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Saturday, October 08, 2011

Van of the Dead DVD Review: The Howling Reborn

The Howling Reborn
2011 Anchor Bay Entertainment
Ray Van Horn, Jr.



Of all the franchises to reboot, they just hadda go to the turd cutting Howling series...

Never mind the fact Joe Dante's original film The Howling in 1981 is mostly considered a genre classic, even though it veered away from Gary Brandner's original novel. Howling IV: The Original Nightmare is the closest to Brandner's vision, yet the six sequels following Dante's began a chain of abysmal wretchedness beginning with Howling II: Your Sister Is A Werewolf, one of the most despicable movies ever shot, pick your genre. Not even the heavenly rack of Sybil Danning nor the appearance of Christopher Lee could rescue that turkey. It never really got any better along the way, festering to pointlessness by the time 1995's cruddy Howling VII: New Moon Rising hit the video shelves. Even the interminable Witchcraft series was slightly better than those Howling sequels, and that's saying very little.

Yet here we are again in 2011 with The Howling Reborn, another attempt to breathe honor into a miserable slew of horror dreck. For the second time, Gary Brandner's The Howling II novel is consulted and promptly abandoned. Howling II the film resembled almost nothing of Brandner's vision and while it's a surprisingly decent entry for the first hour anyway, The Howling Reborn takes inspiration from Brandner in the slightest sense and creates its own contemporary stamp upon this series.

Starring Landon Liboiron (Terra Nova), Lindsey Shaw (10 Things I Hate About You) and Ivana Milicevic (Casino Royale), The Howling Reborn offers nothing in tribute to any of its predecessors. It is its own beast, pun intended. For awhile, The Howling Reborn plays like a teen angst Twilight vehicle for werewolves, but ultimately it falls to pieces in a slipshod finale with lame-o wolf digs and a Nowheresville battle resembling the hopeless ending of The Wolf Man remake.

Landon Liboiron plays Will Kidman, a pencil thin high school senior whom, we learn immediately, has a serious problem. He's a freakin' werewolf, borne from a mother who's supposedly killed in an attack from a lycanthrope. As Will nears graduation, he finally bonds with Lindsey Shaw's edgy punkette, Eliana Wynter--whom Will has maintained a longtime crush on. He's sketched her numerous times but has never had the nerve to approach her. Of course, the big reason for that is Eliana has a mad dog Russian boyfriend who routinely kicks the crap out of Will. Will, however, soon flips out and kills the boyfriend en route to the discovery he carries tainted blood.

The Howling Reborn tricks its audience into thinking Eliana is allied with the creepy teen wolf pack skulking around an urban parochial-esque school--one heavily guarded with steel doors. Really, her dark jaggedness is a ruse to push Will into finding his confidence and making his move in her direction. Eliana happens to be falling for him from a distance. Despite a couple of continuity flubs, the bottom line is Eliana's vampish tough girl persona is an act as her refusal to commit body and soul to a man is held in check in wait of the purest form of love. Naturally Will represents this higher love, even as a werewolf. Consequently, Eliana becomes so dedicated to Will she offers him a pact to let him transform her into a werewolf so they can be together eternally. Never mind Eliana never really grieves for her ex-boyfriend, whom Will has shredded. None of it matters after Will puts himself on the line for her once challenged by the werewolf pack hell-bent on recruiting him into their throng. Eliana will face Hell itself with Will at this point.

It's when Will's mother Catherine (Ivana Milicevic) resurfaces in a slinkier image and as the alpha leader of this werewolf clique where Will is forced to make the choice between Eliana or surrendering to the wolfsbane summoning him to the next phase of evolution.

Again, the first hour of The Howling Reborn is relatively well-crafted and for the most part, intriguing. A plus, the acting is tight, the occasional humor (mostly provided by Will's best friend Sachin) is spot-on and for awhile anyway, it seems like director Joe Nimziki has his act together. You allow him the suspension of disbelief hall pass because Nimziki really does seem to want to give horror fans a memorable werewolf flick. With Will videotaping his transformation as evidence lycanthropes exist, all set to go viral as a global warning, this is a pleasant twist upon a beat-to-death genre.

Will is somewhat sympathetic, his widower father is reasonably tragic (later getting picked up and pummeled by his own wife in an unrecognizable form) and Eliana is a plain Jane with an attitude who rocks a plaid skirt and you actually believe she's in love with Will. You're disappointed she doesn't shag him in the library once breathlessly testing his limits, not so much for the nudity scorned, but because you actually care. Point to Nimziki, also one of the film's principal writers. Even though the rave scene where Eliana coaxes Will out to finally meet her face-to-face is unstable due to some overly shifty maneuvers where Nimziki clouds who is who in the werewolf underground lurking at the dance party, we still want to see these kids together...at that point, anyway.

It's when Catherine and her werewolf brood entraps her son and Eliana inside the school with the graduation ceremony going down outside when this film takes a downward spiral. The creatures are bland and unexciting, while the edits of the werewolf attacks are choppy and dizzying. You can tell this is low budget horror by the quick and annoying framing of those ho-hum werewolves. It has nothing to do with establishing fear and paranoia. It's because the costumes stink. God, for the awesome dinner party scene from The Company of Wolves... Strange, though, how the brief but effective slivers of CGI-aided transformations of Catherine's lycanthrope army come long after the hokey showdown. A case of being too much, too late once they come. We needed them far earlier in the film instead of being part of a rush job in an uninspired deneumont.

The film's messy closing finds Eliana emphatically coaxing Will to make love to her and turn her into a werewolf. He does surrender and rakes her back with his claws in partial transformation. By this time, we no longer care about watching them hump, because it's all so clumsy and dumb--especially with a handful of lycanthropes circulating about the school on their trails. Even though Nimziki takes precaution by having Will and Eliana throw discarded pieces of clothing to "throw off" their scents, you just don't buy into it any longer. This is supposed to be looked upon as Eliana's penultimate sacrifice and there's a noble offscreen narrative from Will while he plunges his face into her breasts (sorry fellas, they don't come out) about his generation having no concept of what true love is. Unfortunately, its placement within a high tension moment is just out of rhythm. We needed this revelation in a more intimate setting for us to give a damn.

Eliana naturally later arrives in the nick of time, herself a werewolf, to save Will an inglorious dispatching at the paws of Mommy Wolfie. Meanwhile, the graduation ceremonies are ensuing outside the school in a downpour while all of this stupid carnage ensues. Say what? It's a real shame, this implausibility, because the majority of Joe Nimziki's storyline inside the school is plenty plausible, save for the fact nobody (along with Eliana) seems to give a rat's ass the Russian boyfriend bit it in the stairwell. Even though you suspect there's something awry with Ivana Milicevic when she briefly soothes Will outside school, there's something promising in her prediction of his revenge that doesn't get capitalized on. Yeah, a later scene of Will being served the finger of Eliana's ex on a hot dog roll by one of the clandestine werewolves in the school cafeteria is hilarious, but it's also indication this film is going straight downhill from there.

The Howling Reborn becomes so much of a cheat you don't even care about the epilogue snippets within the end credits. Will's video goes viral across the planet, the world prepares to stand down against a werewolf invasion, electricity goes out to the tune of a...you know what. Whatever.

Seriously, The Howling Reborn might've stood a better chance directly remaking Dante's film, even if it deserves props for trying to roll on its own merits. The merits keep your attention for awhile, but in the end, we want Dee Wallace Stone to show up and rain havoc with a spray of silver-tipped ammunition to lay the whole enterprise to rest, permanently. We'll never get that lucky, though.

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