Monday, 13 May 2013

Retrospective: The Howling: Reborn (2011)

Welcome back for the 8th and final entry in The Howling retrospective! In this post we're covering the latest entry in the franchise, The Howling: Reborn. After New Moon Rising, no one expected the franchise to continue churning out sequels. I remember there was some talk of a remake, but I think we were all surprised when The Howling: Reborn brought the franchise back from the dead. Were 15 years in dormancy enough to finally fix the series? Read on to find out...

Homage-based poster? Check.

A tiny bit of personal background on this one: this movie is part of the reason I tracked down the Howling movies at all (well, aside from the first one anyway). I probably would have done so eventually anyway because, as a fan of werewolf movies, I try to track films in the genre down when I can. However, The Howling: Reborn kickstarted this series for me when I saw a hilariously silly clip of 2 werewolves fighting like pro-wrestlers on Bloody Disgusting. Then, a couple weeks later, I was with a friend at Wal-Mart and saw the movie on DVD. These two incidents renewed interest in the series for me and caused me to go through the whole series (umm... thanks?).

Anyway, in the latter-half of the 2000s, there was renewed interest in werewolves and other monsters. Underworld had laid some of the groundwork, making werewolves vs vampires a very stylish and cool idea. Neil Marshall's Dog Soldiers also proved to be the best werewolf movie since An American Werewolf in London, although its influence was more localized than widespread (although it would allow Marshall to make the fantastic The Descent). However, it was the wretched Twilight series which brought the werewolf back into popular consciousness. Despite turning werewolves into romantic, misunderstood hunks, Hollywood still tried to remain faithful to the creature's origins, releasing a remake of The Wolfman to mixed reaction. Personally, I quite liked the movie (especially the superior director's cut), but the popular consensus was unfortunately negative. Whatever the case, with werewolves now on people's minds, it was finally time for enterprising studio executives to reboot the Howling series. Luckily for them, a Twilight-esque script had been floating around long before the Twilight craze actually caught on, and so Anchor Bay Studios picked it up and put it into production. The Howling had officially been reborn.

The movie was written and directed by Joe Nimziki, who was apparently a (former?) studio executive. He had directed an episode of The Outer Limits, but The Howling: Reborn was to be his first full-length feature film. Unlike many modern werewolf movies, due to the lower budget the film would rely almost exclusively on practical effects rather than CGI. This is actually a very good thing - ask any werewolf aficionado and they'll tell you that CGI has seriously cheapened the werewolf in cinema (for proof, watch An American Werewolf in Paris). While it looked like the series was finally going to return to theaters after a long hiatus, it eventually ended up going straight-to-DVD like all the other Howling sequels post-The Marsupials.

While The Howling: Reborn might have predated Twilight on the script-level, when you watch the movie it's pretty obvious that the only reason it even exists is because of the popularity of Twilight. Yes, The Howling: Reborn is Twilight with werewolves... er, well, only werewolves. That is to say that it is a teen romance movie featuring werewolves. While this is consistent with The Howling series overall (and good franchises, such as James Bond, intentionally reinvent themselves based on what's popular at the time), the teen romance angle is totally overplayed at the moment and it makes the movie feel like nothing more than a cash-in. Basically, the movie barely feels like any other Howling movie. However, given how bad previous movies in the franchise have been, that may not be an entirely bad thing.

Unlike most Howling movies, I can't really complain about the acting. Lindsey Shaw (a former Nikelodian star) is pretty good as the wild-child Eliana, enough-so that you wonder if she might be a werewolf herself (which was clearly the intention). Landon Liboiron also does a fairly decent job as protagonist Will Kidman, although the script basically forces him into being a whiny, emo kid. Of course, once he nuts-up and shuts-up, he's far more likable. In any case, he's better than Kristen Stewart's Bella Swan... *ahem*. Anyway, I also quite liked Will's best friend, Sachin, even if he is relegated to exposition and plot device (which I'll get to later). The only major character I disliked was Ivana Milicevic (Le Chiffre's girlfriend in Casino Royale), who plays Will's mom, the big, bad werewolf. Milicevic just really hams it up and is just generally annoying... in a lot of respects, she reminds me of a less-skanky Stirba (not a good thing). However, overall the acting is far above that of the majority of the Howling movies.

