes of an actual werewolf (which seem to have been taken from another film altogether), the beasts are shown only as hairy-faced people and then as dogs in their full "transformation" stage later on. Very lame. The only other point of interest is that the opening 80s cheese-rock song ("Something Evil, Something Dangerous") was sung by Justin Hayward of The Moody Blues. Hunky blonde Antony Hamilton, previously seen in the disco vampire comedy failure Nocturna (1979), and Clive Turner (also the script writer) co-star. Harry Alan Towers was the producer.