The Howling: Reborn
by Jason Coffman
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Well, 30 years and six sequels after Joe Dante’s original The Howling, someone who owns the rights to the franchise has decided it’s time for the series to get a reboot. With teenagers. The Howling: Reborn is not technically related to the previous seven films in the series, other than that there are werewolves in it. Also, it claims to be based on the novel The Howling II by Gary Brandner (who wrote the book the original film was based on as well), but does not seem to bear any resemblance whatsoever to that book. So, with all that confusion acting as preparation for watching the film itself, how does it hold up? No points for guessing correctly.
Will Kidman (Landon Liboiron) is a high school Senior on the verge of graduating. He has sneaked through his entire academic career on good grades and minimal participation in extracurricular activities— “I see nothing special here,” remarks his principal while looking through Will’s file, which may be honest and correct but isn’t very nice. The day before graduation, Will is invited by his long-time crush Eliana (Lindsey Shaw) to a late-night party to be held in the sub-basement of the school. Once there, Will is inexplicably welcomed by a group of thugs who give him some drugs and Eliana sets to seducing him. The party turns sinister when Will and Eliana leave the main dance floor and are separated, and it seems that Will is being chased by something that he narrowly escapes.
The next day is graduation day, and in this school that apparently means that the school day is out and then a few hours later everyone comes back for the graduation ceremony. There are two big plans that Will becomes embroiled with that will take place during graduation: First, his horror-loving best friend (Jesse Rath) has set up some sort of signal jacker that will allow him to broadcast his “untitled horror film project” on New York TV, and second, werewolves are going to take over the world and somehow Will is set to play a pivotal role in the coming werewolf apocalypse. This is a lot to deal with, and it only gets worse when it turns out those thugs from the party are minions of a deadly “Alpha” wolf with a very special tie to Will.
The Howling: Reborn ironically allows supporting character Sachin to describe what makes werewolves different from vampires: they’re badass, they don’t sit around brooding, etc. Will spends an inordinate amount of screen time brooding and being bummed out about all this werewolf stuff, thereby proving Sachin incorrect. Not much at all happens in The Howling: Reborn, actually, which spends a lot of time developing Will’s paralyzing crush on Eliana and her willingness to be with him if he’d just get up the nerve to do something other than draw endless pictures of her in his notebook. Despite the film’s “R” rating, there’s very little in the way of graphic violence and absolutely no nudity— in more ways than one, Reborn feels like a SyFy Original that had a little extra blood and profanity slipped in for its home video release in order to get the credibility of the “R” rating while guaranteeing it won’t take much work to be “sanitized” for its commercial TV run.
All that aside, the big question is: “How are the werewolves?” Well, they don’t look too bad in the fleeting glimpses we get of them. They seem to have huge legs that make them seem sort of like rabbits, but the glinting fangs and dripping maws all look decent enough. The transformations are a total waste of screen time, taking all of about three seconds of CG animation. There’s nothing here to match the convincingly physical (and painful) transformations of the original Howling or An American Werewolf in London, still unbelievably the best werewolf transformation effects in film 30 years after their original release.
The Howling: Reborn is unquestionably a serious disappointment, and often feels more like a highlights reel from a full season of a teen-centric werewolf television series (One Tree Howl?) than a feature film. Actions that feel like they should have been entire character arcs flash by without explanation for the first half of the film, but the second half settles into a standard (if uneventful) stalk ‘n slash as Will and Eliana try to evade the wolves and Will’s monstrous nature as they run through the dark hallways of their high school. Fans of the series will likely be very disappointed and anyone looking for gory fun will be put off by the film’s straight-faced tone.
The Howling: Reborn releases on DVD and Blu-ray 18 October 2011 from Anchor Bay. Special features include a commentary track, behind-the-scenes featurettes, and trailers.
Jason Coffman is a film writer living in Chicago. He writes reviews for Film Monthly and “The Crown International Files” for Criticplanet.org as well as contributing to Fine Print Magazine (www.fineprintmag.net).
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