Howling: New Moon Rising, The (1994)

Location: Pioneertown, CA. A western town in the desert. An Australian gentleman named Ted arrives at Harriet and Pappy’s Pioneertown Palace (a real place) looking for work. The members of the town are the members of the cast. The werewolf comes in from Central Casting. In between endless in-joke shenanigans, a priest and a policeman mull over an extremely complicated plotline that ties together The Howling IV and V and passes by VI. In the end, it doesn’t make that much sense although it makes enough sense. The werewolf from V is in Pioneertown and is trying to frame Ted (who was in IV and V). Trying to explain the back-story (which is spread throughout the film) is the way that madness lays.

Because, Clive Turner (Writer, Director, Producer, Supervising Editor, Supervising Accountant and actor (Ted)) doesn’t care about the werewolf. He cares about the people in Pioneertown, especially the folks at the Palace. And, that’s why I love the film.

It’s a home movie. It’s pointing the camera at your friends and having them do that wacky thing they do. You can show it to friends the next day and they’ll say “Oh, there he is doing that funny thing.” And, you can watch it in ten years and say, “Gosh. You remember when he used to do that thing.” Or “I miss him. Remember that?” The joy of the home movie. Forever enshrining friends and family on film/ tape.

The movie is lathered with all sorts of gags and jokes that everyone on screen laughs at (yes, occasionally it is like a laugh track) and has a good time being a part of. If we were good friends with these people, I’m pretty sure this would be a perfect snapshot of their lives at that time. And, of course, they get to wave guns around and shoot at a werewolf. So, you get that extra bit of cool added in.

Of course, this forgets the fact that this is The Howling 7. It forgets the fact that New Line’s logo is at the start of it. It leaves out the cop and the priest and their story. It leaves out the fact that this is supposed to be a werewolf movie. And, it’s not, not really. Or, as I said, the director’s heart is more in the Pioneertown antics than in the werewolf stuff. In the last half hour, the werewolf stuff picks up but it never quite takes off. It feels very pieced together. There are very confusing moments when characters have flashbacks to scenes that occurred within the timeline of the movie itself but that we didn’t actually see. For example, Ted is caught by the cop and the priest and they interrogate him. But, we don’t see the interrogation. We see flashbacks to the interrogation as the cop and priest talk about what they just did, which was interrogating Ted.

Another example: We learn that the main reason they grabbed Ted at this time is because one of the Pioneertown folks was killed by the werewolf. They think it’s Ted. However, we find out about the killing in a flashback. “When they found Jaro’s body…” is a big “What?” moment in a film that has about twenty of them in it. In my mind, here’s what happened…

Clive Turner had a connection to earlier Howling Films. So, he pitched 7 to New Line as “a werewolf in the desert” with the perfect location. New Line said “Sure. Make it 90 minutes.” Mr. Turner went to the Palace and shot lots of footage of his friends. He also created this intricate story to link previous Howling films. When all this was done, the film was at 60 minutes and he only had a half hour to include all the present-day werewolf drama. But, he didn’t want to lose the back-story and he didn’t want to lose the footage of his friends. So, he took all the scenes of killing and interrogation and such from the last third and edited around it to fit the time slot. Unfortunately, it means that nothing much happens (but it’s pretty wonderful) in the first 60 minutes and the last half hour has 45 minutes worth of stuff going on it, all confusingly crammed together.

Suffice it to say, this might be one of the oddest films you’ll ever watch. But, there’s something so disarmingly charming about all of it. Maybe, like most home movies, we need the person who shot it sitting next to us explaining who is who and where the jokes come from.

If you want a werewolf film, The Howling: New Moon Rising will frustrate you to an astronomical degree. If you forget that and let it roll over you, it’s a weird, weird film. Personally, I think it’s wonderful.

The movie that this film most resembles is The Curse Of The Headless Horseman. A lot of folks who seem to be friends go to the desert and hang around. There are lots of in-jokes that the average viewer just won’t laugh at. There is a plot but it doesn’t seem to be as important as the recording of the antics. One hell of a double feature. Give it a try.

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