In the mid-80s, everyone was trying to make the next “big” horror franchise, and if you were running on the heels of an original film that already had a pretty good following, fans expected for it to be at the very least a watchable re-hash of what had gone before. Think about it; these first few years of the decade was the time of flicks like Friday the 13th Part IV (what many think is the best of the series), Day of the Dead (my personal favorite of Romero’s original trilogy), and Psycho II (largely considered the best sequel in that series). Sequels were big, man! Most studios knew a cash cow when they saw one, and were willing to pony up at least a marginal budget to keep those box-office dollars flowing…
Then, we come to The Howling II, sometimes subtitled Stirba, Werewolf Bitch, and other times with the more juvenile (and far more fitting, once you’ve seen it) Your Sister Is A Werewolf.
We all remember Karen White, the news anchor that transformed into a werewolf on live television at the end of The Howling, right? Well, this film picks up at her funeral; besides just friends and family members (well, her brother at least), there are some strange, oddly-placed individuals paying their respects as well, and of special note is a pseudo-mystic scientist named Stefan Crosscoe. Jenny, a friend and co-worker of Karen’s at the news station, speaks with her brother, Ben, about the strange visitors and the presence of the oddball metaphysicist. The pair catch up to the older gentleman, and after he tells them what those of us who saw the original movie already know (yeah, you guessed it: “Your sister is a werewolf”), we’re off to the races in a global romp to stop the evil werewolf queen, Stirba, from enacting her evil plans upon us all, which apparently involve a lot of crude, bestial sexuality and some magical werewolf queen powers that include Force lightning that makes heads explode (if you figure that one out, you’re doing better than me ).
I know that this particular summary of mine is kind of…well, different. That’s because this is a very different film, and not really in a good way. From the get-go, they make a point in this film to show both the body of Karen White in her coffin, and the last news broadcast she made before her death, thus attempting to tie the film to its predecessor. Well, the actress playing Karen looks about as much like Dee Wallace as she does Mike Wallace, and the news footage was only in the most broad sense similar to the original. I don’t understand why the filmmakers didn’t obtain the sixty seconds of so of the original ending to use (if they had rights to the name and characters, you’d think they could get away with that) or, if they did try to do that and couldn’t, why not just skirt around the issue altogether with a closed casket and video footage seen from the perspective of just the reactions of Ben and Jenny? As it stands, it pushes fans of the original out of their suspension of disbelief in the first ten minutes; I suppose there could be a number of reasons for this, and that’s why I have it as my first, least offensive gripe.
Second, the acting was pretty substandard for even a flick of this caliber; Reb Brown isn’t known as a thespian, but he’s still turned out some pretty decent performances in films like Uncommon Valor (and he was the original, 1970s television version of Captain America, y’know); here, he was about as wooden and inanimate as I’ve ever seen a performer; Keanu Reeves is Olivier next to this offering. Annie McEnroe (most remembered as Jane Butterfield in Beetlejuice ) serves little purpose here other than to be the poor man’s Jamie Lee Curtis and follow apparently one directive: look bewildered. There are really only two actors that perform well; one is no surprise, the other certainly is.
Christopher Lee, in the role of Crosscoe, is as sincere and commanding a presence as he ever is, and it was of particular interest to see him in the “Van Helsing”-type role instead of the villain; still, seeing Lee in this movie was like watching Ali fight Holmes that last time. I am so thankful that this one isn’t a film most fans are even aware he was in, and that his roles both before and since should completely let him off the hook for this flick. He stated once that he only took the role because he had never appeared in a werewolf film, and it’s said that when he showed up for his role in Gremlins 2, one of the first things he did was to apologize to director Joe Dante (also director of the original The Howling ) for appearing in this sequel.
The other standout is none other than Sybil Danning, another performer not highly praised for her acting ability but instead for her impeccable physical qualities (which, by the way, get bared for your pleasure no fewer than seventeen times during the end credits); in this film, however, she is far more convincing as the evil werewolf queen than most of the other actors combined in their efforts. It’s a shame that her make-up and costuming consists of either an S&M influenced bit of futuristic armor or wispy, fuzzy body hair that makes her kinda resemble the mother of Jim Carrey’s version of The Grinch.
While we’ve touched on the subject of Stirba herself, I’ll move on to another core issue I had with the film: a total ignorance of both folklore and geography. Point one: the land known as Transylvania is not in what was then known as Czechoslovakia. Point two: Who the hell came up with the idea that really, really powerful werewolves were immune to silver, but by golly, titanium would sure do a number on them? I guess the fact that only a titanium stake driven through a werewolf’s heart would give Lee a small chance to give some back of what he received in so many flicks, I dunno.
Finally, I’ll just say that the effects ranged from decent to downright laughable; there was one pretty darned good (for the time) eyeball-blowing-out scene, but other than that, you see more gore on the average episode of CSI. The werewolf makeup effects consisted of:
A. One (1) rubber mask, filmed in close-up from different angles to represent different werewolves looking about in the shadows;
B. Thirty (30) seconds of close-up, shadowy footage taken of the second-in-charge female werewolf in mid-transformation, looking all snarly; brief (3 to 4 second) snippets of this were intercut throughout the movie as deemed necessary.
C. The wispy, arm-curtain type body hair I mentioned on Stirba;
And finally, D. Bad costumes that looked to be from late seventies bigfoot flicks; about as convincing as the stuff you see at the local Lions Club haunted house around Halloween.
Top all of this off with a one-song soundtrack (there may or may not been some stock music in the film; I spent too much time feeling disoriented to notice) that is reminiscent of trying to combine the sound of the Talking Heads with the Clash but with the talent of a third show departure from American Idol…I swear, if I’d heard about the “pale pale light of the moooooon….” one more goddamn time…
Now you folks know that I like bad movies as much as (often more so) than the next guy; even still, this is one I can only make it through on rare occasions. It’s not “so bad, it’s good“, it’s “so bad, it’s godawful campy, and campy, horrific crap often draws cultish followers“.
Now I don’t begrudge anyone that does like this one (hey, everyone’s got the right to be a cultish follower of the crap of their choice; I certainly am), but I can’t in good conscience recommend it to anyone other than the most hardcore of “bad flick” junkies.
Personally, it’s got my vote as one of the top ten worst studio horror flicks ever.
Two cents down.