The Howling series has never been known for quality. Joe Dante’s original film, titled simply The Howling, is a certifiable classic in the werewolf sub-genre but the subsequent films in the franchise have ranged from gloriously bad to depressingly terrible. The Howling series is the island of misfit toys when it comes to horror franchises. A menagerie of ill-thought-out ideas (a family friendly sequel about marsupial werewolves in the Australian outback?), sleazy euro-trash (Sybill Danning shown repeatedly tearing off her shirt in the end credits to Howling II: Stirba – Werewolf Bitch) and the just bizarre (Howling: New Moon Rising’s Robert Altman-light plot that concentrates on a honky-tonk character study over any real werewolf action), the Howling series has long been run into the ground when it comes to quality. So who cares if The Howling: Reborn, the first sequel in the series since 1995’s New Moon Rising, is a turgid Twilight wannabe that tries desperately to be emotionally resonant but instead comes off as the height of silliness?
Landon Liboiron (most recently from the FOX series “Terra Nova”) stars as Will Kidman, a recently turned 18-year-old who is prone to excessive voice over narration and the kind of world-weary “I know everything” profundity that only recent high school graduates are capable of. Rescued from the womb of his dead mother when he was an infant, Will has grown up sheltered and, well, kind of a pussy under the watchful eye of his overbearing father. Will pines for a sexually aggressive tigress named Eliana (played by Lindsey Shaw, a veteran of the popular tween show “Ned’s Declassified School Survival Guide”) but is too much of a wimp to go after what he wants.
With his latest birthday, though, something awakens inside of Will that causes him to be more assertive, more physically impressive and, perhaps, just a bit more murderous too. Will is becoming a werewolf and unless he can control his animal urges, he’s going to join the werewolf army that’s been building up within the walls of his high school.
Howling: Reborn is the child of writer/director Joe Nimziki, a man who, had I not seen footage of him in the “Behind the Scenes” feature included on the Blu-ray, I would have assumed to be 16. The script for Reborn is overpowering in its florescent-light sentimentality. Every emotional exchange is bright. Too bright. Dialogue pop off the screen like a firecracker — never once feeling like a genuine conversation an actual teenager would have.
Every line out of the script (and there is lots of dialogue in this very talky picture) is full of overblown attempts to offer insight into what it’s like to be a horny teenager unsure of one’s identity. This is the kind of stuff every high school kid with a J.D. Salinger book tucked away in their locker scribbles while listening to The Smiths and bemoaning the fact that cheerleaders always seem to go after the jocks instead of the quirky boys with horned-rim glasses and a complete run of “Ultimate Spider-Man.”
Reborn is a high school movie written for high schoolers by somebody with the mentality of a high schooler. The film carries its heart on its shoulder and that heart belongs to somebody who knows all the lyrics to every Death Cab for Cutie song but doesn’t quite understand them yet. I can appreciate the film’s attempt to elevate the werewolf genre into territory previously mined by Donnie Darko or The Breakfast Club (films that really got what it was like to be a confused teenager) but the end result is the kind of dirge poetry that high school English teachers dread reading — full of sound and furry but absolutely no real adult insight.
Heck, as the film ends and a cover of The Magnetic Fields’ “Book of Love” begins to play, audience members might just keel over and die — having overdosed on teenage earnestness.
But nobody goes to see a werewolf movie for teenage earnestness! They want to see werewolves — preferably with the flesh of virgins between their teeth. Sadly, Nimziki was too busy channeling his inner emo kid to worry too much about filling his movie with werewolves. The monsters are kept cloistered in shadows until the final twenty minutes and even then they are for the most part a blur thanks to the film’s instance of rapid jump cuts and a handheld camera. If the movie’s terrible script and loose grasp on logic doesn’t make you dizzy, the cinematography will.
When audiences finally get their wish and one of the film’s werewolves is shown in all its glory, Nimziki continues his quest to turn everything into a Postal Service music video by having a touching profession of teenage love set over the absurdity of seeing a snarling werewolf make bedroom eyes at the film’s hero. Yep, this is that kind of movie.
In the end, The Howling: Reborn is not the worst film in the Howling franchise. Its absurd quest to make the most emotionally profound werewolf movie ever made actually makes it kind of fun to watch in a car crash kind of way. In a world where making a good werewolf movie is almost impossible, The Howling: Reborn is just the latest in a long string of furry failures.
The film is presented in a 1.78.1 widescreen format in 1080p. The soundtrack is Dolby TrueHD 5.1. The image and sound are both top notch — reminding audiences just how far we’ve come in the world of crappy straight-to-video horror movies. The Howling series skipped theatrical releases since the fourth film in the series and the resulting production quality showed as films looked and sounded progressively worse. Reborn actually manages to look pretty slick in places — especially when it uses establishing shots of whatever Canadian metropolis the film was shot in. Too bad poor cinematography and dull special effects live up to the disc’s image quality.
The Making of The Howling: Reborn: A nearly thirty-minute featurette explores the origins of the film and its production. Nothing insightful is learned from the mini-doc except for the fact that the cast and crew seemed to have a lot of fun making the movie but — dare I say it — I sensed a deep and profound realization in the actors eyes of just how crappy a movie they were in the process of filming.
Storyboard Gallery: Exactly what it sounds like — selections from the filmmakers’ storyboards are included in an easy to use slideshow feature.
Audio Commentary with writer/director Joe Nimziki and actor Lindsey Shaw – For those just bursting with curiosity about what would possess a man to restart a franchise that was enjoying a peaceful slumber in horror movie limbo, here’s a detailed journey through the film’s birthing process.
Anchor Bay Entertainment presents The Howling: Reborn. Directed by: Joe Nimziki. Starring: Lindsey Shaw, Landon Liboiron and Ivana Milicevic. Written by Joe Minziki based on the novel “The Howling II” by Gary Brandner. Running time: 92 min. Rating: R. Originally released in 2011. Released on Blu-ray: October 18, 2011. Available at Amazon.com.
Tags: Death Cab for Cutie, Donnie Darko, Joe Dante, Terra Nova, the breakfast club, The Howling, Twilight, Ultimate Spider-Man