Saturday, October 22, 2011

Halloween Havoc: THE WEREWOLF REBORN! (1998)

We love us some Charles Band productions here at Video Junkie, but even we will admit the man has produced more crap than great stuff.  By the late 1990s, his once mighty indie Full Moon Entertainment was suffering an eerily similar fate as Band’s earlier Empire Pictures.  Thanks to some shady dealings, Paramount severed their distribution relationship in 1994 and Full Moon went ultra-cheap on their productions after that.  We’re talking hiring J.R. Bookwalter cheap.  Anyway, things kept chugging along as Band sent filmmaker after filmmaker over to Romania to shoot stuff on frayed shoe-string budgets.

Of course, Band was still extremely cognizant of direct-to-video trends.  Having had great success with his family-oriented label Moonbeam Entertainment, Band attempted to mix two of his most popular sellers (kids and horror movies) into one product.  The fact that the R.L. Stine GOOSEBUMPS TV series was getting great ratings and doing gangbusters business on video surely had nothing to do with this, right?   So Band and company decided to do FILMONSTERS (sic), a series of just under an hour live-action films that would re-imagine cinema’s famous movie monsters of the past for modern kids.  What could possibly go right?

THE WEREWOLF REBORN was one of the initial outings of the series (it premiered on video on October 20, 1998, alongside its companion piece FRANKENSTEIN REBORN).  14-year-old Eleanore Crane (Ashley Lyn Cafagna) arrives solo in a Romanian town to stay with her uncle, Peter (Robin Downes). The locals turn a post-cold war shoulder to her when they find out she is related to Peter.  And Peter isn’t too thrilled to see her show up on his doorstep either, claiming her sent her father a letter telling her not to come.  Unable to get her out of his hair, Peter reluctantly lets her stay in his HOARDERS-esque mansion.  But he locks her in her room with only a Snickers bar because tonight is a full moon and Peter just happens to be a werewolf.  The local inspector (Len Lesser, a long way from SEINFELD) will have none of this nonsense, even when Eleanore says she saw Peter’s bullet wounds self-heal.  Peter is locked up and, sure enough, he turns into a werewolf and breaks out.  Eleanore has got this though as some local gypsies have given her a gun with silver bullets.

This is pretty straightforward stuff – girl shows up, uncle turns into werewolf, girl kills uncle, the end.  Then again, would you really expect more from a werewolf film aimed at pre-teens with a 45-minute running time?  The biggest surprise is that the film is competently made, thanks most likely to perpetually suffering indie director Jeff Burr.  I can’t imagine how depressing this must have been to make for him (the rent is too damn high, indeed), but he still manages to muster up a few cool shots.  The werewolf is a bit goofy though, looking like those plastic surgery ladies with big cheekbones and thick jaws.  But the effects are still better than anything from HOWLING III – V, so I can’t cry.  There is a really sad wolf-to-man morph effect during Peter’s death that would normally have me howling foul, but I just saw THE HOWLING: NEW MOON RISING last week.  I guess about the only redeeming thing about the film is that it was actually shot in Romania, so it obviously has the authentic Eastern European look.

What is really funny is the level Band went to make this look like a GOOSEBUMPS video. Seriously, look at the cover above and then look at this randomly selected GOOSEBUMPS VHS cover.  Notice anything similar?

Sadly, the knock off attempts didn’t prove to be the tapes to turn the struggling Full Moon around.  Damn those fickle kids and their discerning tastes!  Band initially announced other titles in this proposed 12 film (!) FILMONSTERS series with villains like Dracula and The Mummy, but they never got made.  While we have no verification of this, we like to think the legal department at Universal probably smacked them down.  Either that or Band couldn’t pony up the money to make the other entries.  The reason you choose to believe will reveal the depth of your Band-dom fandom.  What is really funny is Band later paired this up with its Frankenstein cohort for a re-release in 2005 as FRANKENSTEIN AND THE WEREWOLF REBORN!  Charles Band, George Lucas wannabe.

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