The plot feels like a cross between Twilight and (strangely) Spider-man. Will's mother, Kay, is attacked and apparently dies giving birth to her child. 18 years later, Will is a nerdy loser who loves the exotic Eliana, but isn't able to do much about it until he has an encounter with a werewolf. He soon strikes up a relationship with Eliana, but his mom comes back to bring Will into her pack. Will refuses and he and Eliana fight off Kay and her wolf pack inside of their high school and try to stop her from creating an army of werewolves. All-in-all, it's fairly simple and hits the beats that a teenage romance movie would be expected to. However, the twist that Kay is still alive makes no sense. For one thing, was she a werewolf before she got attacked by a werewolf? And if not, then how did she become an alpha wolf and give birth to Will? Does being a werewolf give you eternal youth now? The twist just causes a lot of plot holes which are given no answers.

Despite apparently predating Twilight, The Howling: Reborn seems to have a fairly substantial debt to it and other teen romance movies. For one thing, the movie follows the high school stereotypes formula I mentioned in my Final Destination 3 retrospective (nerds, popular girl, bully, jocks, etc). Will's a whiny emo kid whose voice overs feature grating pseudo-philosophy which is nothing more than garbled bullshit. I want to puke every time his voice overs spout crap like: "I know how to take an exam. I know the periodic elements. I know how to do school. Do I have any idea how to survive the real world?" Ugh, shut up emo. The movie also clearly acknowledges its teen audience in the most obnoxious manner possible:

Sachin: “That’s what studios get for casting geezers in their lead roles. If I want to see people in their forties, I’ll just go home and look at my parents.”

Wow. I like Sachin, but he sounds like a massive asshole there. The line was an obvious dig at Benicio Del Toro in The Wolfman, but it just comes across as ignorant. I also couldn't help but notice that the movie features Echo & The Bunnymen's "The Killing Moon", which is probably best known for being used in the opening of (the amazing) Donnie Darko. Donnie Darko is, of course, a teenage romance movie with some horror elements, so I kind of wonder if its use was meant to be an homage or if Nimziki was drawing from a well of typical teenage romance songs or something. Whatever the case, it's something I found worth pondering. Finally, and most damningly, the movie even has a bloody wolf pack who are allergic to shirts...

And yet, Ivana Milicevic keeps her shirt on... double standard!

Unfortunately, The Howling: Reborn suffers quite a bit due to its script. Nimziki's script is just so damn convenient, in that it doesn't feel "natural" at all. Basically everything that happens just feels like the characters are acting because the script said that they should, and not because they're acting believably. The script is just loaded with Chekov's Guns and various other things which exist just to advance the plot in a very transparent manner. One of the most egregious examples which I mentioned earlier is the character Sachin. Sachin just happens to be a horror buff who's filming werewolf movies and has hacked the town computers or something to broadcast his movies (guess how the movie ends?). Sure, his exposition is not that bad when he sticks to standard werewolf lore, but it really gets egregious when he states that there are "Alpha Werewolves" who can only be killed by other werewolves. Like, how the hell does he know that? It's conceptually on the same level as the possession werewolves from New Moon Rising. On top of that, having Alphas doesn't make a lot of sense. How does one become an alpha? Are you born that way? Or do you become one, but if that's the case then why do you magically become immune to silver/fire? It's just too damn convenient a concept, and is really obviously used to make Kay more powerful without having to prove herself at all.

