Welcome back to part 2 of The Howling retrospective! Sorry it took so long to post this, as I have been very busy between final assignments and paintballing like a boss. However, now that that’s out of the way, we can get back on schedule and take a look at Howling II: Stirba – Werewolf Bitch (Your Sister is a Werewolf: It’s Not Over Yet)… ok, maybe that’s not the real title, but seriously, look it up. The movie has so many damn alternative titles that it’s ridiculous. Is the title the only misguided thing about this movie? Well read on and find out…
Howling II is directed by Phillipe Mora, rather than Joe Dante who directed the first film. I’m having difficulty finding actual reviews of Mora’s films, but from what I see he is generally known for terrible, low-budget b-movies. To be fair, Joe Dante came from a background with the king of the b-movie, Roger Corman, so this isn’t a huge knock against Mora. Also interestingly, Gary Brandner, the guy who wrote the Howling trilogy of novels, co-wrote the screenplay for this entry. This is actually kind of strange since it apparently has nothing to do with the novels, and so I’m not sure how much actual input he had on it. This becomes even stranger because apparently Brandner didn’t like the first Howling simply because it diverged from the plot of his novel. In terms of the cast, the movie features 2 notables: Christopher freaking Lee (who is as awesome as he always is) and cult favourite, Sybil Danning (whose… uh… “performance” is sure not to disappoint her “fans”).
I can’t find any budget numbers for this movie, but it’s pretty clear that it probably had less than the rather modest $1 million which the original Howling had… either that, or the production crew wasted far more of it, which is a distinct possibility, since they managed to wrangle Christopher Lee and shot about half of the film on location in Soviet-controlled Czechoslovakia. Whatever the case may be, compared to the first movie, the special effects look like ass. Check out the “werewolves”:
Ugh, they look terrible, especially when compared to the great werewolves in the first movie. Throughout the movie, the filmmakers can’t decide if they want Halloween costume werewolves or if they want fugly-looking wolfmen, and so their designs literally change throughout – sometimes we get full-on werewolves, sometimes we get hair old dudes, sometimes we get full werewolf costumes with regular human faces… and sometimes we get Planet of the Apes costume department rejects. Also, that shot of Christopher Lee just a little ways up the page, where he’s standing in front of stars with a random skeleton, is from the opening… and it looks like something out of a 50s sci-fi movie.
So the special effects, the best part about the first movie, suck… well how about the acting? The movie’s got Christopher Lee in it, so it can’t be that bad right? Well you’re sort of on the dot there. Christopher Lee plays supernatural beast slayer Stephan quite well, but everyone else in this ranges from bad to abysmal. Sybil Danning’s titular werewolf bitch, Stirba, is absolutely bonkers, making all manner of ridiculously overacted facial expressions in basically every scene. The other two leads, Annie McEnroe’s Jenny and Reb Brown’s Ben, are so bad that apparently Christopher Lee refused to act on set with them. McEnroe’s character is extremely flat and dull with basically no personality. Reb Brown’s character is noteworthy, but for all the wrong reasons – he’s basically your stereotypical, macho, angry, gunslinging, American hero who runs around yelling whenever he fires his gun off and thinks that he’s somehow qualified to kill werewolves. They’re basically useless tag-alongs who serve no real useful function to the plot, but merely tie it into the previous movie very tenuously (Ben is Karen’s brother, hence the “Your Sister is a Werewolf” thing in the title). Also, their lack of chemistry makes their “romance” and especially their sex scene really awkward and out of place. The other characters can basically be summed up in one sentence: Marsha Hunt’s Mariana is apparently an extremely dangerous werewolf (although we never actually see such) and Jirí Krytinár plays a midget named Vasile who throws knives and gets his eyes blown out by Stirba’s magical voice.
Predictably, the story is absolutely nuts. The Howling at least tried to take itself seriously, but Howling II is so strange that I have no idea what the hell they were thinking when they came up with it. The movie opens with Stephan reading from the book of Revelations (for some reason… it reminds me of the “PULL THE STRING!” speech from Glen or Glenda?), and then cuts to Karen’s funeral, where Stephan tells Jenny that Karen was a werewolf. However, things immediately get nuts, because it turns out that extracting a silver bullet from a werewolf makes them regenerate and come back to life, and the only permanent way to kill them is with… titanium. Umm… ok… One person who reviewed the movie noted that this is actually kind of funny because titanium is more common and cheaper than silver is… But anyway, the writers of Howling II don’t seem to understand werewolf lore at all, claiming that holy water, garlic and stakes to the heart are all effective against them (while they do use stakes, I don’t think they ever actually hit any of the werewolves in the heart with them). Anyway, apparently Karen turning into a werewolf on live TV was somehow covered up and no one knows the truth about it. Also, it’s conveniently Stirba’s 10,000th birthday, at which point all werewolves will take over the world, even though there’s no real sense of urgency about this throughout the entire movie.
As you can see from just the first few minutes of the movie, the plot is a mish-mashed mess of silliness, camp and just plain terrible ideas. There’s also a strange 80s New Wave style running through the movie (as demonstrated by the poster’s tagline), which seems to have influenced the “fashion sense” of the werewolves apparently (why is Stirba wearing sunglasses at night?). New Wave music is also really prevalent throughout the movie, as Phillipe Mora seems to have hired the band, Babel, to do the soundtrack for the movie. I actually dig their theme song quite a bit, and would actually say it’s one of the best parts of the whole movie. Unfortunately, whoever edited the film seemed to agree, and spammed the shit out of it. Howling II is only a 90 minute movie, but the song appears on 10 separate occasions (and Babel themselves appear 3 different times as well), so I wouldn’t be surprised if you were sick of it by the end.
Speaking of editing, the filmmakers have a thing for wipe transitions. Tons of really diverse and distracting transitions are used in this movie for no discernible reason. The editing is also rather strange, jumping back and forth between events which are likely happening hours apart from each other (either that, or werewolves “get it on” for hours). The credits also seem to suffer from this problem. The movie is generally rather sleazy, with lots of cleavage and a couple scenes with topless women, but the credits throw this into ridiculous overdrive. The credits basically turn into a Babel music video of the band playing music with scenes from the movie cut over it. There is a scene in Howling II of Sybil Danning tearing off her… uh, fetish vest, or whatever the hell it is… Anyway, this one shot is repeated so many times in the credits that I lost count (thankfully the Internet tells me that it’s 17 times).
Of course, no review of Howling II is complete without mentioning one of the the most awkward things I’ve ever seen put to film: the werewolf three-way orgy. So Stirba has just had her youth magically rejuvenated and literally the first thing she decides to do is engage in a 3 way. I guess no one wanted to do that with granny-Stirba or something… Whatever the case, the movie has been pushing a sleazy tone throughout so it’s obvious that they want this to carry over to this scene as well… but they fail spectacularly. The scene ends up being a bunch of people in fur suits (without werewolf faces, inexplicably) hissing and growling at each other while rubbing up against one another. It’s just extremely awkward to watch (and goes on for a good couple minutes), and extremely un-erotic. I’m pretty sure the only people who’d get turned on by this are furries.
Anyway, the movie ends on just as bonkers a note as it does at the beginning, with Stephan and Stirba spontaneously combusting and Ben and Jenny being visited by Dr. Zaius. Howling II is… an experience. It’s a failure on almost every conceivable angle, its only bright spots being Christopher Lee’s performance and Babel’s theme song. However, so great is its failure that it’s hilariously watchable (like Troll 2). That said, I’d only recommend it to bad movie enthusiasts and people who really need to see all the werewolf movies.
Be sure to come back soon for part 3 of this retrospective: Howling III: The Marsupials!