The Howling Reborn (Blu-ray/DVD)
Directed by Joe Nimziki
Distributed by Anchor Bay Entertainment
Remember when horror films were made for horror fans? When they tried being scary? It’s starting to feel like ancient history in some cases, and in no instance more than writer/director Joe Nimziki’s flaccid attempt at re-launching The Howling franchise as a low-rent Twilight rip-off. Rife with equal parts teen angst and forlorn love, there’s so little emphasis on the horror of becoming a werewolf in this sappy little fantasy that you’ve got to keep reminding yourself that this is, indeed, a horror film signed, sealed and delivered beneath The Howling moniker.
I know. The Howling as a franchise has never been worth a damn, right? That long line of sequels notoriously littered video store shelves throughout the 80s and 90s so what’s the problem with one more? While those loosely connected werewolf misadventures ranged in quality, they were at least made with their audience in mind. One look at Howling II with its sinister dwarf, exploding eyeballs, werewolf threesome and gratuitous Sybil Danning, and there’s no doubting that it was made for horror fans. Ditto The Marsupials, The Original Nightmare, The Rebirth and The Freaks. Say what you will about their quality, but they knew their place and aim (New Moon Rising, not so much – my thoughts are here).
That’s not the case with The Howling Reborn, a trite follow-up that’s as loosely connected to the rest of the films as any given sequel (with the exceptions of 2 and 7). More of a failed CW pilot than R-rated sequel, it can’t be bothered with any effort to scare its audience or entertain through sheer exploitation or gleeful gore. Instead, Reborn leaves audiences reveling in a forced romance between a fledgling werewolf teenager named Will Kidman and the lady-friend object of his affection. These characters aren’t particularly well-written, interesting or likable – which makes it very difficult to care about what happens to them.
And what happens isn’t all that much, really. It takes forever to get going, and it’s almost at the hour mark when our hero runs afoul of the antagonists – an alpha werewolf and her three flunkies. They’re hell-bent on bringing Will into their ranks, but instead of seducing him with the lure of an attractive superhuman lifestyle, they force an uncomfortable proposition down this throat: Come with us, and by the way, we’re going to brutally kill that girl you love while forcing you to watch. Needless to say, Will rejects the deal, and the final act is a lethargic game of cat and mouse throughout the halls of an abandoned high school.
Part of the problem here is that director Nimziki’s pacing is so poor that there’s virtually no sense of urgency to the action, crippling the only chance this movie might’ve had at redemption. The prospect of hiding from a pack of werewolves while trapped in something of a claustrophobic location might’ve provoked some tension and suspense, but instead it plays out like an afterthought. The accent is on the overflowing passions of our heroes, who are compelled to make a pit stop amidst the chase to further dissect their feelings, even indulging in a PG-13 style sex scene that’s as boring as it is unbelievable. The Howling Reborn, like The Twilight Saga, is a story with base roots in the horror genre and zero desire to explore them any further.
Nimziki also wrote the script, which oddly is cited in the opening credits as being based on Gary Brandner’s excellent novel “The Howling II” (Reborn’s effort to pass itself off as the “true” sequel, perhaps?). Needless to say, this has nothing to do with Brandner’s tale – itself a story of the surviving werewolves and their determination to take revenge against Karyn Beatty, who narrowly escaped the village of Drago. There’s nothing as interesting as that happening on screen, although a minor subplot involving the creation of an army of werewolves feels like hopelessly squandered potential. It occurs largely off screen and mainly as an afterthought that extends over the closing credits – hardly worthwhile, even for werewolf diehards.
What little wolf action there is isn’t too bad, thanks in part to the practical FX work that brings them to life. Admittedly, the designs are damn good and they look excellent – more so when you consider this is a low budget offering. Unfortunately, our creatures have almost nothing to do, and when they finally rear their pointed snouts in the final fifteen minutes, it’s too little too late. Good wolf vs. evil in a battle royal that sees the most smashed-through walls since Maniac Cop 2. That’s all there is, and it’s not enough to warrant a viewing.
The tragedy of The Howling Reborn is that Nimziki could’ve brought the series back into good light (for the first time, some would argue) had he wanted to make a horror film. But he didn’t. Neither did series mainstays Steven A. Lane (producer since the original) and Robert Pringle (producer since III) – who clearly saw this as a chance to get a piece of that Twilight money, rather than please the people who would actually be watching this. As a result, we’ve got this turgid little waste of time and effort. Not even the staunchest werewolf fanatics out there should bother. It wasn’t made for you, and it certainly doesn’t earn its R rating. Now, if there’s a twelve-year-old Twilight fan in your family, that’s a different story…
Anchor Bay brings The Howling Reborn to Blu-ray in a mediocre high definition transfer, the worst offender of rampant banding I’ve seen in some time (just look at that scene where a werewolf drops through the ceiling and lands on a table – yikes). Color saturation is fine (it’s a drab-looking film to begin with), but detail isn’t always prevalent. The image is often flat, and textures can be nonexistent depending on the shot. To be clear, it’s not an awful disc, just not a terribly attractive film.
The Dolby TrueHD 5.1 track fares a bit better. Sound separation is good, with even dialogue levels and rear-channel action that offers some ambiance. This isn’t a terribly atmospheric film, but this lossless track gets the job done.
On to the supplements. The audio commentary with writer/director Nimziki and actress Lindsey Shaw is … well intentioned. It gives the sense that Nimziki was trying to do something good here (and with the numerous nods to other films in the franchise, to boot). Still, not enough for me to reconsider my stance on this total misfire. There’s also a pretty useless ‘making of’ featurette of the usual EPK variety and a storyboard gallery to round out the package.
The Howling Reborn just isn’t very good. It completely washes out as a horror film and fails as a fantastical love story because we simply don’t care about these people. A better idea would’ve been exploring the imposing problem of marauding werewolves that’s only hinted at throughout the story – although perhaps that’s a topic better suited for someone more willing to tackle a horror film. The Howling Reborn isn’t one. Not really. It’s more like a missed opportunity, a cynical string of nonsense that does nothing but reinforce the series’ tarnished reputation.
1 out of 5
2 1/2 out of 5