If your franchise has a bankable name in the horror genre, there’s a pretty good chance that it’ll have to baffling extended lifespan of a Galapagos tortoise. Sequels, remakes and reboots will ensure that if the title of your movie has any brand recognition whatsoever then you’re a virtual shoo-in for a Jason Vorhees style resurrection whether the franchise actually warrants it or not. How else can you explain the existence of six Tremors sequels or the fact that there are four Wishmaster movies. Four!
However, all this fades into obscurity when you realise that in 2011 there was an attempt to breath life back into the Howling franchise, a dog-eared series of movies that were on life support the moment someone tried to sequalize Joe Dante’s kickass original. Why anyone would want to add their talents to one of the most maligned string of sequels in horror history is anyone’s guess, but it’s not my role to figure things like this out – it’s my job to grade these fucking things…
Will Kidman is the kind of typical movie teen outcast who has a tragic backstory (mother murdered while he was still chilling in the womb) and constant inner monologue running 24/7 that feels it was written by someone three times his age. His school days are fairly standard for a miserable teen; hanging with his movie-nerd friend, lusting after a girl he can’t have and getting his butt whipped by her school bully boyfriend who carries both a gun and an utterly inpenetrable accent. So far, so the lyrics of Teenage Dirtbag by Wheetus then, but strange events start occurring that switch matters up a little – a trip to a club sees him being stalked by some sort of unseen hairy beast and he finds that any wound he accrues heals Wolverine style and, most worrying of all, that bully I mentioned earlier comes a cropper after Will rage quits their relationship with violent, bestial results.
It’s not all bad news, however; the bully’s former girlfriend, a confident young woman by the name of Eliana finds out that Will’s been watching her from a distance and drawing portraits of her (aka. stalking), she starts to feel for this oddball who is going under an intense form of growing pains. It all turns out that a pack of werewolves have targeted him due to the traumatic nature of his birth which involved with him getting clawed by a lycanthope through the wall of his mother’s uterus. Yup, it seems like puberty isn’t going to be the only reason Will starts sprouting unsightly hair and getting deep in the voice and a frequently shirtless pack of alpha males, led by their female leader aren’t going to stop at anything to secure his alliance and aid them in their plans to change the old world order.
Mistakingly styling itself as a reboot, The Howling: Reborn is, at the end of the day, just yet another random sequel with an incredibly loose connection to Gary Brandner’s source novels – I’m not even sure how you can call yourself a reboot when the franchise you’re part of are a basically a bunch of near-unrelated stories.
The movie is painfully of its time, leeching most of its tone from either the self awareness of Scream (Will’s nerd buddy ballsily complains about werewolf movies casting “forty year olds”) or the overwhelming teen angst of the Twilight movies to give us a clutch of teen archetypes that are doubly as annoying as usual. Will’s monotonous voice over is so pretentious, statements like: “Remember that mere 2% that separates us from the animals? It’s everything.” seems like the movie is daring you to root for the bad guys. Luckily for Will, the villains are far less interesting than he is and play out like the lycans from Underworld have endured massive budget cuts to their way of life and their motives of world domination (no, really) are shakier than a shiting dog.
As a direct to DVD title funded by Anchor Bay, funds are understandably fairly tight and while some of the production values are understandably lax (the school becomes deathly quiet during class time the minute shit goes down), I have to tip my hat to the werewolves themselves which are surprisingly decent – especially when compared to some of the threadbare, mangy, were-mutts that the franchise has thrown at us in the past. Also somewhat refreshing is that the character of Eliana isn’t the usual type of virtuous, virginal female lead that the main lead crushes on at a worryingly degree, but this also leads to yet more melodramatic outpourings between her and Will.
Still, that doesn’t mean the script doesn’t hurl us copious clunkers at the speed of a professional baseball pitcher that will make you screw up your face in understandable confusion. Watch as Will and Eliana give into their lusty cravings during being hunted through the school and think that it’s the perfect time to attempt to bone to an acoustic cover of Don’t Fear The Reaper; wonder as Will’s dad doesn’t recognize the face of his own resurrected wife as she seduces him in the film’s bland twist and openly question the decision for the school to hold their graduation ceremony at fucking night during a heavy rain storm.
Compared to other Howling installments, Reborn isn’t super awful (no Australian marsupial werewolves here), but as a no-budget attempt to curb stomp the franchise into the millennium, it’s a clunky exercise that buries what few good (or original) ideas it has under endless flash cuts and teen theorizing about the human condition that robustly tests the tensile strength of your patience.
Despite best intentions, they’ve gone and made yet another howler.