Want to hear about something really scary?
How about using the name of a classic horror franchise even though the film you produce has nothing to do with said franchise? How about a series of straight to DVD releases that eke out enough money for studios to know the name sells? How about a sequel represented as a reimagination of the original that instead throws a bunch of Abercrombie models into a werewolf narrative?
And just to make horror nerds like me really lose it, mix in a bit of Twilight inspired high school romantic angst. This is scary, but not the right kind of scary. Its what you get in the new release of The Howling: Reborn on DVD.
I love a good werewolf movie. I keep wishing that suddenly werewolves will become the monster of the moment, nudging aside the zombie and the vampire. The Howling series does come from a brief shapeshifter’s golden age that also gave us American Werewolf in London.
But I’m out of luck. This isn’t a film that will make much of anybody care about werewolves.
I should quickly add that director Joe Nimziki is not the first to abuse the series, not by a long shot. In fact, although it would at least be on most people’s top 50 list of horror flicks, The Howling has a rather shameful post-1981 history. Although many of the sequels made money, they all lived vicariously off the scary and off-kilter energy of the original. Many of them, like The Howling Reborn, have done so as straight to DVD releases.
The first Howling featured a script by John Sayles, direction by Joe Dante and SFX by award-winning make-up magician Rob Bottin. Howling had an original story, great effects, lots of geeky shout-outs to the classic horror tradition and a weird and subversive sense of humor amid all the fur flying and gore.
Then came the absurd Howling II: Your Sister is a Werewolf. Although the title suggested an effort at the humorous sub-text of the original, there was no subtlety or sub-text here. This was followed by increasingly abysmal efforts that had no real high-points. Most horror fans have not seen most of this series, lucky for them.
They probably would be advised to stay away from this latest lycanthrope-fest. And yet, it’s not all bad. Some people did some good work here. I want to note that fact even though I also want to make it clear that they did so within a framework of a film doomed to mediocrity.
The story centers on soon-to-be high school graduate Will Kidman, an artistic sensitive type that has spent four years drawing pictures of unattainable love interest played by Lindsey Shaw. He finally attains her but she might be a werewolf. There is also a pack of werewolves stalking him. And his mom’s a werewolf. And guess what? Yeah, he’s also a werewolf, an important werewolf. Or something.
The plotting is mostly woeful with some kind of werewolf apocalypse in the works. I have to add that the dialogue, written by director Nimziki, sometimes snaps. Meanwhile, Ivana Milicevic is properly weird as Oedipal wolf-mother. I liked Lindsey Shaw as well. She has already shown her chops in Pretty Little Liars.
None of this saves the film. And, arguably worst of all, the relatively low production value means that we don’t actually see any werewolves until about 2/3 into the film and when we do… well, lets just say they are not awesome.
There is a “making of” feature that gives due credit to Nimziki’s passable skills at direction (which does not extend to werewolf fight scenes… but then, that’s maybe a special skill set). Much of this featurette rehashes clips from the film and short interviews with the cast where they mainly talk about how great it was to work together. Annoyingly, it also makes use of the music montage in a way similar to the film itself. There is also a storyboard feature, usually only interesting for films you really like.
There is also a director’s audio commentary with Nimziki and Lindsey Shaw. This is somewhat surprising for a straight to DVD and, actually, its more or less in hiding on the disc. You access it through the audio set-up and not the special features. I would have missed it if it were not mentioned briefly on the box. And that would have been ok. Nothing special here.
So, this is a howler all right but not the kind that werewolf fans like me would like to see. At the very least we’d like to see some more werewolves. Moreover, my earlier complaint about werewolves getting no respect may be true. But until we get something significantly better than the 2010 The Wolfman, that wont happen. Needless to say, The Howling Reborn is not the answer for lycanthrope lovers.
We want something really scary, smart and furry. Is that too much to ask?