It dawned on me pretty early into Joe Dante’s The Howling that I actually really haven’t seen that many werewolf movies. At least compared to your other classics such as your Frankensteins and your Draculas. It kinda surprised me, given how much of a sucker I am for big stupid monster suits. Eight movies later, and I’ve seen a werewolves do everything from have orgies to win an oscar. So you could say I’ve filled in some gaps. Maybe seen it all at this point.

The Howling starts strongly with Joe Dante’s original film. Good classic werewolf story stuff with Dante’s particular brand of mischief. It opens with a woman going on a retreat to a strange psychiatric commune after a close call with a serial killer. I found myself adoring the rising lunacy in this one. It starts in the terrain of a completely grounded thriller before slowly and methodically revealing the anarchy the movie intends to explode into. Heck, I wouldn’t be embarrassed to recommend to just about anyone in October horror movie watch. Which is may be the only entry in this franchise I can say that for. Now that’s not saying I didn’t have a good time with some of them. But lord there are so many scenes spread across this series that would require an “I can explain!” if someone walked in on me watching.

The immediate sequel The Howling II: Your Sister is a Werewolf is a movie composed entirely of those scenes. What if a pin-up calendar from a 90s garage was folded up and rolled in fake body hair and Worf make up. Though for as much of this movie is devoted the sexual proclivities of werewolves this movie has one real dirty little secret. It’s hardly a werewolf movie at all. It’s a vampire movie. The werewolves live in a Dracula castle in Eastern Europe with giant bats for pets, and everyone is so desperately ready for the goth rave they’ve dressed for. They even have their own Van Helsing as played by Christopher Lee himself to further inextricably tie this into Dracula iconography. Granted Van Helsing never went to a New Wave concert undercover.

You’re a champion for doing this with a straight face

What follows is somehow weirder, but at least it is definitely not a vampire movie. The Howling III: The Marsupials is one of those movies that’s impossible to give you the broad strokes of, but let’s give it a shot. An Australian Werethylacine escapes her abusive pack to live in the outside world. This outside world to her, of course, is becoming a scream queen in precisely the kind of movie you would find in a later Howling sequel. It’s also a story about family in so much that we see the life cycles of the werewolves move past the bedroom antics of Your Sister is a Werewolf. It has an almost weirdly tender edge as it gets into werewolf child rearing. Granted tender is relative here, because the baby born in this film is a hideous muppet that crawls in a newly discovered flesh pouch on the stomach of its mother’s human form. The Marsupials subtitled should have tipped me off I suppose. Now all be told, none of this actually scratches the surface of this movie. I haven’t given any air to the Russian Ballerina Werewolf, Government plots to eradicate lycanthropes, and a werewolf winning an Academy Award…strangely in Australia. Or a grim reality where Dame Edna is famous enough in the United States to become an Oscar presenter.

I can’t tell you that either of those movies are good. Hell, no one making them was terribly concerned about them being good. And that’s to their credit. They are weird and supremely off-putting, but damn it all I was never bored. So three movies in I was jazzed as hell to push through to The Howling IV: The Original Nightmare and see what sights it had to show me.

Oh. No.

This is truly where the sensation of slog hit me. It also landed at me having drawn about 50 people/pets for the portrait drive. While I enjoy doing these drives there is the inevitable point where it does become a bit more mechanically inclined instead of powered by a giddy excitement. There’s an arc to these things. I always come out of the gate swinging, then start realizing how long the list of commissions actually is. Then the drawing process is haunted by an inclination to stare out into some horizon a million miles away from my brain. Then for just a tad an air of excitement strikes again from some wild commission requests. Inevitably by a final slump occurs as I try to make sure everything is wrapped by Halloween proper. Unfortunately The Howling franchise would exactly parallel that arc.

The Howling IV is the return to basics entry. Maybe that’s a trend with fourth entries, or maybe my sample size is currently a little small. But The Original Nightmare is a remake/reboot of the initial Howling but without any of the fun and none of the budget. It doesn’t even have the budget to do a full werewolf transformation. Which at that point you have to ask what are we doing here. Unfortunately it’s a question I was forced to ask of multiple entries of the rest of the franchise.

Along the same lines, The Howling V: The Rebirth initially also felt like a reboot since it largely eschewed the wolf rules of the previous installment. But it was too boring to really make me want to dig in and find out. Which is a shame. Agatha Christie murder mystery in a dracula castle with werewolves should be a fun pitch. Really the only thing interesting here is that it clings to a lot of vampire imagery just like Your Sister is a Werewolf.

Luckily, The Howling VI: Freaks is a marked improvement. It’s functionally a movie which makes it the strongest entry in the backend of the franchise. But it’s also a fun and competent film, praise be! Taking our werewolves to the Jim Rose Circus and freakshow revival of the 90s plays out fairly strongly. It also merges it nicely with small town politics that make the movie much more lived in than any other entry beyond the first. It also finally just says screw it and tosses in an actual vampire for good measure. I wouldn’t go to bat for it as some lost classic, but damn it would make a fun episode of Tales From The Crypt.

As a recent and unexpected cat owner, yeah I get it wolfman

The Howling VII: New Moon Rising isn’t a movie. It’s a cast and crew sitting around a honky tonk and gabbing while they pull from almost certainly real bottles of booze. It’s a really shaggy dog movie. Even though there is barely a werewolf in sight. Lot of line dancing though. Lot of boozy line dancing. There is at least a thorough line of “what the hell are we doing here?” that keeps things at least a little confounding. New Moon Rising decided that it’s purpose was to link the previous three entries into a direct continuity. It’s the Mark Gruenwald entry of the Howling franchise, in a joke just for me. In reality I imagine this is mostly so it can lift scenes from the original entries to pad time out and steal some valor from their budgets, because buddy this one has none. Maybe I needed the recap of Original Nightmare and The Rebirth because they slid out of my memory like water on a duck. But really I would have preferred it that way.

Our last entry is the final reboot. 2011’s The Howling Reborn. The post Twilight entry. And boy howdy does it like to remind you of that. The genre aware nerd that was required by law post Scream makes sure to get a few potshots in at sparkling vampires, also required by law at this time. Which bold play when you are lifting Twilight’s blue filters and moody teens wholesale. Thankfully Howling Reborn is smart enough to go full tilt Breaking Dawn Part Two stupid by its climax. With werewolves trying to murder a high school graduation happening outdoors in a storm at midnight. A nerd makes a flamethrower in the chemistry lab to fend off his werewolf mom and her army of shirtless werewolf hunks. At least we are ending this self aware.

By the end I thought I would be fully burned out and ready to move on, but admittedly I felt slightly cheated. From werewolf murder dinner parties to werewolf line dancing rounding off with werewolf graduation I felt like we had to be two sequels off from an honest to god Werewolf Bar Mitzvah movie. Alas.

My definitive ranking of The Howling Octet

The Howling

The Howling III: The Marsupials

The Howling II: Your Sister is a Werewolf

The Howling VI: Freaks

The Howling Reborn

The Howling VIII: New Moon Rising

The Howling V: The Rebirth

The Howling IV: The Original Nightmare

And cut to credits.

See you next time with the WAXWORK Duology