AKA HOWLING 2 – YOUR SISTER IS A WEREWOLF, THE HOWLING 2 – STIRBA WEREWOLF BITCH
AVAILABLE ON DUAL FORMAT BLU-RAY AND DVD: 14th NOVEMBER, from ARROW VIDEO
RUNNING TIME: 89 min
REVIEWED BY: Dr Lenera, Official HCF Critic
Ben White attends the funeral of his sister, journalist Karen White, who has died in mysterious circumstances. Afterwards, he meets both Jenny Templeton, one of Karen’s colleagues, and Stefan Crosscoe, a mysterious man who tells him that Karen was a werewolf. Ben is unconvinced even when Crosscoe shows him a video tape of Karen turning into a lycanthrope on TV, and intends to stop Crosscoe ramming a stake into her, but Karen rising from the grave and other werewolves attacking change his mind for good. Crosscoe, Ben and Karen then set off for Transylvania to kill Stirba, it nearly being the tenth millennium of Stirba’s birth, a time when all werewolves will reveal themselves….
Sad to say [call myself a horror fan, and even a werewolf fan?], I haven’t seen any of the sequels to Joe Dante’s classic The Howling until now. They don’t seem to be considered to be much good, and this first sequel [why I haven’t seen this one is especially a mystery to me, being as it stars both the awesome Christopher Lee and the delectable Sybil Danning] really does a bad reputation….or rather a ‘so bad it’s good’ reputation. When he met Dante to be hopefully cast in his Gremlins 2: The New Batch, the first thing that Lee [who appeared in Howling 2 primarily because, despite all the horror films he’d been in, he’d never appeared in a werewolf movie] did was apologise for being in it. It really a stupid shambles of a film, seemingly intended as a comedy but more ‘funny peculiar’ than ‘funny ha ha,’ and sometimes almost surreal in its dumbness, so I would say that – yes – it’s far more of a ‘so bad it’s good’ picture than a ‘just bad’ one. For me [and this is probably why I enjoy so many films widely considered to be terrible] , the worst things a film can be are dull and pedestrian, and Howling 2 certainly isn’t either of those. I had a thoroughly good time watching it, and so will you as long as you don’t expect to be actually frightened or to be convinced by the shoddily done, ridiculous things taking place onscreen.
Production company Hemdale wanted a sequel to The Howling, and this time decided to use Gary Brandner, who had written the original novel. He didn’t much like the movie, partly because it changed so much from the book, though his screenplay for the sequel was rewritten by Robert Sarno and ended up not containing much of his own book sequel either. Most of the film was shot – because it was cheap – in what was, at the time, Czechoslovakia in the town of Melník, and Barrandov Studios, Prague, though some scenes were shot in Los Angeles and not just the ones set there. Shooting behind the Iron Curtain provided many difficulties. The government assigned an assistant director to the production who knew nothing of filmmaking. The KGB watched the set. “Stunt men” didn’t know how to light people on fire or shoot blanks without causing serious injury. Director Phillipe Mora had to actually literally import trash from America to clutter the clean communist streets. Then, when a local casting call went out looking for “punks”, a thousand individuals arrived, resulting in the local authorities calling in both the police and military. Ape suits from the TV series of Planet Of The Apes were ordered by mistake, and it was Lee who suggested his character mention that werewolves become monkeys before they become a wolf so the suits made more sense. Though only given a limited cinema release, Howling 2 made its money back on video and ensured that there would be a Howling 3 [which was also directed by Mora].
So we begin in a very wierd manner with Lee reciting from a book what is presumably a prophecy, about humans drinking from the chalice of “the great mother of harlots”, against a background of space, with a fake looking skeleton appearing to his left after a while. I should say right now that Lee, who didn’t enjoy making this film much, is given some pretty dire dialogue but, like the complete professional he was, treats his role and the film with respect on screen, refusing to give in to the temptation to play it for laughs or not bother to act much at all. Anyway, we begin properly with the funeral of Karen White, which of course ties this movie to the first one, though she’s played by an actress who looks hardly anything like her. What’s especially odd is that, despite the event having been shown on TV, Karen’s transformation on public TV [which is terribly reshot here with an entirely different looking werewolf] seems to be a secret to Karen. You’d have thought somebody would have told her. But then this is a film so idiotic that it thinks Transylvania is in Czechoslovakia, and that has somebody sprinkling garlic on a bed despite it being about werewolves not vampires. Meanwhile Lee’s character, the Van Helsing-like Stefan Crosscoe, follows two other werewolves into a punk concert, and he may seem out of place, but don’t forget that he’s played by a man who spoke on a death metal album. The filmmakers obviously really loved the band that’s playing here, because their song recurs throughout the movie and footage of them singing it is even cut randomly into the climax.
