I love werewolf movies. That being said even I have to admit that there really isn’t that many good ones out there. An American Werewolf in London and the original The Howling are still considered by most as the best in the genre, and they were made way back in 1981. Sure we’ve had few decent werewolf movies since then, but overall it’s been a pretty fallow subgenre of the horror film. Now both An American Werewolf in London and The Howling had sequels, but whereas the sequel to An American Werewolf in London was lame and immediately forgettable the sequel to The Howling was so bizarre, and so over-the-top wierd, that one can’t help but admire the sheer audacity of it all.
This movie opens with the funeral for Karen White, who was the television reporter and main character in the original, and who had been bitten by a werewolf, turned wolf on camera, and then was shot by her best friend. Strangely this movie will not explore any repercussions of those events. When she was shot the network immediately switched to a commercial so most of the viewers may have chocked it up as some kind of gimmick, but what about her friend who pulled the trigger, did he go to jail for murder? Did all the employees of the news station sign non-disclosure agreements stating that if ever an employee turned into a werewolf on air they would never discuss it with the public or authorities on pain of lawsuit? Her on air sacrifice was a noble attempt to expose the existence of werewolves, yet it is completely jettisoned in favour of an ancient Transylvanian werewolf sex cult.
Of the seven sequels to the original Howling the second film is about the only one that has any connection to the original, but just barely. Director Philippe Mora had asked the studio if he could go off and do his own thing with the series, and they agreed. But then why bother having even the briefest tangential connection to the original if you are going to jettison everything that it set up? Karen White’s brother Ben (Reb Brown) is attending the funeral along with Jenny Templeton (Annie McEnroe) an apparent colleague of Karen’s. While at the service they are approached by Stefan Crosscoe (Christopher Lee) who informs Ben that, “Your sister is a werewolf.” Not was but is. Turns out that the werewolf that bit Karen was from the original strain of werewolves dating back to an ancient sorceress by the name of Stirba (Sybil Danning), and werewolves of this bloodline cannot be killed by a mere silver bullet. They must be killed with a stake made of titanium. Uhhhh…what now? I know there is no hard and fast rule to the mythology of werewolves but that is just bizarre.
For it is written: the inhabitants of the Earth have been made drunk with her blood. And I saw her sent upon a hairy beast and she held forth a golden chalice full of the filthiness of fornications. And upon her forehead was written: “Behold I am the great mother of harlots and all abominations of the Earth.”
God bless Christopher Lee. Seriously, only some one of Christopher Lee’s calibre and gravitas could pull off the insane amount of dialogue and exposition he puts forth in this film, not only that but he even came up with some insane bullshit of his own to save the production. You see the film was mostly shot in Czechoslovakia, and when the studio finally sent over the werewolf costumes director Mora was quite dismayed to see boxes labeled Planet of the Apes, sure enough it was full of old ape suits. When he called to complain about the difficulty of making a werewolf movie with ape costumes they hung up on him. So it was Christopher Lee to the rescue by suggesting they shoot a scene where Stefan Crosscoe explains that apes are a genetic step between man and wolf. Thus they were able to get by with shitty ape costumes that they could then intercut with footage of proper werewolf make-up they’d shoot later back in the states.
Crosscoe returns at night to the cemetery to drive a titanium stake through the “corpse” of Karen White when Ben and Jenny show up to stop him. Just as Ben is about shoots this crazy man, who is about to desecrate his sister’s corpse, wolf arms burst out of the coffin. Ben quickly shoots the werewolf, never once bemoaning the fact that he just murdered his sister, and then he and Jenny quickly join Team Crosscoe in the hunt for Stirba. This script does not seem to care for such things as character motivation or logic, and the writing is certainly not aided by the actors playing our heroes. To say that Reb Brown and Annie McEnroe give two of the worst performances in screen history may sound a bit hyperbolic, but at times you can swear Christopher Lee is contemplating staking himself through the heart to get away from them.
Note: Lee had previously worked with Reb Brown in Captain America II: Death Too Soon, so he should have had an inkling of what he was getting himself into.
After catching and interrogating one of the werewolves that were stalking our heroes they follow the exotic werewolf Mariana (Marsha A. Hunt) to Transylvania, home of Stirba the ten thousand year old werewolf sorceress. Philippe Mora and crew got a lot of good production value shooting in the various churches and castles of Prague, and the locals hired to play the creepy villagers and werewolf coven give it their all and then some. When we first lay eyes on Stirba’s court one can’t help but think we are looking at a prequel to Eyes Wide Shut, and according to make-up effects man Steve Johnson the extras didn’t quite understand the “pretend” element of acting when it came to the orgy scene. When the directed yelled cut, the sex kept on going.
For the most part Crosscoe ditches his American sidekicks, and who can blame him, so we are saddled with many scenes of Ben and Jenny bumbling around Transylvania in scenes that serve no point to this movies supposed plot. We get the two of them checking into a creepy hotel where they are given room 666, which even lunkhead Ben thinks is odd as the hotel doesn’t even have six floors. At one point Ben goes off with a dwarf by the name of Vasile (Jirí Krytinár) who helps him locate Stirba’s castle. Sadly things don’t go well for poor Vasile as he loses the special earplugs they wore to save them from the siren song of Stirba’s hypnotic spells. This gets him possessed and later tossed out a window by Ben. You know you’re in a classy production if it has dwarf tossing in it. And Stirba doesn’t take that kind of shit lying down and has her gargoyle staff come to life to mouth rape one of Crosscoe’s cronies, and makes others explode in a gooey mess. Let’s recap; Christopher Lee is hunting a ten thousand year old sorceress whose coven members can only be killed by titanium stakes, she has the ability to mesmerize with her voice, she can bring inanimate objects to life, and she has Force Lightning.
When we first meet Stirba she was an ancient crone that is rejuvenated by sucking the life force from a young woman like some kind of succubus, than later she is ordering her chief henchman Vlad (Judd Omen) to bring Mariana to her for a little tête-à-tête, and then tells Vlad to make love to the new “daughter” while she watches. We are never given an end goal for Stirba; does she want to take over the world? Or maybe she just wants to hook up with her Crosscoe, who during the final showdown, is revealed to be her brother. Basically her entire purpose in this film is to be sexy and weird.
This is not a good movie. One could go so far as to say this is an insanely terrible movie that should have been strangled at birth, but by god is it entertaining. I’m not sure what this says about me, but I had so much fun watching this piece of filmic absurdity that I can’t help but recommend it. Now this movie is certainly not for everyone, but if you have a penchant for the bizarre, love Christopher Lee, and think Sybil Danning is the quintessential B-Movie goddess, then this film will have you giggling like a school girl. And really, Howling II is all about Sybil Danning whose every cell screams sexual freedom and power. Only she could pull off wearing a leather outfit studded with copper straps, chic sunglasses, all while petting a stuffed wolf from a throne of bones.
Christopher Lee is on record for saying he did this film because though he’d made hundreds of movies, many of them in the horror genre, he had never made a werewolf picture. He has since apologized to Joe Dante for being in this one. Sure, as a sequel to the Joe Dante original this film is utter crap, but as an orgy of the bizarre there is much to offer here. From the goofy ape-werewolf costumes to the script that doesn’t make a lick of sense, to the horrible performances by Reb Brown and Annie McEnroe, this film has all that a bad movie lover could want and more.