Review Date: October 2, 2014
Released by: Anchor Bay
Release date: October 18, 2011
Codec: AVC, 1080p
Widescreen 1.78 | 16x9: Yes
Last year we all balked when it was announced that Platinum Dunes was working on a found footage Friday the 13th
sequel. How dare they tool with Friday’s famous slasher template? Well, to be fair, as much as films in a franchise owe to their predecessors, they’re also equally a product of their times. You wouldn’t get the webcam angle in Halloween: Resurrection
if it weren’t for the POV style of The Blair Witch Project
a few years earlier. Likewise, Halloween H20
does not happen if Scream
isn’t a hit. Look back further, and you see how Dracula evolved over the years, from the opulent gentleman brought into 30’s and 40’s high reaching America, to the disillusioned 70’s victim of Herzog’s Nosferatu
, the repression-laced Blacula and the hippie pandering Dracula AD 1972
. Different strokes for different, uh, generations.
franchise, never a beacon for consistency or template, probably gives us the greatest example of a property adapting to its times. Trying to cash in on the Team Jacob werewolf craze brought upon by the smash success of the young adult Twilight series of movies and books, Anchor Bay Films brought us The Howling Reborn
in 2011. Even the tagline tries to evoke the Twilight
top-grosser, New Moon
, with “Full Moon. New Blood”. If the credits are to be believed, this is actually based on Gary Brandner’s The Howling
II (his novel, not the batshit film of the same name that he also allegedly wrote) but when the film begins with a kid talking into an HD camera, and a few scenes after that is engaging in a text message conversation with a would be girlfriend, you have to think the relationship there is tenuous at best. Nevertheless, Breaking Down this series, let’s see if this New Moon for the franchise Eclipses earlier entries or if it represents a Twilight time for the franchise.
“I need you to stay strong, because you’re the one who’s going to have to kill me.” A crying Will Kidman (Landon Liboiron
) says into the camera during the pre-credit sequence. Cut to the past, where a red-headed, black-rimmed glasses hipster (they had those 18 years ago, right?) is attacked and clawed by a werewolf with a distinctive red “O” written on the back of his neck. He preaches “welcome to the new evolution” and then we see what he means. From the bloody claw mark on her tummy emerges a reaching baby’s hand. It was Will’s hand, and today marks the first full moon since his 18th birthday. He warns that werewolves live among us, within us, and that – cut to his alarm clock. We follow Will before his shirtless confession, when he was but a mere teen trying to, uh, leave his mark on a big, impersonal high school experience.
In case you had any doubt this was a werewolf for a new generation, Will is seen eating Soy Bacon during the start of his regular morning routine. He’s shy, hiding behind his down-combed hair and his Harry Potter glasses, and rather than talk to the people he likes he draws them in his sketchbook. He’s taken a liking to Eliana Wynter (Lindsey Shaw
) but she hardly even knows he exists. Even his principal tells him that he’s “perfectly adequate on paper…but there’s nothing special here”. Will’s fate starts to change when Eliana finds his sketchbook and all her photos within. She dares him to be more wild, inviting him to “The Uncivilized Grad Party”. She won’t be the only one there though – there’s a pack of three hard-looking teens that’ve just enrolled in the high school with only a few weeks before graduation and they have their eyes on this adequate nobody. They slip him some ecstasy at the party and before he knows it he’s making out with the girl of his dreams and then being chased by a werewolf. Must be the drugs, right?
“You know, when people had a question they couldn’t answer they asked God…now they ask Wikipedia.” That sounds like Gary Brandner prose to me. Anyway, Will starts questioning the changes that are going through with his body – he no longer needs glasses, he’s bulking up and suddenly has an animal magnetism with women. Wikipedia’s not the only one with answers, though – her dad’s girlfriend Kay (Ivana Milicevic
) seems to know more about Will than he does himself. He’s turning into a werewolf, he’s falling in love, and there’s an evil contingent of werewolves hellbent on this whole new evolution thing. Things come to a head, as they usually do in teen horror, at the prom, but rather than a king, there’s an alpha, and Will’s about to find out who.
That synopsis sounds really lame, but you know what, the movie’s not half bad. The three leads are actually pretty engaging, and they give the hokey scenario a lot more bite than it deserves. These characters do without all the emo moping you’d find in Twilight and instead act like your everyday teenager would. It’s nice to follow some regular, everyday kind of characters, since this is a genre usually built on stereotypes and eccentricities. The opening, where Will just confesses right into camera, looks culled from an Atom Egoyan drama rather than some new age horror film. I guess that makes sense, since the film was made with Canadian tax dollars and shot in Quebec. Chalk one up to French sensibility for bringing back a little verite into horror movies.
Also helping the film are the strong production values. The most noticeable flourish of the film is its editing, which manages to create intrigue with events out of chronology, as well as create symbolic links between werewolf lore and teenage rites of passage through the use of Eisensteinian montage. Seeing as this is an Anchor Bay cheapie, you’d expect that crew wouldn’t have much on their resume (indeed, this is the first and only feature for writer/director Joe Nimziki) but editor James Coblentz has quite the resume. He kept Don Mancini’s Curse of Chucky
scary and paced, and he’s done solid work on other genre fare like The People Under the Stairs
and Final Destination
. Coblentz elevates the Tiger Beat story with his sense of timing and structure, and it’s a textbook example of how editing can often make a movie. The cinematography by French filmmaker Benoit Beaulieu is also kinetic and varied, doing as much as it can to elevate the familiar material. It’s acted well, looks good and is quickly paced – for most, that’s a good enough trifecta.
