Directed by Hope Perello, Howling VI: The Freaks has a strange style, it’s in an unspecified time, which appears to be modern (at least for when the film was made) but with the style of 50’s Americana permeating the film. The opening feels very much like a western, with the lone drifter coming into the dying town of Canton Bluff (droughts are causing tough times for the farmers) and the sheriff warning him that they don’t like drifters. The drifter, Ian (Brendan Hughes), is befriended by the local pastor Dewey (Jered Barclay), and stays with him and his daughter Elizabeth (Michele Matheson) while fixing up the old church. During this time Dewey befriends Ian while Elizabeth and Ian have hints for a growing attraction.
Soon a travelling carnival and freak-show owned by R.B. Harker (Bruce Payne) comes into town, and we find that Ian has been tracking the carnival for some time. At the opening night of the freakshow, Harker realises that Ian knows him and sends his geek (no not that sort of geek- the other one, the man-who-bites-heads-off-chickens geek) played by the original ‘Huggy Bear’ Antonio Fargas, to spy on Ian. When the full moon causes Ian to change into a werewolf, Harker decides he wants Ian as an attraction in his freak-show. But Ian has been tracking the circus for a reason, and Harker has secrets of his own.
Given the franchise it’s in, this is actually a decent film, with an authentic, dusty, dirty feel to everything that helps draw in the audience. The freakshow is an interesting collection of characters, from the sympathetic (although hideously deformed) ‘alligator-boy’ Winston(Sean Sullivan), to the vindictive dwarf Toones(Deep Roy). This cast of interesting characters, and the focus on them and the townsfolk, rather than just throwing effects on the screen, is the best thing about this film, and makes it better than most in the Howling series.
The special effects are a mixed bag, Steve Johnson did the makeup effects on the alligator-boy and another character and they are excellent. Unfortunately the same cannot be said for the werewolf itself, which espouses the traditional Howling werewolf style for a more old-fashioned wolf-man look. I understand the reasoning when the werewolf is a sympathetic character and needs to emote somewhat, but the makeup isn’t great and I’m not a fan of the eye shadow. For a mental image, think of Meatloaf in the ‘I would do anything for love’ video crossed with Dee Snider in full Twisted Sister getup and you have a good approximation of this werewolf.
That said, the film is worth seeing if you have an appreciation of low-budget creature-feature horror.