Review: Howling II (1985)

Crimson Quill’s Appraisal #687

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Also known as Howling II: Your Sister Is a Werewolf and Stirba – Werewolf Bitch
Number of Views: Two
Release Date: August 28, 1985
Sub-Genre: Werewolf
Country of Origin: United States
Running Time: 91 minutes
Director: Philippe Mora
Producer: Steven A. Lane
Screenplay: Robert Sarno, Gary Brandner
Based on The Howling II by Gary Brandner
Special Effects: Jack Bricker
Cinematography: Geoffrey Stephenson
Score: Stephen W. Parsons
Editing: Charles Bornstein
Studios: Hemdale Film Corporation, Granite Productions
Distributors: Thorn EMI/HBO Video, Shout! Factory
Stars: Christopher Lee, Annie McEnroe, Reb Brown, Marsha Hunt, Sybil Danning, Judd Omen, Ferdy Mayne, Patrick Field, Jimmy Nail, Jirí Krytinár, Jan Kraus, Ladislav Krecmer, Petr Skarke, Igor Smrzík, Ivo Niederle

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♫ Suggested Audio Jukebox ♫

[1] Steve Parsons & Babel Lover’s Sacrifice

[2] Steve Parsons & Babel Howling (Club Mix)

 

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I’ve been howling at the moon about this one Grueheads and have the hairy palms to prove it. You see, in the thirty plus years since Philippe Mora’s Howling II was unleashed on an ill-prepared public, I’ve never once read a solitary word about it that was anything other than damning or doused in ridicule. Even Claudio Fragasso’s Z-grade disasterpiece, Troll 2, has amassed some kind of cult status during that time but alas folk still consider this film bereft of merit, even of the so-bad-it’s-good variety it seems.

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Well I love me nothing more than a challenge and also happen to be something of a punishment glutton so this should prove a match made in heaven right? One thing is for damn sure, while I may struggle to defend this film’s multitude of sins against cinema, I do plan to celebrate every last ludicrous chink in its armor while we’re here. Let’s not goad the growler any, pleasure doesn’t come much more culpable than this, but beauty is in the eye of the beholder and I’ve always been rather partial to those ugly ducklings. Even the furry ones. Especially the furry ones.

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Perhaps the biggest shocker here is that it was all going so well back at hello. To this day, Joe Dante’s original remains one of the finest examples of modern-day werewolf fiction and worked small wonders with Gary Brandner’s written vision, albeit only following its template loosely. Indeed, you could argue it updated a somewhat stale formula for a fresh audience and pushed the genre in an exciting new direction. However, while Brandner penned a sequel novel, Mora chose to largely ignore its existence, in favor of crafting something far more Gothic in flavor to suit his own flimsy whimsy.

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This isn’t to say that it didn’t add a new wave feel to proceedings, but Howling II has a distinct feel of knock-off Amicus about it and was designed to tie in with the ten-thousandth birthday of a bi-curious werewolf queen named Stirba to keep one foot firmly lodged in the past. Hell he even managed to procure the services of untouchable horror veteran, Christopher Lee, only because the actor had never appeared in a werewolf flick mind. Years later, on the set of Gremlins II: The New Batch, Lee saw fit to apologize to Dante for his appearance in this travesty and I’d imagine the great man’s eyes spent most of the shoot rolling.

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Things only got worse from that point forward as Mora then returned to the director’s chair two years later for the equally lamentable Howling III: The Marsupials, encouraging a run of shady sequels no franchise could ever be proud of. So you see, even my kindness has limits, as this mess of a movie walks like a dog, yaps like a dog, and smells like something a dog may excrete after one too many servings of Kibbles ‘n Bits.

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There is nary a transaction made in the entire 91 minutes that doesn’t whiff of offal and we’re not talking of faint aroma either. So it’s a total waste of our time and energy then surely? Is it fuck, low-rent charm can be found in the most peculiar locales, and Howling II just so happens to be positively heaving with the stuff. I can almost hear my reputation as a “critic” buckling under the pressure I’m placing myself under here and it still can’t relinquish the stupid dumb grin from my grill.

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And the award for least charismatic on-screen pairing in cinematic history goes to Reb Brown and Annie McEnroe. Sorry guys, I’m loathed to point the slender finger of shame, but seldom have two leads sucked with such effortless synchronicity. Bound together like rocks and slag, Ben and Jenny somehow manage to blunder their way to Transylvania after shady interloper Stefan Crosscoe (Lee) pops up at Ben’s dead sister’s funeral and cries “werewolf”.