Where the film suffers is exactly where you’d expect a teeny bopper horror movie to falter – while it is Rated R, The Howling Reborn
is a tame beast, with little to no gore outside of your requisite claw marks and no nudity or anything really that could be deemed offensive. It’s aimed for the age of its characters, so gorehounds looking for a Howling movie to carry the torch of Rob Bottin will have their dreams stopped dead with a silver bullet. There isn’t even really an adequate werewolf transformation scene. Almost all the werewolves and big effects are done via CGI, and they all look very cheap. Coblentz’s editing does its best to mask the shoddy computer work, but you can only do so much with the footage you’ve got.
I was pretty engaged in The Howling
Reborn for the first half (in large part because of the structured editing), but as the film wore on the clichés were as bright as the moon and the final act too ludicrous to take seriously. The film had done a good job establishing realistic and likeable characters, but as the situations became more far, uh, fetched, the wolf began to stray. There’s a scene later in the movie where Will and Eliana are trapped in a library after evading a bunch of hungry werewolves.
Instead of planning an escape or preparing for battle, they instead work through their problems like it was The Breakfast Club
. What’s even less believable is that upon finding out Will’s a werewolf, Eliana, who’s known Will for all of about 24 hours, pretty much begs Will to force himself upon her thereby infecting her with the werewolf strand. I don’t know about that logic. It took me 7 years to even move in with my girlfriend.
Reborn definitely isn’t your grandfather’s werewolf movie. It’s not your father’s werewolf movie. It isn’t even our werewolf movie. It’s a werewolf movie for a different generation, and for what it is, it actually isn’t half bad. I was certainly expecting worse. And let’s remember, this is an entry in a series that has entries like New Moon Rising
and Your Sister is a Werewolf
. With that in mind, it’s an acceptable attempt at making the werewolf movie appeal to new audiences. New Moon, indeed.
After years of watching the Howling sequels on bootleg discs, or the next worst thing, Echo Bridge and Timeless Media Group, it was quite refreshing to actually watch a Howling release that looked professional. Being a new film made with an adequate budget, Reborn looks quite good in 1080p. The film is incredibly sharp, you see the zits on many of the teen actors, but even complex plaid patterns on shirts register cleanly without any moiré or pixilation. Colors are saturated, and dark levels hold well with plenty of detail in the lower registers still. The film employs some at times garish color correction to try and stylize the werewolf perspective, so bits like that look intentionally blown out. I noticed a few instances of artifacting during some of the quick cut inserts of frames with a lot of action, like some of the fire sequences later in the movie, but on the whole this is a transfer worth howling over.
Similarly, the Dolby TrueHD 5.1 surround track is every bit as professional as the video track. There’s a nice use of surrounds throughout, with subtle touches like the music underlay switching to only the right side when Eliana removes one of the earbuds from her ear. Bass is utilized well with the werewolf growls, explosions and punches all supplemented with a nice LFE kick as well as other fractal ambiance. Dialogue is clear and the mix is balanced well, no complaints here. Scream fans might get a kick out of hearing Gus Black’s version of Don’t Fear the Reaper during the lovemaking scene near the end of the film.
Extras…on a Howling sequel…who would have thought, right? First up is a commentary with writer/director Joe Nimziki and star Lindsey Shaw. Nimziki has a lot of memories about the production and is keen on sharing them – from what camera format they chose, complications behind some locations, and how they’d work against the clock to get certain scenes for the film finished. Shaw doesn’t bring much, she just kind of agrees with what Nimziki says or reacts to mundane parts of the story. If you liked the film there’s worse ways to spend 90 minutes.
There’s also a 30-minute making-of that features a lot of behind the scenes shots in addition to interviews from most of the principal cast and crew. I always enjoy seeing shots from the set to see how they went about lighting and staging a scene. It is broken into segments, covering everything from the stunts to the VFX. Overall, it’s concise, informative and a nice little window into this admirable little production. The lead actor boasting “I like that it’s not really a horror film” during his interview just ain’t cool, though.
Lastly, there’s a storyboard gallery. It’s well drawn, but am I that interested in the movie to check it out? No. Also on the disc are trailers for A Horrible Way to Die
, and Super Hybrid
Let’s be honest here: Nobody was expecting much when it came to a Twilight
-ified reboot of The Howling
. I doubt Gary Brandner’s estate was all that excited about the screen credit. Truth be told though, The Howling Reborn
is actually not bad. Tight editing, good production value and a decent twist on the old story. Considering the muck through which The Howling
series has been drug, even this better-than-average teeny bopper werewolf movie is a breath of fresh
air. The presentation on this Blu-ray also gets a noticeable boost, with a sharp and detailed picture and full-sounding audio. The extras capture the essence of this film’s production and serve as a nice compliment to the feature. As someone who’s not a fan of the Twilight movies or those kinds of horror flicks, I’m as surprised as I write this: Mildly recommended.
Movie - B-
Image Quality - A-
Sound - B+
Supplements - B-
- Running time - 1 hour and 32 minutes
- Rated R
- 1 Discs
- Chapter Stops
- English Dolby TrueHD 5.1
- English subtitles
- Spanish subtitles
- Commentary with Writer/Director Jim Nimziki and Lindsey Shaw
- Making-of featurette
- Storyboard gallery