Sunday, July 14, 2013

Howling II - ...Your Sister is a Werewolf

Welcome to Part II of ...your Howling Series Retrospective Review.

This is an ongoing (and important) series in which I am watching and reviewing all of the films in the Howling series, the majority of which I haven't seen before.  Part research project, part self-dare, all werewolves.

Check out Part I HERE

From the moment it starts, you know that Howling II:...Your Sister is a Werewolf (1985) is going to be a very different kind of movie than its predecessor.  Actually, from the moment you read the title of the film you have a vague idea of what you're in for.  This is an. . .interesting movie, but getting back to the moment the movie starts, this is the first scene:

Yup.  That's Christopher Lee.  Reading from the Book of Revelations.  While in a starfield.  And yes, that's a skeleton there next to him.

*Note:  Skeletons and starfields do not factor into the plot of the Howling II.  Spoiler.

After this bizarro tone setting opening (I'm fairly sure the tone they were going for was befuddlement), the story proper opens with the funeral of Karen White, the protagonist from the original film (although not played by Dee Wallace).  Amongst those in attendance at the funeral are her brother Ben (Reb Brown, trying very hard to convey sadness), who was unmentioned in the original film, and a reporter colleague of Karen's, Jenny Templeton (Annie McEnroe), who was also previously unmentioned.  They both meet Stefan Crosscoe (Christopher Lee), an occult investigator who tells them that Karen is both a werewolf and in very grave danger.

Stefan proves this (well, the werewolf part) by showing them a videotape of a television broadcast during which Karen turns into a werewolf and gets shot to death.  Of course, that's how the first film ends (spoiler?), but the big change here is that nobody ever saw the broadcast (instead of it being televised live, like in the original) and the tape was lost.

Also, the other big change is that the Karen-wolf went from looking like this:
Original Howling
to this:
Howling II...Your Sister Grew a Beard
Oh, sweet Christ.  I've got my issues with the "Pekinese" looking Dee Wallace-wolf in the original Howling, but good god, the Karen-wolf in Howling II is downright laughable.  It looks like a dime-store job.

This is thankfully not how all the werewolves look in the movie, as there's not much continuity in their appearance.  Some are full body, black and hairy creatures with wolf faces, while some are just people with hair glued all over their legs and arms with a little bit of prosthetic work stuck on.  There's even a couple Dr. Moreau-looking half-werewolf makeups that pretty much proves that the filmmakers didn't really know what they were going for with their werewolves (a sentiment I completely share).

Before Stefan shows Ben and Jenny the videotape, there's this scene where he tracks Mariana (Marsha A. Hunt), a known werewolf, to this nightclub after seeing her at Karen's funeral.  This nightclub is one of those 80s venues with spray painted walls, neon everywhere, the crowd full of big hair and jean jackets (sleeves optional), and an extremely 80s band playing some shitty new wave.  To blend into the crowd, Stefan wears a disguise.
Can you spot him in this pic?:
Yup.  That's Christopher Lee in La Forge shades.

Stefan notices that Mariana is leading a group of knuckleheads out of the bar and he follows them outside. . . but not any further than that.  He just watches as they drive their motorcycles away and isn't around at the abandoned building where the knuckleheads are ambushed by a group of werewolves. . . . (I gotta say, I'm not sure how to take this.  I'm sure he knows that Mariana intends on leading these knuckleheads to their doom.  So is Stefan afraid to follow them?  Is he unprepared or underarmed?  Is he just being logical and cautious?  Or is Stefan a cold sonofabitch who doesn't give a fuck about those knuckleheads?  As a testament to Mr. Christopher Lee's acting ability, I'm going to just say it's a combination of all of those).

Back to this band at the bar real quick, they're called Babel and they're this shitty new wave band (complete with a guy on keytar!) and they play this song titled "Howling" (because of course they do) that seems to be just a repetition of the same verse and chorus over and over again.  The song plays about 10 times during the movie.  I watched Howling II over a week ago and it's still stuck in my head.
Just go ahead and play this song while you read the rest of the review:

Anyway, after Stefan tells Ben that his sister is a werewolf and shows him the video evidence, he also informs him that even though Karen was shot to death with silver bullets she is going to rise from the dead (or whatever) since the bullets were removed during the autopsy.  So Stefan of course plans on going to her crypt and stabbing her with a silver spike to save her immortal soul (or whatever).  Ben of course thinks the old British guy is crazy, but once he goes home and thinks about it, he comes to this realization:

Ben:  "Sonofabitch was talking about my sister.  About sticking a stake in my dead sister.  I'm going to kill the sonofabitch."

With that Ben and Jenny head out to the cemetery with Ben's silver-bullet-loaded-rifle (even though at this point he still thinks werewolves are bullshit) and they are almost immediately attacked by werewolves.  Ben shoots and yells at them to death (yelling and shooting is what Reb Brown does best) and when they bust into Karen's crypt to find Stefan about to stab Karen through the heart, Ben threatens him with his rifle, but Karen turns into a werewolf suddenly and attacks Stefan.  Ben yells and shoots his sister.

