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Friday, October 7, 2011

THE HOWLING REBORN -- DVD review by porfle

THE HOWLING REBORN (2011), Anchor Bay's attempt to breathe new life into an old franchise, is a good news/bad news thing.  The bad news is that, as you might expect, it isn't as good as Joe Dante's 1981 original film and was never gonna be.  Then again, I didn't expect it to match up to that classic of werewolfery, so in that respect I wasn't disappointed.  The good news, then, is that it's way better than any of the other name-only sequels, which one might tend to expect as well.

Seemingly taking a cue from SPIDERMAN,  writer-director Joe Nimziki's story has a nebbishy high school student named Will Kidman (Landon Liboiron) pining away for beautiful classmate Eliana (Lindsey Shaw) who secretly likes him despite her being romantically attached to a musclebound bully.  And just as Peter Parker found himself physically transformed by the bite of a radioactive spider, Will also becomes an overnight dynamo (who no longer needs his glasses) due to the fact that puberty is finally causing his werewolf genes to kick in.  Naturally, this gives him an edge over that pesky bully, but unlike our Petey he's developed an urge to kill that's difficult to restrain.

Will's discovery that his late mother may have been a werewolf comes right about the same time a strange, mysterious woman named Kathryn (Ivana Milicevic) appears and starts trying to seduce him over to the dark side.  With the approach of a rare blue moon, all the werewolves that Will suddenly notices all around him are planning an attack on humankind, and he's invited.  Clinging on to his own humanity even as his animal side grows stronger, Will must rely on both his own fortitude and the love of his hot new girlfriend Eliana to help him survive.

As an example of the "new school" of werewolf flicks (no more "geezers in their 40s" as one character puts it), THE HOWLING REBORN probably has more in common with both the "Twilight" series and even "Teen Wolf" than it does with Joe Dante's original film.  I didn't mind much, though, since Nimziki's stylish direction and cinematography render all the teen angst and raging hormones very easy on the eyes, helped in no small part by a very effective musical score.  The story isn't all that deep but I found it consistently interesting and briskly paced. 

Liboiron is a likable lead as Will, handling both sides of his character's dual nature pretty well.  Lindsey Shaw, who initially reminded me a bit of the first film's Elisabeth Brooks, is the quintessential high-school lust object who turns out to have more going for her than meets the eye as Eliana.  Most watchable, however, is Ivana Milicivec, slinkily seductive yet formidable as Kathryn.  I've been a fan of hers since first seeing her in SLIPSTREAM, and she also snared a small but juicy role in CASINO ROYALE.  This is the best showcase for her acting talent that I've seen so far, and she makes the most of it.

As Will faces the prospect of turning into a werewolf on graduation night, the story builds toward a showdown between lycanthropes and humans inside the darkened school.  Eliana does her best to help Will bring his animal impulses under control, which, in addition to professions of love and moral support, involves copious amounts of dry-humping vividly depicted by Nimziki.  Resolute and armed with makeshift silver weapons, Will and Eliana then take on the werewolves in a battle that veers wildly between cool-looking and disturbingly goofy.

The "goofy" part is due mainly to some werewolf body suits that don't quite come off as well as intended.  Granted, I was pleased with the minimal use of CGI (Nimziki wanted to get away from the "videogame" look of recent werewolves) and some pretty good cable-controlled heads, but when seen in their entirety the hairy beasts seem to be wearing fluffy woolen trousers.  Also, there's nothing remotely approaching Rob Bottin's dazzling transformation setpiece in THE HOWLING, or even Lon Chaney, Jr.'s man-into-wolfman scenes from the 40s.  Werewolf fans have to make do with some brief morphing shots here and there. 

The DVD from Anchor Bay is in 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen with Dolby Digital 5.1 sound and subtitles in English and Spanish.  Extras include a commentary track with Nimziki and Shaw, a "making-of" featurette, and a storyboard gallery.

While hardly likely to become a classic in its own right, THE HOWLING REBORN is no doubt the best film to bear the "H" word in its title since Joe Dante was behind the camera.  The fact that I was pretty entertained for its entire running time tends to help me overlook whatever faults it may have.

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