OCTOBER 23, 2011
Movies like The Howling: Reborn are why I think the MPAA should allow filmmakers to choose their own rating within reason. Obviously something like A Serbian Film should be restricted (and thus if its director asked for a PG-13 he would be vetoed), but in this case the director shot the film for a PG-13, limited the profanity to a single “fuck”, and offered no nudity (to a ridiculous degree; a woman dies naked but somehow manages to cover her breasts with her arm). Yet he got the R, and apparently didn’t bother to fight it, so you have this movie that’s going to (theoretically) limit its intended audience while annoying those who expect a typically R rated werewolf movie.
And it’s not PG-13 in the “it doesn’t deserve an R” way like Insidious – it’s specifically aimed at teens. I know folks have and will continue to make comparisons to Twilight, but it actually seems more like that Percy Jackson movie or something like Harry Potter, with a nerdy kid finding out about his heritage and learning to be his own man or whatever. The Twilight angle is largely based on the fact that there’s a love story at its core, but that hardly seems specific to Twilight for me, and there’s no rival monster or anything.
Like Twilight, however, it’s just not aimed at me, so I can’t really hate on it too much. If I was still in grade or high school I’d probably dig it, even though by then I was already watching Italian zombie movies and such. The worst thing about it is that it’s not particularly engaging; even teens would probably be bored by the lack of werewolf action in the first hour. It’s a strangely “small” movie – there’s less than a dozen actual characters in the entire thing, most of whom are already dispatched by the time the third act kicks in. Worse, that entire 35-40 minute chunk of the film takes place in the locked up school, with nothing at stake – it’s our hero and his girlfriend against the four evil werewolves. Guess how it turns out? He has a best buddy; they really should have kept him around longer in order to provide some semblance of tension.
The movie also suffers from a rather silly plotting decision that requires an actress to play two characters, a device that has never worked in a movie, ever. I wasn’t even aware it was supposed to be a twist until I heard it on the audio commentary, with the director and actress laughably saying that they think it works great. Um, no. People aren’t stupid – when you see a woman with a bad wig and sunglasses, you know she’s in disguise instantly, and the fact that the actress is the only recognizable person in the movie (to my eyes anyway) makes the approach even sillier. We’re also supposed to believe that a mere hair color is enough for a man to not recognize her as his (thought dead) wife, which is just asinine. At first I thought maybe this was a plot point from the novel by Gary Brandner (as in a novel you wouldn’t have the very obvious visual clue), but then I discovered that despite the credits specifying that it’s based on Brandner’s second “Howling” novel, it has absolutely no relation to it whatsoever.
Otherwise, it’s fine. The wolf FX are almost all practical, saving CG mostly for terrible compositing (the background of the graduation scene looks like a graphic from the 2nd Resident Evil game), and even if it’s all at the end, seeing two wolves whaling on each other is always awesome. There’s a fun little bit concerning a silver trophy that our hero won; a fun way to combine a character beat (that he’s unexceptional) with an obvious plot necessity (silver – duh). And there’s a genuine surprise with regards to one character’s “secret” that I didn’t see coming, so that’s good. I also like that it all took place over about 24 hours or so (not counting the opening flashback); possibly because of the Harry Potter vibe I was getting. In those things I’m always wondering what they DO on a day to day basis; the threat is always known right at the start of the year, but they don’t take care of it until May. Get proactive, Potter!
And since I’m an old grump and not the target 14 year old audience, I can’t even get worked up about the covers of classic rock songs that pepper the movie. I know they can’t afford the real ones for the most part (Echo & The Bunnymen’s “The Killing Moon” must have been cheap!), so I’ll take a decent version of Peter Gabriel’s “Book of Love” over some shit emo-indie song. I was baffled by the terrible cover of “Don’t Fear The Reaper” though – there’s got to be 50 covers of that by now, why the hell did you go with the worst one I’ve heard?
Anchor Bay has provided a terrific looking blu-ray; the sound mix was average but the picture looked spectacular, with strong detail and perfect black levels. The accompanying making-of also looked quite good – I’ve seen seeing a lot of standard def bonus features lately, which is obnoxious (especially for me as I prefer to watch bonus features at work; if I’m gonna sit on my couch watching something on a Blu-ray disc instead of playing Arkham City, it better be in high def!), though the piece itself wasn’t particularly interesting. All of the usual bases are covered, but director Joe Nimziki is embarrassingly in denial about some of his movie’s shortcomings, praising the (terrible) compositing and saying that the French actor who was supposed to be American did a pretty good job hiding his accent (he most certainly did not).
His unearned enthusiasm also comes across in the commentary, where he is joined by Lindsey Shaw, who plays the love interest. Neither seem to be aware that their movie is kind of boring, nor has anyone broken the news that the film had gotten an R rating, rendering many of their comments rather pointless (“This is our one F-word, we can only have one in a PG-13 so I saved it for this moment.”). Shaw also seems to think the word “Lycanthrope” is a tongue-twister of some sort, which will just make any werewolf fan roll his eyes, assuming he/she had even gotten that far in the disc anyway. One interesting tidbit is that he had planned for Dee Wallace to make a cameo as the school nurse, but it didn’t work out. He also makes sure to point out that the script was written long before "Twilight" (the book) even came out, though to that I just have to wonder if he was so worried about it, why didn’t they just use the plot of the 30 year old book that the movie credits as serving as its basis? No one could have argued that. Well, some idiots would, now they can have the benefit of the doubt.
For a series that has remained dormant for over 15 years, this is hardly a tour de force comeback, and the total lack of relation to any previous entries makes me wonder why they even bothered securing the franchise name – it hardly means anything to the target audience anyway, and anyone who DOES really dig this series (I am not one of them, I’m not even too crazy about Joe Dante’s original) will hate it for the lack of connection and focus on a younger audience anyway. But those younger folks might enjoy it, and if they ARE Twi-fans, then they might be seeing their first practical werewolf! Very exciting.
What say you?