It’s not long before we get our first full werewolf scene, and it’s rather bizarre. Lycanthrope Mariana kills off some guys in a warehouse, and for most of the time she doesn’t look very wolf-like and her face is flat and very human – but there are also shots of the face of a more wolf-like creature cut in. I couldn’t initially work out whether it was supposed to be her or another monster in the area. Throughout the film, they clearly couldn’t make up their mind what the werewolves actually looked like, and I could swear that the constant close-ups of the wolf-like monster are the same couple of shots repeated over and over again, though most of the time these creatures just look like prehistoric humans. So anyway Crosscoe, Ben and Jenny head off to Transylvania to kill werewolf queen Stirba before the hour that the werewolves will inherit the earth, and for no apparent reason [they previously displayed no romantic or sexual attraction before] Ben is soon fornicating with Jenny against a hotel room wall with his pants on. There’s quite a good atmosphere of unease in some scenes set during a local festival, but it’s mostly just insane nonsense, much of it involving Danning. Stirba fires lasers out of her fingers and the eyes of a dwarf in a different location pop out. She causes a mini-gargoyle to come to life and rip out a man’s….well, it’s either supposed to be an intestine or a ridiculously long tongue. And she engages in a werewolf threesome with two other werewolves in what seems to be a half-hearted attempt to top the most audacious scene in the first film, but is just extremely funny as they all snap and snarl at each other. The actual ‘intended’ humour is on the level of:
“This hotel doesn’t look like it has six floors”.
“I know. Funny, isn’t it”?
There’s certainly some originality here and there though and the odd attempt to broaden the mythology of lycanthropy. I especially enjoyed seeing some new werewolf-killing weapons [even if some of them made little sense], such as a prism containing some kind of oil which explodes, a chalice which held the blood of Christ [do they mean the Holy Grail?!] and titanium bullets and a titanium dagger for the really powerful werewolves who can’t be slain by silver. The fights with the werewolves are reasonably well staged, the locations are quite well used – notably a basement in a church built from human skulls and bones – and a bit with a masked dwarf is a little creepy, though it’s probably the only bit that is. Mora, a very ‘up and down’ filmmaker who works in various genres but who also made the reasonable horror The Beast Within [also about transforming into another creature], does make some attempt to give the proceedings some style. Especially notable is the way people will mention somebody’s name or a place, and then we get a very quick shot of that person or that location before we cut back to the scene. Then some other scenes have shots seemingly edited in the wrong order, while there’s a variety of swipes including a fan, a diamond and a swirl.
The statuesque, buxom Danning [who often wears a really outlandish outfit straight out of the 1980 Flash Gordon], though not a thespian of the quality of Lee, does her best to take all this reasonably seriously. Most everyone else, except for Ferdy Maybe in a small role, is pretty lousy. The whole film is pretty lousy, but….I don’t know about you….but I can’t help but love a film which has an end credit sequence which, along with other bits and pieces from the film including some that were deleted, repeats the same shot of its female star taking her top off 17 times [and originally there were more]. Howling 2 is a movie which obviously went terribly wrong, but certain aspects of it are reasonably well done considering its meagre budget and five week shooting schedule [which probably explains why it’s gradually become more liked over the years], and in any case I was grinning constantly throughout it.
Arrow Video’s release is just superb and ten years ago I can’t imagine that any fans of this much derided film would have even dreamed that it would be so well served by a disc. Howling 2 has a reputation of looking very poor, in particular its night time scenes being so dark that you can’t see much, but it’s certainly not the case here. In fact, the nocturnal footage looks especially good with its deep blacks and its crispness. Unfortunately, the fine quality of the picture means that you can make out things like a supposed werewolf running around who’s only sporting makeup on one of his arms!
Arrow have ported over all of the special features from Scream Factory’s Region ‘A’ release and they’re very comprehensive. I tend to listen to entire commentaries for the purposes of a review now and both of the ones on Howling 2 proved to be very worthwhile. The head of Red Shirt Productions Michael Felcher talks to Mora on the first and Mora is a great guy to listen to, telling us all sorts of interesting stories about the production [I only summarised a few in my ‘background’ paragraph of this review] – listen out for the explanation as to why Danning suddenly starts wearing sunglasses indoors. Mora does seem to think that the film is pretty good….which is in total contrast to editor Charles Bornstein on the second commentary who calls it “one of the worst movies ever made”. Felcher talks to composer Steve Parsons in the first half and Bornstein in the second though they’re really just interviews rather than commentaries, the film obviously not being watched. They tell some more interesting stories, as well as some familiar ones which you may be tired of hearing by the time you get to the video interviews, but Danning is terrific value as usual and Mora tells a fantastic story about Lee which made me love the much-missed icon even more. The Alternate Opening and Alternate Ending only have minor changes. Another superb job, Arrow!
SPECIAL EDITION CONTENTS
*Brand new digital transfer
*High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) presentation
*Original Uncompressed Mono PCM audio
*Optional English subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing
*Audio commentary with director Philippe Mora
*Audio commentary with composer Steve Parsons and editor Charles Bornstein
*Leading Man – an interview with actor Reb Brown
*Queen Of The Werewolves – an interview with actress Sybil Danning
*A Monkey Phase – interviews with special make-up effects artists Steve Johnson and Scott Wheeler
*Alternate Opening and Alternate Ending
*Reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Graham Humphreys
*First pressing only: Collector’s booklet featuring new writing on the film by Michael Blyth