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I shit you not, that’s pretty much all she wrote and I swear the plot came straight out of a fortune cookie. To be fair, the whole dead sister deal does provide the one tenuous link to the original film, but it’s a fart in a tornado as we’re promptly whisked away to the Balkans before we can say “tell Stirba to put the kettle on”.

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While Ben’s interest in this pilgrimage is understandable, Jenny’s seemingly comprises an overbearing desire to slip her hands into a grown man’s crotch denim provided he foots the travel expenses of course. The two listless love birds stare at each other vacantly, we do likewise, and all the while we can hear the glorious Sybil Danning positively bursting from her corset, presumably while waiting for her paycheck to clear. If you ask me, that one was a canny piece of casting on Mora’s part. Maybe he did know what he was doing after all.

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That’s a negative. Indeed it almost feels like he’s a passenger on his own plummeting paper plane, hanging on for dear life, with nary half a clue how to stop the rot. So why then do I find it almost impossible to avert my eyes for a solitary second? I mean, I’ll come gently off the gas at a freeway pile-up like the next man, but this particular fender bender takes some beating. If you listen closely enough, you can almost hear the director whisper “did we get away with it?” before each haphazard cut, so woefully inept is each and every compulsive frame.

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When in doubt, he tosses in some stock footage of ingrowing back hair just to remind us we’re watching a werewolf movie. In case you were at all curious (or gluttons for punishment), Ben has now forgiven Stefan for attempting to destroy his dead sister back at the mausoleum, and the pair are as thick as thieves, thanks to a shonky dwarf found mincing about the town square and a pair of ropy street puppets. So what does our immortal queen Stirba have to say about all this pointless wiffle anyhoots?

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I guess you can’t argue with her logic. You see, when being hunted for your pelt by meddling tourists, any lusting lycanthrope worth their groin sweat will naturally engage in a three-way mating ritual and Stirba just so happens to have a ménage à trois already in full swing. Using the ever so faintly catchy Wiccan chant, Eko Eko Azarak, to set the mood, three become one beneath the light of the full moon. Actually it’s more a case of straight-laced one-on-one missionary while her majesty sits astride her bejeweled throne thumbing her hairy mammaries like she’s clunge deep in season but it still merits a montage.

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Those 91 minutes aren’t filling themselves you know. Speaking of which, the score by Steve Parsons & Babel really is rather delightful and wonderfully evocative of the eighties. Bless them for giving it their all. Perhaps most alarming of all is the fact that I’m actually enjoying the merry hell out of this cataclysmic mess despite my very best voice of reason. It’s like Troll 2 all over again and I fear I may never live this shameful admission down.

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I sleep restfully at night knowing that films like Howling II exist as the term “they don’t make ’em like that anymore” has rarely been so applicable as it is here. Hell, they didn’t even make ’em like that way back then. It’s a true one-off, a film utterly devoid of both style and substance that somehow inconceivably winds up a popcorn tosser’s wet dream. If you hold Dante’s original in lofty esteem then proceed with tremendous caution as this is unquestionably one of the lousiest films of an entire era and the psychological scars it imparts may never heal. However, should you find yourself with a hankering for glorious garbage any time soon, then there’s a veritable dumpster here just primed for the scavenging. Just be sure to leave me some scraps. I sure am hungry.

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Crimson Quill’s Judgement: 5/10

Grue Factor: 3/5

 

For the Grue-Guzzlers & Pelt-Nuzzlers: Priests are mutilated, eyes burst from their sockets like piñata candies, blood geysers spray left and right willy nilly, and our cups runneth over with deep red corn syrup so nobody can accuse Mora of being stingy on the splatter front. As for pleasures of the flesh, ebony Hammer queen Marsha Hunt (Dracula A.D. 1972.) is only too happy to throw her chirpy chesticles into the melting pot but none shall overshadow Stirba this night. Indeed, Danning’s bared bosoms are looped right through the end credit sequence and I counted seventeen identical unveilings before Mora finally decided to call it a day. Perhaps he was checking them for lumps in the editing suite.

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Read The Howling Appraisal
Read An American Werewolf in London Appraisal
Read Troll 2 Appraisal
Read Vamp Appraisal

 

Richard Charles Stevens

aka

Keeper of the Crimson Quill

#CreatorsUnite
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