Sunday, September 03, 2006

Vamp or Not? Howling VI: the Freaks

DVDDirected by: Hope Perello

Release date: 1991

No, I haven’t gone mad. The Howling series might be primarily about werewolves but this episode seems to always find itself on vampire filmographies. I watched it for the first time the other night and decided upon a Vamp or Not? rather than a review as the creature listed as a vampire is so unusual that I felt this was the best way forward.

The basic story is that a British drifter, Ian (Brendan Hughes), wanders into a US town, on the surface just passing through but in truth tracking for a carnival that is due to visit the town.

He takes work fixing up an old church in return for food and shelter and despite the fact that the preacher’s daughter, Elizabeth (Michelle Matheson), wishes to get to know him better – shall we say – pretty much keeps himself to himself.

On the calendar that he marks off in his room we see two forward dates, one is when the carnival is due and the following day sees the full moon. Given the series, and the claw scars on his chest, we can guess what Ian is!

The carnival’s main attraction is a freak show and the carnival itself is run by R B Harker (Bruce Payne). It is he whom we are concerned with.

Harker realises that he knows Ian, though he does not know where from. When he discovers that he is a werewolf he captures him and makes him the prime entertainment, possessing the ability to coax, through mumbled magic words and a crystal, the beast out of Ian. It is through Ian’s back story and research papers that we discover more of Harker. His carnival travels from town to town and death always follows it. He was also part of an evil cult that Ian’s father tried to destroy, and subsequently killed all of Ian’s family.

In human form he certainly cuts the arrogant figure of a vampire, but that is not enough. He does have his own secret. He changes too. A somewhat surprised lookHowever, he does not just grow fangs, he turns into a blue skinned demonesque creature with definite overtones of Darkness (sans horns) from Legend of maybe even the green goblin! (Both of whom were different colours but the actual shape brought both characters to mind.) He certainly does not look like your average vampire, in fact when I first saw him transform I was somewhat taken aback – the look was definitely not what I was expecting. Perhaps the colouration owed something to ’Salem’s Lot (1979) but the angular, demonic features were something else.

We know that he murders and yet we do not see a feed, so feeding pattern cannot help us in our investigation. Also we cannot rely on fangs as his mouth is a row of sharpened teeth, though that isn’t unheard of in the genre. However there is other evidence. He does not venture into the sunlight; indeed it is sunlight that kills him in the movie’s finale. His ‘bed’ is hidden within a couch in his caravan and is filled with earth, which is very vampire-like. He has an immense amount of strength and, also, Ian calls him a dead thing.

Most interesting, though it is not definitive, is the cult aspect. This is reminiscent of Hammer’s cult of the vampire. Harker attacks Alligator BoyOf course, it could be any old cult – the film is not explicit – it is just that the cult so often mentioned in Hammer vampire movies sprang immediately to my mind.

This is one that is not definitive. The look of Harker is definitely odd but, given the effect of sunlight, the preternatural strength and, most importantly, the bed of earth and his dead status, I am persuaded to give this the benefit of the doubt and go for vampire.

The imdb page is here.

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