After all this "your sister is a werewolf" business, the second part of the story involves Stefan tracking down the werewolf queen Stirba, who has gathered a clan of werewolves and is planning on performing some ritual that will make all werewolves reveal themselves and known to the world (or whatever).  Stefan tells Ben and Jenny that Stirba is responsible for everything that's happened and that she's in "the dark country...Transylvania," so they both immediately agree to go with him to Europe.

Wait a minute...  Transylvania?  Stabbing werewolves through the heart?  I think the screenwriters got their monsters confused...

Stirba is first seen as an wrinkled old woman, but proving that she does indeed have some sort of mystical powers, she steals the life essence of some poor girl and Stirba becomes young and beautiful and played by Sybil Danning.

Basically she goes from this:
To this:

What's the first thing Stirba does now that she's young again?  Why, have some kinky three-way werewolf sex, what else?!!  In what is without a doubt the strangest scene in the movie (and there's some other pretty strange scenes) Stirba and her male counterpart Vlad (Judd Omen), along with Mariana (who just arrived to the dark country by train), start making out and rubbing all over each other.  This is made extra weird as their bodies are covered in hair and they have claws, but their faces are mostly unchanged.  It's really really weird and the scene goes on too long.  In fact, this movie has a thing for stiff and awkward sex scenes, as Ben and Jenny engage in one of their own.  (Seriously, those two have less chemistry than the wolves).

So anyway, after most of the werewolf sex is over, Stefan, Ben, Jenny, and their dwarf companion Vasile (did I mention there was a dwarf companion?  Because there is), along with some other werewolf hunters (one of which is a priest) bust into Striba's castle and try to end her evil plans (or whatever).  Much madness ensues, including (but not limited to) stabbings, shootings, explosions, Reb Brown yelling, exploding eyes, a tiny dragon creature, some 80s neon light effects, and other general werewolf craziness.

On its own Howling II: ...Your Sister is a Werewolf would be a strange movie, but as a sequel to The Howling it is just plain bizarre and out there.  The special effects are shoddy at best, the story and plot are nonsense, the acting (save Mr. Lee) is somewhere between campy and terrible, and there's that goddamed song that keeps playing over and over!  Man. . . this is a pretty crappy movie, but I can't lie.  I had fun watching it.

Weirdness will always win a point or two from me, and this movie is definitely weird.  It's almost a hodgepodge of different quality ideas stirred together but not quite mixing well.  Don't expect it to make much sense or be spectacular or anything.  Well, maybe spectacularly bad, but you get the idea.  Taken on its own terms, Howling II can be a fun watch.  It's a crappy movie sequel that also happens to be weird and interesting in its terribleness.  I laughed a lot.  Can't dislike a movie for that.

One strange thing (amongst many) about the movie is the editing.  There's lots of flash cuts of previous or upcoming scenes, with quick shots of werewolves and the moon and shit like that.  Also, the editor seems to be obsessed with using camera wipes between scenes, using every possible wipe you could think of, the side to side, the swirl, the swipe, the spiral, all used randomly and excessively.  Not sure what the deal is with that, nor am I sure what is up with the ridiculous end credits sequence, which are most likely the most absurd end credits to a movie ever.

As the credits roll (with that damn 'Howling' song playing), the same shot of Sybil Danning ripping her shirt off and exposing herself is repeated over and over, something like 18 times, while other insert shots of characters "reacting" are intercut.  It is as ridiculous as it sounds and is as goofy a credits sequence as I can recall seeing.  I'm not sure if the decision about the weird editing or all the tit shots in the credits was made by the director or by the producers, but whoever it was, it seems as if they acknowledged that this wasn't very good movie and thought they'd just have fun with it.

Director Philippe Mora is a French-born Australian who first gained notice with Mad Dog Morgan (1976) which starred a quite mad Dennis Hopper.  Mora would follow that up with monster movie The Beast Within (1982), before landing the gigs on Howling II and Howling III (1987, which he also wrote).  His biggest film, to me at least, is the weird UFO/alien film Communion (1989) that starred Christopher Walken (I dug that movie when I was younger, haven't seen it in years, no idea if it holds up).  Philippe Mora is still writing and directing films today, although much more dramatical type stuff, and he can be seen in the excellent Australian exploitation documentary, Not Quite Hollywood: The Wild Untold Story of Ozploitation! (2008).

Howling II holds the distinction of not only being the only Howling sequel to follow-up on the events of the original film (although in a cheap sequel kind of way), but also in being the only film in the series to feature the involvement of original 'Howling' author Gary Brandner, who co-wrote the screenplay.  Reportedly, Brandner was unhappy with the original film and how much they changed from his novel, so it is especially strange that the Howling II film has nothing to do with Brandner's own sequel novel, 'The Howling II: The Return,' which was published in 1979.  Brandner has written over 30 novels, most of them in the horror genre, and his only other screenplay credit is for the "demon in the closet" movie Cameron's Closet (1988), which sounds like something I need to track down and see.

