Let me start off by saying I am a huge fan of the Joe Dante original and the groundbreaking effects within it by make-up master Rob Bottin. That aside, the rest of the Howling franchise is a mixed bag of ups and downs to say the least. (Does anyone remember part three titled "The Marsupials?" – what an turd!) The latest edition "The Howling: Reborn" has been getting a ton of flack and if seen as a companion piece to that original 1981 film, could fairly be torn to shreds for having a severe lack of serious blood and gore. But to do so would be to ignore the hidden beauty within, as Reborn surprises and hypnotizes with an effective new lycanthrope story lore device – love.
Will Kidman is a high school kid who is on the bottom of the popularity food chain. He’s quiet, keeps to himself, does well in school and lives a normal life with his widowed single father. (Mom was killed by a unknown hairy assailant!) But his infatuation with sexy and edgy classmate Eliana begins to have a changing effect on the low-key Will and he finds himself going through some less-then-normal changes. And once the seemingly safe Will is finally faced with the fact that he might be in fact heir to a line of powerful and blood-thirsty werewolves, he must make a choice to follow his long suppressed instincts to run amuck or be with the girl he loves.
Sounds a tad hokey, but it’s the very romantic aspects of "The Howling: Reborn" that saves it from being yet another bargain bin Howling sequel reject. In fact, the palpable and magnetic chemistry between young leads Landon Liboiron and Lindsey Shaw (and the real and believable love story aspects via writer/director Joe Nimziki!) is the very glue that holds Reborn together.
More especially the turn by arresting actress Shaw, who combines the fearless and charismatic moxie of Samantha Mathis in "Pump Up The Volume" with the sensitivity of Martha Plimpton in "Running On Empty" for her go-to high school gal – it’s entrancing work. The side characters range from decent (mystery woman Ivana Milicevic is deliciously devilish!) to clichéd (Will’s best friend Sachin is a Jamie Kennedy "Scream" wannabe if ever there was one!) and the blood and guts effects are short and not so amazing (though everything looks lame after Bottin’s work!), but frankly who cares? Reborn is not so much a horror film, as it is a love story within a werewolf shell and on that level it succeeds in spades.
So for all it’s seemingly "Twilight" inspired watering down (thankfully it's all in the terrible trailer!), new fangled use of texting as a flirting device (I’m really getting old man!) and foregoing of gore for a more romantic upgrade, this latest Howling outing is a film that proves real captivating on-screen love can conquer all. Let’s remember all hardcore Howling fright fans – reborn means to start anew.
"THE HOWLING: REBORN" HITS SHELVES OCT. 18 FROM ANCHOR BAY ENTERTAINMENT