Last of the Monster Kids

Last of the Monster Kids
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Friday, April 19, 2019

RECENT WATCHES: Howling V: The Rebirth (1989)

From a modern perspective, you can't help but wonder who the hell thought it was a good idea to keep churning out sequels to “The Howling.” Yet, one must remember, they wouldn't have kept making these things if people weren't watching/renting them. “Howling IV” must have seen some success because writer/producer/actor Clive Turner returned to work on a fifth installment. Instead of a genre veteran like John Hough behind the camera, “Howling V: The Rebirth” was made by one of the two directors of “Space Mutiny.” Granted, he was the second choice, after the original director, cinematographer, and lead actor were fired during the first week. This seems like an awful lot of trouble to go through to make a Budapest-lensed, direct-to-video werewolf movie but that's show business, I guess.

Despite the fourth entry rebooting the franchise, “The Rebirth” is yet another stand-alone sequel. This one begins in 1498 in a Hungarian castle. There, a cursed bloodline commits suicide or are killed... Save for one baby, which survives. The castle is sealed off for five hundred years. That is when a group of eight totally unrelated people are invited to this isolated location by the mysterious Count Istvan. Some of the strangers attempt to woo each other, while others wander off and discover hidden passageways in the castle. Soon enough, people begin to vanish. After much wandering around a dark castle, the Count reveals that everyone invited here is part of the cursed bloodline. And one of them is a werewolf.

One of the few things “Howling IV” had going for it was an occasionally moody shot of fog spookily billowing through the woods. “The Rebirth,” from time-to-time, mines a similarly old fashion vein of gothic horror atmosphere. The opening credits, which plays over a cradle eerily rocking back-and-forth, set a decent mood. The castle location is pretty cool. The many, many scenes of people wandering the underground tunnels features some fog, some blue lights, iron gates, and stony walls. There's also something to be said for the way the sequel embraces old school tropes, like secret passageways behind walls or cursed bloodlines. It's not a lot – it's not much at all – but it does give the fifth film the tiniest smidgen of an advantage over the fourth.

However, “The Rebirth” still has the same problem as “The Original Nightmare.” It's way too stingy with the werewolf action. We never actually get a decent look at the monster this time, which only appears in dark rooms, blurry flashes, or shadowy close-ups. All the werewolf attacks occur largely off-screen, the action frequently fading to black as soon as a fuzzy claw appears. The film ends without a proper werewolf sequence. Gorehounds will definitely be disappointed. Save for a random axing and crossbow firing, slightly bloodied bodies are only discovered after-the-fact. (If it weren't for some brief nudity, this one easily could've gotten a PG-13 too.) Before too long, the story degrades to long and tedious scenes of the cast members exploring the castle, talking tersely among themselves.

Conceptually, there's definitely some fun to be had with doing an Agatha Christie style mystery but with a werewolf. That's obviously what the filmmakers were going for, as the secret identity of the werewolf is what motivates most of the plot. However, this is not enough to occupy even a ninety minute movie. So, like some half-assed slasher flick, we get many underwhelming scenes of the characters drinking, discussing hobbies, recounting the castle's legend, and attempting to have sex with each other. Sometimes, characters even wander off to take baths or naps despite a murderer being in their midst. None of the cast members are distinct or memorable, being defined solely by their occupations. There's an award-winning actress, a former actress, a would-be actress, a photographer, a tennis player, a historian, and even more people that don't even get that much identification.

By the way, any viewer will figure out who the werewolf is long before the film ends. It's forecast from fairly early on. Ultimately, “The Rebirth” is another lame “Howling” sequel, with few thrills, almost zero cool special effects, and absolutely no connection to the original. Still, it does seem this one has a handful of defenders. I can appreciate its gothic setting and might've warmed up to it as a kid through repeat watchings. Yet the underwhelming gore, dragging story, shallow characters, and largely off-screen werewolf would've annoyed me even then. [4/10]

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