Full Moon Features: The “Rebirth” of The Howling series

After Howling: New Moon Rising limped into video stores in 1995, the long-running series was finally put out of its — and our — misery. Seven films in, any connection with Gary Brandner’s original novels had long since been severed and it couldn’t be denied that the bad films in the franchise easily outstripped the good ones. Short of sending its werewolves into space (an idea that I’ve seen in comic form, but never on the silver screen), everything that could be done with them, had been done with them. Well, I guess there was one more place they could be sent: high school. However, that would have to wait until after the emergence of Twilight and the teen supernatural romance cottage industry it inspired. Only then was the time right for The Howling to be, ahem, Reborn.

Based, at least according to the credits, on The Howling II by Brandner (a book I haven’t read, so I can neither confirm nor refute this claim), The Howling: Reborn was co-written and directed by Joe Nimziki (whose only previous directing credit is on an episode of The Outer Limits from 1997), who opens on a scene of a very pregnant artist (Ivana Milicevic) who’s stalked through the streets of an unnamed city by a growling P.O.V. camera and, once she reaches her studio, presumably slashed to death by something with big claws that apparently wants to get at what’s in her belly. Well, the clawed thing (what could it be?) doesn’t succeed because 18 years later it has grown up to be gawky high school senior Landon Liboiron, our humble narrator. Or maybe it did because after he reaches his 18th birthday, Liboiron begins exhibiting all the usual signs of lycanthropy — improved vision (which he discovers while texting in class), fast healing, incredible strength and agility, and a sudden change in diet from being a strict vegetarian to craving meat. It’s too bad all this happens to him right before graduation. He could have really tore it up on the lacrosse team.

Having taken in an entire season of MTV’s Teen Wolf last year, it didn’t surprise me when the supporting cast slotted into their predestined roles. There’s the main character’s geeky, wisecracking best friend (Jesse Rath), the girl he has a terrible crush on and, once he’s turned, has to control himself around (Lindsey Shaw), and the rich jock who makes our hero’s life a living hell for no good reason (Niels Schneider). The only one who doesn’t fit is Liboiron’s father (Frank Schorpion), who’s known about his condition from birth and has done all he can to keep it in check. Then a mystery woman shows up, but if I tell you who she’s played by (hint: it’s Milicevic), her true identity shouldn’t be too hard to guess. Then again, she’s able to pull the wool over Schorpion’s eyes until after she’s gotten him drunk and tied him to his bed — a scene crosscut with Shaw tying Liboiron up when she catches him looking up a book on lycanthropy in the school library. I guess father and son both have a thing for light bondage. Must be genetic.

Anyway, I’m skipping over huge swaths of the plot (I haven’t even mentioned the graduation party where Liboiron is drugged and where he catches sight of his first werewolf, or his bathroom fight with Schneider, who turns out to be packing heat, or the sad birthday party where a morose Schorpion gives his silver wedding band to Liboiron, or the awkward exit interview with his principal where he’s berated for being on the debating team that only took home the silver trophy — because we know that isn’t going to come in handy later on), but the whole shebang climaxes on graduation day, which just so happens to coincide with a “very rare” blue moon, when packs of werewolves all over the world plan to rise up and take over. On the local level, this means Liboiron has to give in to his bestial tendencies and when he finally transforms — an unimpressive computer-assisted effect that comes a full hour after his first reluctant utterance of the w-word — it’s so he can have a knock-down, drag-out, wall-busting battle royal with the alpha werewolf. Because if there’s anything The Wolfman taught us, it’s that audiences crave werewolf wrestling, especially when the camera’s so shaky and the lights are so low that you can’t see what’s going on. Frankly, I don’t know if I believe the filmmakers’ claim that “No actual werewolves were harmed in the making of this motion picture.” I totally saw them whaling on each other. That must have at least caused some bruising.