Written by: Joe Nimziki (screenplay), James Robert Johnston
Directed by: Joe Nimziki
Starring: Landon Liboiron, Lindsey Shaw and Ivana Milicevic
Reviewed by: Brett Gallman
Full moon. New blood.
When it comes to The Howling series, letís just be completely honest and blunt: itís sucked for about a quarter of a century, having become a plague to video stores everywhere as each new direct-to-video installment littered shelves. Thankfully, the epidemic stopped in the mid-90s, and itís been in hibernation for the past fifteen years. It's like someone finally stood their ground and told the franchise to go sit in its room and think about what it had done. And, now, like any other petulant child, it has come roaring back with plenty of tween angst with The Howling: Reborn, which will do little comfort the handful of expectant, die hard fans of the series.
As the series has tackled weird cult retreats, castles, carnivals, and the asshole of the American southwest, it seems only natural that itíd finally make its way to high school--Shermer High School, to be exact (that sound you hear is John Hughes howling in his grave). Thatís where helpless nerd Will Kidman (Landon Liboiron) finds himself, but at least heís on the verge of graduation, so heís ever so close to escaping the ridicule of a pack (hint hint) of bullies. One night, his unrequited crush (Lindsey Shaw) invites him to a party, where heís attacked by a mysterious beast. This isnít such a big deal, though, as he miraculously heals and discovers that heís a werewolf. Puberty from hell kicks in when he realizes this, and it only gets worse when his wolf-mom (who he believed to be dead his whole life) shows up and tries to recruit him to her brood.
The Howlingís ignominious streak continues as, like the previous five entries, this one sucks too. Sure, it sucks in an entirely different way in that it actually has decent production values (read: decent for this series) and actual actors (which is something Part VII literally couldnít claim), but itís still a fairly wretched experience that failed to interest me on any level. Whereas the previous sequels were earnestly terrible, this one just feels like a lazy cash grab from an executive thatís seen the success of too many tweenie properties. As such, youíve got a Howling movie that features the angst-ridden nerdiness of Spider-Man, some half-hearted mystical destiny stuff from Harry Potter, and the sappy teenage romance of Twilight. It all converges in a big, sloppy display thatís dripping with terrible clichťs and rehashed high school drama.
Obviously, this Howling isnít aimed at me or anyone else that grew up with the series, which of course raises the question as to why theyíd continue to drag it through the mud. Even forgetting that, this is a bad movie with one of the more generic stories youíll ever come across (thatís what happens when you hastily make a soupy cinematic stew). Utterly banal and predictable, it unfolds across two major (and incomprehensibly shot) set pieces (which are the only parts that feature any good werewolf action) that are bridged by a bunch of tedious scenes. Youíll be forced to endure sequences where the two romantic leads text each other despite literally being a few feet apart (which I guess shows just how in touch and hip the script is) and plenty of stupid bullying scenes. I like that we know the wolfpack is evil because they walk menacingly in slow motion, always looking off in some vague direction. Anyway, by the time it reaches its climactic showdown, I canít imagine anyone being excited except for overly horny, perpetually ovulating Twilight moms who pop at the sight of topless twentysomethings mauling at each other.
In a way, this movie feels like itís ten years too late since its cast features somewhat familiar faces if you watch teenage TV dramas. Everyone involved might go on to have fine careers, and I imagine Iíll like them if theyíre actually allowed to play characters rather than cardboard cut-outs. No one even has the decency to ham it up, except for maybe Ivana Milicevic, who seems to be the only one who realizes this is The Howling VIII. Maybe thatís the biggest problem here--this sucker is dead serious about being a high school soap opera featuring wolf men. Teen Wolf turned this material into a fine comedy, though it seems like MTV even co-opted that and turned it into another mopey supernatural affair about pretty people going through horrible things. Letís just stick with that comparison and say The Howling: Reborn feels like it could be a pilot for that show.
Since this is so serious, you might expect it to embrace the horror aspect, but itís doesnít. Iím not even sure why this is rated R. According to the MPAA, thereís ďhorror violenceĒ (which basically amounts to some bloody wolf scratches and a lame decapitated head gag), ďsome sexuality,Ē and ďdrug use.Ē Really, this could have been PG-13 and no one would have batted an eye. Not that you can see them very well, but at least the werewolf effects are mostly practical, which I think might be the only real praise this one earns. I never thought Iíd ever say this, but Iíd rather revisit The Howling VII before ever being forced to endure this again. It was at least charmingly incompetent, whereas this is just lazy, boring, and altogether vapid. While this might look prettier than the movies that have preceded it, itís still the same ugly, hairy beast youíve known for 25 years.
Amazingly, Anchor Bay has brought it to DVD, so at least the presentation is pretty decent; the transfer is solid, but the 5.1 track is one of the most aggressive in quite some time. Almost as loud and obnoxious as the movie itself, itíll rumble your walls so much that you wonít be able to nod off (no matter how much youíll want to). Special features include a commentary with Nimziki and Shaw, a making-of feature, and a storyboard gallery. If you stick around through the credits, youíll be treated to a sequence that teases more where this came from; as I canít in good faith allow that to happen, I can only urge you to avoid this rebirth, as it more accurately resembles messy, sloppy afterbirth. Trash it!
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