“He said your sister is a werewolf.”
As the practical effects work in horror movies achieved a creative nirvana in the 1980s, werewolves dominated theaters in a way they hadn’t before or since. Filmmaking talent of every caliber seemed to be shooting a flick about those beloved feral furballs.You have your bonafide horror masterpieces like director John Landis’ An American Werewolf in London; goofy teen schlock like Teen Wolf and Teen Wolf Too and oddball, R-rated fairy tales like Neil Jordan’s The Company of Wolves. Then you have… well, whatever the hell phrases one might use to describe 1985’s Howling II: Your Sister is a Werewolf (which shamefully abandoned its original title Howling II: Stirba — Werewolf Bitch).
Is it completely insane? Terribly made? Utterly incomprehensible? Totally amazing? Yes.
The original Howling was the breakout feature of the legendary genre maestro Joe Dante, who ended up pairing with Steven Spielberg only a few years later to direct 1984’s Gremlins. The Howling isn’t as tightly crafted as that classic, but Dante already had a knack for staging deliciously unhinged set pieces (such as a truly perverse sex scene that pivots into a transformation sequence), and his direction adds a legitimacy to the film that many of its canine peers lacked.
Director Philippe Mora, despite having nine films currently in development according to IMDb, doesn’t bring quite the same level of technical skill to this sequel. The hilarious opening scene has the one and only Christopher Lee — who fills the perfunctory Van Helsing role as a werewolf hunter named Stefan — standing against a starry abyss and reciting lines from a book about the werewolf queen Stirba. “She held forth a golden chalice filled with the filthiness of her fornications,” intones a straight-faced Lee — reading from what sounds like a cross between the Book of Revelation and werewolf erotica. As he reads, there’s even a cheap little skeleton that materializes next to him just to add some extra sPoOoky flavor.
The story is a direct continuation of the original, which ended in the slaying of its heroine-turned-werewolf, TV anchor Karen White. This movie picks up with that character’s funeral, so we can follow around her far-less-interesting younger brother, Ben (Reb Brown). He eventually crosses paths with lycanthrope extraordinaire Stefan when he approaches Ben to yell about his sister being a werewolf. You see, Stefan is on an uber-scary mission to track down and kill Stirba (Sybil Danning), and of course Ben and love interest Jenny (Annie McEnroe) get caught up in this unholy crusade — one that involves an unusual amount of leather outfits, gratuitous nudity and werewolf orgies.
We’ve all been driven by nostalgia to rewatch a beloved ‘80s movie and then immediately regret our decision upon the realization that it’s Not Very Good, Actually. Howling II is a wonderful example of something that has aged so poorly it’s now delightful. This is a total shitshow of low-budget, exploitation madness. Due to a shipping error, the werewolf suits arrived on the set in a crate labeled “Twentieth Century Fox: Planet of the Apes.” Indeed, it was filled with monkey suits. No matter; the werewolves’ bizarre appearances — with their ape-like figure and freakish, dog-like faces — simply enhance the insanity of seeing a primate / wolf hybrid get blown away by Christopher Lee in a dimly lit forest.
Speaking of which, Howling II is a wonderful reminder that a sleepwalking Christopher Lee was still a more amusing screen presence than most actors in their prime. Look no further than around five minutes in when Lee visits a punk / new-wave nightclub incognito to get the lowdown on some of Stirba’s minions. Lee dons some razor-thin sunglasses and a leather jacket to fit in with a wacky counterculture of which neither the actor nor his character likely knew anything. Here, he resembles a dementia-addled David Byrne if he decided to front Devo for a night. Any madman responsible for putting such an image to film obviously deserves our respect.
The little plot there is here isn’t worth delving into, but Lee’s initial attempts to convince Ben that his sister was actually a werewolf are amusingly nonsensical. At one point, he shows Ben a silver bullet, telling him this was what killed his sister, and silver is the only way to end a werewolf’s life. Such reasoning seems ironclad, sure, but when you stop to think about it, wouldn’t a silver bullet kill… well, anybody?
If you’ve read this far, you know by now whether Howling II will be 100% your jam or unwatchable trash. Without spoiling its bondage-themed finale, this movie climaxes in a whirlwind of glorious stupidity involving, but not limited to, rubber bat-mutant attacks, desecration of a real Catholic church, a shot of Danning baring her breasts that’s then repeated multiple times in the credits and our charisma-free protagonist running around slaughtering werewolves.
After the dolled-up cynicism of A Dog’s Purpose, the AI-created nothingness of Pup Star and the belligerent disregard to basic filmmaking rules in Love on a Leash, it’s refreshing to see a film like Howling II: Your Sister is a Werewolf have the dignity to craft a story for the mature and educated film lovers amongst us.