Here's Reb Brown trying to convey emotion...
Reb Brown, the "macho" hero of the movie, is one of those square-jawed meathead actors who were popular in the 80s.  He kind of reminds me of a Kurt Russell-type, but only with way, way less charisma and acting range and ability (and hair) than the actual Kurt Russell.  Also, Reb seems to be incapable of firing a gun without yelling.  To be fair to that, he does have a good yell.  He is probably best known for 1979's TV movie Captain America (the one that wears a motorcycle helmet) and also for portraying  "Big McLargeHuge" in Space Mutiny (1988), which is a fan favorite Season 8 episode of Mystery Science Theater (it's great!), but he's also in one of my all-time favorite "bad" movies, Yor, the Hunter from the Future (1983), which reminds me. . .I need to watch and review Yor. . .
...and here he is doing what he does best.
Based on the evidence presented within Howling II, Annie McEnroe is a fairly terrible actress, giving one awkward and stiff line reading after another, and when looking her up I expected to find a fairly empty filmography, but get this!  She was in Oliver Stone's The Hand (1981) and would pop up in Wall Street (1987) and a couple other of his films, and she also played Kay Culver in David Byrne's True Stories (1986) and the home relator in Beetlejuice (1988).  Heck, she even starred in Battletruck (1982)!  Honestly, I don't really remember her in any of those movies or roles, so I guess I can't claim she was memorable, but I'm also going to back-off my claim that she's a terrible actress (except in the context of Howling II).

B-movie icon Sybil Danning is one of the big draws in Howling II, not just because of her looks and ampleness, but because she's one of the only people having fun in this movie.  She's obviously having a ball playing this character of Stirba and wearing some of those outfits.  Never dipping too far into being hammy or corny, she takes it just seriously enough to sell it.  She's maybe the most entertaining person in the movie, and that's not just because she gets naked (well, okay, maybe that has a little to do with it).  Danning can also be seen in Battle Beyond the Stars (1980), Chained Heat (1983), and Hercules (1983).

Marsha A. Hunt plays Mariana with a bit of Pam Grier strut and attitude, but she doesn't factor into the action very much at all.  At one point Stefan claims that she is a powerful werewolf, but there is no evidecne within the movie to support that claim.  Hunt would also co-star in Dracula A.D. 1972 (1972, along with Christopher Lee) and in the strange, psychic horror film The Sender (1982).

Factoring into the story even less is Vlad, another supposedly badass werewolf, who really just gets involved in that werewolf three-way sex scene and not much else.  Judd Omen had small roles in Dune and Red Dawn (both 1984) and the same year as Howling II he was in Pee Wee's Big Adventure (1985) as Mickey, the criminal running from the law.

It is reported that Sir Christopher Lee took the part in this movie simply because he hadn't yet starred in a werewolf movie.  It is also reported that when taking the job to star in Gremlins 2: The New Batch (1990), he apologized to director Joe Dante (director of the original Howling) for being in this terrible sequel.  Watching Howling II you can tell that Lee knows he's in a bad movie and he doesn't seem to be having fun doing it.  In fact, he looks a little pissed off most of the time, barely concealing his disdain for his co-stars (especially Brown and McEnroe).

Christopher Lee would rise to prominence working for legendary British production company Hammer Studios, first starring as the Creature in The Curse of Frankenstein (1957), before the first of many starring turns as Dracula in Horror of Dracula (1958).  His portrayal of Dracula is iconic and he would play the famous bloodsucker another seven times.  Lee would also star in The Mummy (1959), Rasputin: the Mad Monk (1966), The Oblong Box (1969), and The Wicker Man (1973), which he considers his best role and picture.  Christopher Lee, now 91 years old, is still acting today and is best known to modern audiences for his reoccurring roles in The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit trilogies and in those newer Star Wars prequels.

Odd fact: the very English Lee would play Chinese master criminal Fu Manchu in a series of 5 movies in the late 60s.
Second odd fact:  Lee has recorded two heavy metal albums and an EP of metal covers of Christmas songs.

Howling II: ...Your Sister is a Werewolf is, without a doubt, a failure of a movie, coming up short on most fronts.  It is, however, fun and ridiculous in all the right ways and I had a blast watching it.  I have a feeling this might be the last time I write this about a Howling sequel.

Howling II was originally going to be called Howling II: Stirba - Werewolf Bitch, which would've been an awesome if somewhat misguided title, and they even produced posters under that name.  The subtitle It's Not Over Yet was used in some of the promotional material as well, including this trailer:

Dig that keytar!


  1. The singer from Babel sounds like a tone-deaf David Byrne.
    "In the pale, pale lights of the moon-yo!"

    1. A lot of singers of that era sound like pale, pale versions of David Byrne.