Despite the many sequels to Joe Dante’s brilliant 1981 werewolf film The Howling, Howling II is the only one which directly follows or references the events of the original. It also seems to have two subtitles, either ‘Your Sister is a Werewolf’ which gives away a big and utterly pointless plot point or ‘Stirba: Werewolf Bitch’ which is more to the point.
Directed by Phillipe Mora, Howling II opens with the funeral of Karen White, the protagonist of the first film, this also introduces a massive retcon of the original’s ending, changing Karen’s death from a live-on-air event to a mysterious secret tape.
At the funeral are Karen’s Brother Ben (Reb Brown), her colleague Jenny (Annie McEnroe) and an occult expert Stefan Crosscoe (Christopher Lee – really slumming it here, and I say that knowing he has made a lot of bad films in his time). Stefan approaches Ben and Jenny to explain about Karen being a werewolf and other werewolves being at the funeral.
After an encounter with the werewolves in L.A., the three set off to find and kill the leader of all Werewolves, Stirba, before her ten-thousandth birthday which will cause all werewolves to reveal themselves and presumably cause a global panic or something.
Stirba is first revealed to be an old woman, but a quick human sacrifice turns her into Sybil Danning (note that this film was released the year after her Playboy cover), who quickly exposes herself and then involves herself in an extended three-way tryst… a somewhat strange nude scene since she is mostly covered in shaggy blonde hair… everywhere.. like, her chest, legs, back and everything.
Soon Stefan and his motley crew must storm Stirba’s castle before the full moon, while the werewolves seem content to celebrate Stirba’s birthday by having strange orgies and dressing in odd 80’s Lady Gaga-style leatherwear.
Since it is so bonkers, I’ll break this film down into some good points, some (many) bad points and a few really odd points.
– Sybil Danning has outstanding boobs (which are so good they warrant the breast-baring shot being repeated seventeen(!) times during the closing credits.)
– Christopher Lee has good screen presence, even when he looks like he’d rather be anywhere else.
– There are good locations in what is now the Czech Republic, like the Melnik ossuary and the Prague Astronomical Clock, even if they aren’t well used or photographed.
– The theme song (‘The Howling’ by new-wave band Babel) is pretty catchy, and like the aforementioned boob-shot is repeated at pretty much every opportunity in the film. Punk concert in L.A.? Babel. Werewolf Orgy? Babel. Fight Scene? Babel. You get the picture.
– Reb Brown and Annie McEnroe seem to be in a competition to see who can turn in the most atrocious performance. I’m not sure who won but the audience loses.
– The werewolf suits are a massive step down from the 1981 original, looking like angry gorilla costumes.
– The editor may well have been recently introduced to a new editing technology or something and has gone overboard. there are all sorts of strange wipes and fades to transition scenes that really don’t fit with the content.
– Speaking of the editor, this film seems to take ‘Show, don’t tell’ to a new level, if any character refers to an event that happened earlier in the film, we get a one-second flashback. This happens throughout the film and gets distracting. It is especially used during the scene where Christopher Lee introduces his team of werewolf hunters (who might as well be wearing red Starfleet uniforms) and each one gets a one-second flashback to a loved one being killed by an angry gorilla, sorry, werewolf.
– The ending – the film has a ‘funny’ coda that pretty much undermines the entire film and isn’t funny, scary, shocking or even interesting.
– Reb Brown is incapable of shooting a gun without screaming at the top of his lungs while doing it. Once I noticed this fact I couldn’t help but find it oddly comical.
– Allegedly when Christopher Lee got on the set of Gremlins 2, he apologised to director Joe Dante for appearing in this sequel.
– Oh, and while on the subject of Christopher Lee, and giving away the plot point that I mentioned the subtitle did, there is a reveal towards the end that Stirba is Stefan’s sister! And evenyone takes that is their stride. No questions like “Does that mean you are 10,000 years old too?”
Howling II is pretty awful, but has such a crazy 80’s new wave enthusiasm that it’s never bland. It pretty much plants it’s flag in the so-bad-its-good territory and waves it proudly. I have fond nostalgic memories for this film, probably because I was the right age when I first saw it… notice what point one in the good list is?