Monday, October 10, 2011

October 8th: Howling II: Your Sister Is A Werewolf (1985)

Ben White (Reb Brown) attends the future of his late sister, news reporter Karen White (Hana Ludvikova), who was murdered under mysterious circumstances. Following the funeral, Ben meets Karen's colleague Jenny Templeton (Annie McEnroe), who wants to find out what really happened to Karen. Enter Occult Investigator Stefan Crosscoe (Christopher Lee); Stefan informs Ben and Jenny that Karen, following her experiences at The Colony, became a werewolf and had herself killed to protect innocent people from her.
Stefan shows Ben and Jenny a video of Karen as a werewolf, which went missing shortly after her death. Ben remains skeptical and, when he learns of Stefan's plans to drive a silver stake through Karen's heart, threatens to kill him. Following a nighttime confrontation with a clan of werewolves, Ben and Jenny vow to help Stefan stop the werewolves before the next full moon, when all werewolves will reveal themselves to the world and conquer mankind.
Traveling together to Transylvania, the trio join forces with fellow werewolf hunters Vasile (Jiri Krytinar), Father Florin (Ladislav Krecmer) and an American Priest (James M. Crawford) and arm themselves with silver bullets, garlic, holy water, battle axes, and titanium knives in preparation for battle with powerful werewolves Vlad (Judd Omen), Mariana (Marsha A. Hunt) and the deadliest werewolf of all: Stirba (Sybil Danning), Werewolf Bitch and Queen of The Lycanthropes.
Like Vampires, Werewolves are a popular part of European folklore and mythology that has long fascinated us, but why? In the case of Vampires, it's all about primal sexuality and everlasting youth. The Vampire legend preys on the vanity of mankind. When it comes to Werewolves, however, it's something much more psychological and disturbing. Mankind can be a violent, cruel and monstrous species, but what separates us from the Lions, Tigers and Bears is our humanity and compassion. Werewolves represent the loss of that humanity; the legend dares to wonder what happens to humans when they're stripped of their inherent moral compass and ability to care for fellow man. What happens when intelligent, thinking people become monsters? It's a frightening concept and, for me, makes Werewolf mythology far more interesting.
Starting with the lost 1913 film The Werewolf, the film industry has presented the Werewolf legend onscreen hundreds of times in such films as Werewolf of London, The Wolf Man, I Was A Teenage Werewolf, The Curse of The Werewolf, The Mark of The Wolf Man, Wolfen, Silver Bullet, Teen Wolf, Bad Moon, Ginger Snaps, Underworld, and Skinwalkers. In this class, there are two Werewolf films a cut above all others; John Landis' An American Werewolf In London, beloved for its mix of intelligent humor and nightmarish scares, and Joe Dante's The Howling, featuring malevolent Werewolves, top-notch transformations and strong satirical elements.
While I personally prefer An American Werewolf In London, The Howling is a close second in the pantheon of Werewolf films. Darker and edgier, The Howling is a love-letter to the classic werewolf films from Universal Studios in the '30s and '40s and Hammer Films in the '60s and '70s. Four years after its release, Howling II: Your Sister Is A Werewolf, also known as Howling II: Stirba - Werewolf Bitch, was unleashed. Other than returning producer Steven A. Lane, no one from Dante's film returned for the sequel. Interestingly enough, Gary Brandner, the author of the 1977 novel The Howling Dante's film was based on, co-wrote the script for this, as he was reportedly unsatisfied with what Joe Dante did with the source material.
Taking this bit of trivia into account when thinking about this film, I can only conclude that either Brandner wrote a first draft re-written by the other writer, Robert Sarno, or that his ego was so massive that he had no idea that he was raping his own creation to death, because that's exactly what he, Sarno and director Philippe Mora have done. Howling II is a clusterfuck of such epic proportions that I don't even know where to start. And I've seen some of the worst horror films out there; Strawberry Estates? Yep. Bloody Murder? Ouch. Rick Bota's Hellraiser sequels? Dear God. The Platinum Dunes remakes? Unfortunately. Asylum films? Kill me now. My soul has been crushed by this genre many times over, but it's been a while since a film left me this shattered. Where to begin?
Let's start with all the great things The Howling had that the sequel misses. Now look, I'm not saying sequels have to copy their originals. However, I do believe it's important for a sequel to carry over elements from their predecessor. Other than having evil Werewolves that can turn at will, this doesn't feel like it's in the same world as Dante's film. All of that clever satire you loved the first time? Gone, other than some minor character named after Hammer director Freddie Francis (no relation to the Fred W. Francis character Kevin McCarthy played in the original film). The likeable, charming cast of characters? Yikes, this cast can't muster a single ounce of charisma if their lives depended on it. The sinister, frightening Werewolves? They must have been on vacation, because these Werewolves are some of the biggest wusses I've seen in forever and most of the time, they're in human form! WTF!?!?!??!!!?!?!
