This eighth entry in the Howling franchise was considered a reboot by Anchor Bay Entertainment but as this particular horror series had little to no continuity between entries I’m not sure what they thought they were actually trying to reboot, then again, after the previous producer did his best to run the franchise off a cliff and into a tarpit one can’t blame the new owners for hoping a “fresh” start could reinvigorate the brand.
In this attempted reboot the new producers decide to take a page out of Twilight by focusing the story on teenagers and the problems inherent in interspecies dating, something they still don’t teach in High School Sex Education classes. We are introduced to high school student Will Kidman (Landon Liboiron) who through his narration we learn that while carrying him to term his mother was attacked and apparently killed by “something” – no prizes for guessing it was a werewolf – and though her body disappeared little baby Will was found alive and well at the scene of what looked to be apparent impromptu cesarean, flash forward eighteen years and we find angst-ridden Will about to graduate. Now, this film isn’t going to focus a lot on werewolf attacks but more on whether or not Will is going find the courage to ask resident school hottie Eliana Wynter (Lindsey Shaw) out on a date and if so how will he be able to fend off her current boyfriend, who is totally not Flash Thompson but might as well be.
I’m not sure if the filmmakers were more interested in making a superhero movie rather than a werewolf film as the teen-drama aspect is right out of Peter Parker territory and when Will starts getting his “werewolf powers” he finds that he no longer needs to wear his glasses and can beat up the resident Flash Thompson with his newfound super-strength, so yeah, Howling: Reborn has more in common with Spider-Man than it does to the Howling franchise. This is not to say that’s necessarily a bad thing but the blend of teen-angst superhero shtick with that of werewolf genre does lead to this particular movie looking more like a WB teen-drama than that of a straight-up horror film and the fact that Landon Liboiron would later player a werewolf on the Netflix series Hemlock Grove kind of proves where this take on the subject matter really belonged. What does work really well here is the character of Eliana Wynter and the excellent performance by Lyndsay Shaw in portraying this sweet if conflicted character and she pretty much steals the movie away from the film’s supposed lead.
• Why exactly does this school have security measures that would be more in keeping with a maximum-security prison for supervillains?
• The school bully, and current boyfriend of Eliana, warns Will that she doesn’t “Date outside her species” which I’ll admit is a clever way to tip us off that one of them is actually a different species.
• Eliana flips through Will’s sketchbook to find that all the drawings within its pages are of her, which in a normal world would freak any girl out because having an apparent stalker is rarely a good thing, but as this is a Twilight rip-off it’s considered romantic
• It’s so lucky that Will’s best friend is an expert on lycanthropy and not just stuff he picked up from the movies as he also seems to know the rules about this film’s particular arcana for werewolves.
• Will goes right to the “attempt suicide” test to see if he’s a werewolf and I’m pretty sure I’d try a few more things before jumping straight to the one that could end in my death.
• A werewolf is killed by being stabbed by a Second Place Trophy and I must say I’m impressed that this school uses actual silver in their cheap ass-looking trophies.
• Will broadcasts his werewolf transformation live to the world which could be considered a nice nod to how Joe Dante’s original movie ended.
• In a matter of minutes Will is able to cobble together two fully functional flamethrowers from stuff found in a high school science lab.
Where the film fails is in the delivery of cool werewolf action, and sure, this film is a step up from some of this franchise’s earlier attempts but that is a really low bar to pass so we really can’t offer the filmmakers points for that. When Will’s mom (Ivana Milicevic) shows up on graduation day, not actually having been killed during that opening prologue but turned into an immortal werewolf instead, and we learn that Will himself is a werewolf because while he was being clawed out of his mom’s womb he was scratched and thus “gifted” with lycanthropy. When we eventually have Will deciding not to join in his mom’s werewolf world domination plans we get a quick collection of werewolf fights that rely heavily on shaky-cam, extreme close-ups and dark settings to hide the fact that the werewolf suits provided aren’t quite up to par. I didn’t expect to see Underworld levels of werewolf action but I did hope to be able to see what was actually going on.
I’ll give it that the writers had some “interesting” ideas for this particular brand of werewolves but, sadly, they clearly hand neither the time nor the budget to properly pull it off and the script, instead, relied on awkward exposition dumps via lazy narration and having Will’s best friend Sachin (Jesse Rath) spelling out how to fight this particular strain of werewolves with no real basis as to how he knows this shit. Sure, it implies that Sachin is a huge horror film geek but this film tosses in this the idea that “Only a werewolf can kill and alpha werewolf” and I’ve seen a lot of werewolf movies and I’ve never heard of that part of the lore so where did Sachin pick up that vital tidbit? Maybe he confused this with “Only a ninja can kill a ninja” from Ninja III: The Domination. The reveal of Will’s mother to be a werewolf and bent on world domination could have been a clever plot twist but this film is all about teen drama so we have no time to flesh out her backstory, which I’m betting would be more interesting than this one, and thus she is just cartoonishly evil and that’s about it.
It’s clear the filmmakers were hoping this would spawn some sequels and snag some of that lucrative Twilight saga money but where those films had an extremely popular fan base from the books to call upon Howling: Reborn had no loyal such following as the previous entries in this franchise had been pretty much been forgotten by most of the movie-going public, the Joe Dante film aside but the fans of the original film The Howling would not be the type of people interested in seeing a teen werewolf romance movie, of course, this idea was proven to be quite workable as a television series as we got a Teen Wolf series that lasted six seasons. Was Howling: Reborn a case of simply being a little ahead of its time or more likely a swing and miss on rebooting The Howling franchise as a teen drama? Overall, I’d say this film felt more like a pilot for a television series than it did a movie so maybe this did inspire the creators of the Teen Wolf series, sadly, that doesn’t stop this movie from being as forgettable as most of the entries in this franchise have been.
Note: There are still rumours of director Andy Muschietti trying to get a remake produced for Netflix but I wouldn’t hold your breath.
Howling: Reborn (2011)
Movie Rank - 5.5/10
I almost admire the filmmakers for trying to create a whole new Howling franchise with apocalyptic overtones of a werewolf uprising, sadly, they had neither the budget of the skills to quite pull it off.