Last of the Monster Kids

Last of the Monster Kids
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Monday, April 29, 2019

RECENT WATCHES: The Howling: Reborn (2011)

“Howling III” featured a self-aware joke. The female lead got a job acting in a werewolf movie called “Shapeshifters Part 8,” Phillipe Mora correctly guessing that more “Howling' sequels would follow his. After “New Moon Rising” baffled all who saw it, and the direct-to-video horror market starting to favor cheaper kinds of monsters, “The Howling” series appeared to be truly over for sixteen years. That's when some producers realized they had to fulfill the prophecy and create an eighth entry in the long-sleeping werewolf series. “The Howling: Reborn” would tear its way onto DVD shelves in 2011. After over a decade of hibernation, did the “Howling” franchise show any appreciable improvement?

“Reborn” claims to be adapted from Gray Brandner's second “Howling” novel but, in the proud tradition of this series, has nothing to do with any of the previous “Howling” movies. This film focuses in on Will Kidman, a teenager about to graduate high school, whose mother mysteriously disappeared after he was born. Will is bullied at school, has few friends, and is ignored by the girl he likes. Yet fate tosses him and Eliana together anyway. While at a party, he's pursued by a hairy beast. His dad is seduced by a strange woman. Weird shirtless dudes start to hassle Will at school. It turns out he's being chased by werewolves, including his absent mom, on account of being a lycanthrope himself. Will and Eliana are trapped in the school after hours and must fight against the creatures to survive.

The “Howling” series was not revived in the early 2010s because someone thought the world was nostalgic for all those shitty sequels. No, it's very clear what trend “Howling: Reborn” was hoping to capitalize on. It's a film focused on high schoolers, specifically a disaffected teen who suddenly discovers he's special. His romance with Eliana occupies a lot of the film, including a ridiculous scene where she offers to take his virginity in the middle of being chased by monsters. As if the connection couldn't be more obvious, his evil mom's werewolf minions are hunky dudes who never wear shirts. “Howling: Reborn” was clearly hoping to ride the coattails of “Twilight,” with a little “Harry Potter” thrown in too. (Will even wears similarly nerdy glasses.) Because the audience for Y.A. fiction and cheap eighties werewolf movies clearly has a lot of overlap.

In its own way, “Reborn” is just as cheap and ugly as the worst of the eighties “Howling” sequels. The film attempts to replicate the visual palette of “Twilight' as well. So all the scenario has a washed-out and gray color to it. There's a number of very unimpressive slow motion shots, usually to emphasize the underwhelming power of the werewolf. Most embarrassingly, an incredibly obvious dummy is even tossed down a staircase in one scene. The film's emulation of “Twilight” and its disciples extends to the soundtrack, which is full of groan-worthy covers of established pop/rock hits. An dreary, acoustic version of “Don't Fear the Reaper” is especially ear-splitting.

So it almost goes without saying that, on a scripting level, “Howling: Reborn” is really fucking stupid. Will, listlessly brought to life by Landon Liboiron, chimes in throughout the film with a deeply unnecessary and obnoxiously obvious narration. During any lull in the story, Will's senseless interior monologue will usually pipe in. The script leaps through the convoluted hoops to justify setting the entire second half of the film in the high school, doubtlessly a budgetary decision. Will's mom emerging as the film's villain is so grotesquely overwrought, that it starts to feel uncomfortably personal. The only clever thing about the script does is update the original “Howling's” ending, by having an on-camera werewolf transformation becoming a viral video. And even that functions more like a lame sequel hook than anything else.

As disconnected with the rest of “The Howling” series as it is, “Reborn” does maintain the sequel tradition of not having nearly enough werewolf action. The wolves largely stay in their hunky-shirtless-guy forms until about the last half-hour. At that point, they transform into brown ape-like creatures that paw at their intended victims. Will, his mom, and a few other characters turn into uninspired werewolf designs near the end. At least, I think the designs are uninspired. In the werewolf fight that follows, the camera never fucking stops moving, making it impossible to get a good look at the beasties. One can only assume that this obnoxious stylistic quirk was an intentional choice to cover up some subpar effects.

Congratulations are in order. “Howling: Reborn” manages to suck more than any previous “Howling” sequels. Oh, sure, it's more competently made than “New Moon Rising.” It technically delivers more werewolf action than “The Original Nightmare” or “The Rebirth.” The story is less incoherent than “Your Sister is a Werewolf” or “The Marsupials.” Yet none of that matters when the movie is such a tedious slog to get through. At least those sequels, shitty as they unquestionably are, were actually attempting to be horror movies. “Reborn” wants to be a trendy teen flick. It's a cheap knock-off of then-popular fads executed with zero heart.

“Reborn” did not spawn the further sequels it clearly was hoping for. But don't think for a minute the misbegotten “Howling” series is truly dead, because now some damned soul is trying to get a remake off the ground. If that ever enters production, it'll have to work to be as mercenary and soulless as “The Howling: Reborn.” [3/10]

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