There are just so many plot conveniences that I can't even list them all... but just to give you a sense, I'm going to point out some of the sillier ones. First off, Will and Eliana's school has an insane security system - like, it has metal doors to lock the whole place down after a certain time. Maybe I just had lax schools, but that seems ridiculously excessive to me (and is only really going to lock school shooters inside the school). However, despite this, the school apparently has no security guards inside, and in fact is quite empty unless the characters are eating in the cafeteria or at their lockers. Like literally, there are almost never any student extras in the backgrounds of the scenes, so it makes the school feel very empty. Back to the terrible security though, it's apparently lax enough that one of the characters sneaks a freaking handgun in the front of his pants, which he fires off in the stairwells without anyone even noticing. Holy shit!!! And then, even more conveniently, Will finds it later and *surprise, surprise* it's still loaded (despite having fired it at an attacking werewolf earlier)! Also, the film's voice over states that Will and Eliana learned how to make FREAKING FLAMETHROWERS in chemistry class. Like, literally, that's what they say (and the flamethrowers don't even look makeshift, they look like military-grade weapons). Will and Eliana are also running away from the werewolves when suddenly they decide that it's the perfect time for them to have sex. I mean, sure they're horny teenagers, but it hardly seems like an appropriate time for them to get it on. Another extremely silly example is that the school nurses leave scalpels lying around, which Will uses to cut his wrist like the emo kid he is.

Werewolf healing powers. Must be emo.

The only really clever Chekov's Gun in the whole movie is when Will mentions off-hand that he won 2nd place for the debate team. It's just a subtle thing, but comes into play because, since he won the silver, he's able to use the trophy to stab a werewolf to death. It's quite a funny moment and a good example of how to work in foreshadowing cleverly rather than lazily as Nimziki tends to in this film.

While the script is a cliched mess, the movie does feature some good practical effects. There werewolves actually look half-decent this time around... not as good as the original movie, but they're definitely a huge step above the majority of the sequels (one looks like a were-poodle though). Unfortunately, these effects are hamstrung by some other decisions in the film. For example, the wolf sounds are (I shit you not) lion roars. Seriously. Who the hell thought that werewolves should sound like lions? That shouldn't even be a freaking consideration for the sound editing department. Furthermore, the werewolves generally show up on camera like this:

The werewolf scenes are mostly shot with extreme close-ups, shaky cam and rapid-fire editing. This is odd since most of the movie is well shot (more than any other Howling movie). I think they did the Bourne approach to cover up the costumes, but it just doesn't work (in fact, most movies that have tried to emulate Bourne have failed spectacularly). The effects look good enough to stand on their own, but shaking the shit out of the camera just cheapens their impact. As I mentioned in the preamble, the movie also features a werewolf fight, but it looks like very silly pro-wrestling footage while the actors struggle to move around in their costumes. It's quite a laughable showdown, and its made all the worse by the terrible editing. Oh, and then there's the transformation scenes. Remember the transformation clip I showed from New Moon Rising? In a total face-palm of a move, The Howling: Reborn uses the exact same effect.

All-in-all, I've really ragged on The Howling: Reborn, but the movie isn't all that bad. In fact, it's definitely one of the better Howling movies. Its only real problems are that its script sucks and the teen romance angle is far too overplayed at the moment. Still, it's a fairly enjoyable movie and worth a viewing. And besides, at the very least...


I'm not sure how well The Howling: Reborn did on DVD, but I'd be surprised if the series was dead yet. Monsters are still big business at the moment (particularly zombies), and considering the low-budget sensibility of the series, the profitability threshold isn't particularly high. I'm always up for a new werewolf movie, so if they make another Howling then I'll be sure to see it... even if I haven't particularly liked any of the movies in the series. Here's my series breakdown:

1. The Howling - 5.5/10
2. Howling V: The Rebirth - 5/10
3. Howling II: Stirba - Werewolf Bitch - 1/10 (Technically 2nd worst, but it's hilarious enough to earn this spot)
4. The Howling: Reborn - 4.5/10
5. Howling VI: The Freaks - 4/10
6. Howling IV: The Original Nightmare - 3/10
7. Howling III: The Marsupials - 1.5/10
8. The Howling: New Moon Rising - 0/10

Aaaand that does it for my second retrospective! If you have any comments on this series, I'd welcome them! Also, if you have any suggestions - be it for future retrospective series, or how I can improve my current style - then I'd welcome those as well. If I don't get any suggestions, then I've got a couple retrospective franchises I'd like to tackle soon enough. Finally, if you liked this, then I'd appreciate if you'd "Follow" the blog - I get ~50-250 views a day, but it's always good knowing that you're amassing an audience (wow, my views have really shot up since the Final Destination retrospective). Thanks for reading!

Economic philosophizing or cannon-fodder zombies? Hmm...

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