We've established that this cast sucks gerbil balls, but in what ways? Let's start with the casts' worst offenders; Reb Brown and Annie McEnroe. Brown's appearance as Ben White, the brother of original protagonist Karen White, came after the two roles he's best remembered for, Captain America in two TV movies from 1979 and the titular character of Yor, Hunter From The Future. Not exactly an impressive resume and this performance doesn't help his image; he's flat the whole way through, delivering his line with negative zero emotion and smiling most of the time. That being said, at least he's not dull; that seems to be Annie McEnroe's job. She has no personality to speak of and, other than giving Captain America someone to have sex with, adds nothing to the film.
If there's one thing Howling II has going for it, it's Christopher Lee. With the possible exception of Robert Englund, Lee is the most iconic horror star alive today. He's played Dracula more times than anyone else on film, in addition to appearances as Frankenstein's Monster, Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde and The Mummy. Lee, by his own admission, agreed to play the heroic Stefan Crosscoe only because he had never been in a Werewolf movie. Is Lee any good here? Sure; he's the one bright spot in the cast. Even at his age in this film, Lee's eyes and voice create a commanding presence Howling II is not worthy of. Unfortunately, Lee can't answer the lingering question of who Stefan is and why he's hunting Werewolves. I don't need an overly detailed explanation, but if you're going to give your film a Van Helsing type, we the audience need to understand what motivates him to kill lycanthropes and, while we eventually discover a connection between him and Stirba, it's so threadbare and late in the film that it has no real impact.
The few brave/stupid people who defend Howling II often point to Sybil Danning as being one of the best things about it. Danning has had a long career in cult films such as Reform School Girls, Chained Heat, Amazon Women On The Moon, and Battle Beyond The Stars, for which she earned The Golden Scroll Award of Merit from the Academy of Science Fiction, Fantasy and Horror Films. She's certainly a stunning, gorgeous woman and I can see her being effective in the right role; Werewolf Bitch Stirba is not that role. If you're going to have a Werewolf Queen, you need to believe that she can command legions of lycanthropes around the world and has wisdom, power and menace that makes her a formidable foe. Danning does the best she can, but she doesn't have nearly enough screentime to create any real menace; it doesn't help matters that when she is onscreen, she's only doing one of two things; ripping her clothes off and having sex with other Werewolves or conjuring some unknown hocus pocus while wearing a ridiculous black-and-gold rubber bathing suit with rubber sleeves and leggings.
Without doubt, the Werewolves seen in The Howling were the creepiest, coolest Werewolves committed to film, An American Werewolf In London notwithstanding, and the transformation scenes themselves were revolutionary. So how does Howling II stack up? Doesn't the above picture say it all? No? Alright then, they suck. Not only do they look nothing like the Werewolves from The Howling, most of them are shot from a far distance and barely visible. When you do see them, they look more like primates than wolves and the transformation scenes themselves are clearly rubber puppets. Worst of all, our three primary Werewolves never fully turn; at best, they're just covered in hair and have claws and fangs. Hell, the puppet Werewolf in the village scenes looks better.
Who's to blame? Philippe Mora. Let me quote Scott LeBrun's mini biography of Mora on IMDB:
"...a highly talented artist and film-maker with an impressive resume to boast of...Philippe Mora has definitely left his mark in both art and film." Either LeBrun has never really seen Mora's films, or Mora's paying him off. There's no way you could possibly call this guy talented. He seems more interested in showing some bad '80s new wave band rocking out than creating any sort of tension or atmosphere. Not to mention his editing; what the heck is with the weird editing transitions? Scenes form out of triangles, scenes dissolve into circles, the Babel theme song re-appears time and time again for no reason and random shots of Werewolves pop up out of nowhere. Worst of all is the end credits sequence set to the Babel theme song when, for absolutely no reason, the shot of Stirba exposing her breasts is replayed SEVENTEEN times! I know she's hot, but seriously? That little fact right there lets you know what kind of people are making this movie; the kind that don't know anything about filmmaking.
I give Howling II: Your Sister Is A Werewolf 0.5 out of 5 Stars. That 0.5 rating exists solely because of my respect for Christopher Lee and Sybil Danning's impressive rack. All in all, I think part of my hatred for this film stems from it being a sequel to The Howling. If it was just called Your Sister Is A Werewolf or Stirba - Werewolf Bitch, I'd still hate it but I'd just let it go and remember as just another shitty horror film. The fact that this claims to be Howling II, a sequel to one of the best Werewolf films of all time, not to mention one of the best horror films of all time, is indefensible. No one, not even the strange, twisted sect of people who like this, could possibly give me a single reason to appreciate this film. And let's not forget; there's six more Howling's after this. God help us all.

Next Up: October 9th: The Curse of The Cat People (1944)

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