People ask me all the time if being a DVD reviewer means I have to go through all of the extras before I write my reviews.
No… it means I get to.
In the case of some films that can be a real pleasure, whether the movie itself is terribly great or not. Howling II: …Your Sister Is a Werewolf, is a prime example of that very phenomenon. The film itself is surreal, bizarre, over the top, funny, crazy, and deeply flawed. Shout! Factory’s excellent 2015 Blu-ray of the film not only cleans up the sight and sound beautiful, but it also packs the disk with bonus features such as two commentaries, a theatrical trailer, documentaries, interviews, and even a still gallery.
In days like these, when DVD extras as a standard feature are on the decline, this package is incredibly refreshing. In the case of Howling II it’s downright necessary simply to figure out what the hell they were thinking when they made this bizarre film.
The great Christopher Lee, who passed away shortly before this Blu-ray’s release, plays Stefan Crosscoe, something of the Van Helsing of all werewolves. This is, of course, ironic, seeing as how Lee became famous for playing none other than Count Dracula. The queen of the werewolves in this case is an old and decrepit crone named Stirba (Valérie Kaplanová) who, through some magical and mysterious ritual, is turned into 33-year-old Sybil Danning, much to the delight of the audience.
This oddity of a transformation takes place not long after the finale of the first film in which Karen White revealed the fact that Werewolves are real to the entire world via live TV broadcast. This is retconned in Howling II as a secret videotape. Since director Philippe Mora never bothered to watch the original film, this retcon can be written off, as can the fact that Karen White is now played by Hana Ludvikova (E.T.’s mom declined to return for the cameo). Karen’s on-camera death brings her co-worker Jenny Templeton (Annie McEnroe) and Karen’s brother Ben White (Reb Brown from such unmitigated classics as Yor, the Hunter from the Future, and Captain America II: Death Too Soon) together with Lee’s werewolf hunter who actually does reveal the film’s subtitle “… your sister is a werewolf”.
Hey, if you think that’s bad, the alternate title is Howling II: Stirba — Werewolf Bitch.
The trio travels to Eastern Europe (the film was actually filmed in Prague, deep behind the Iron Curtain) to help prevent some sort of wacky werewolf apocalypse. What follows is a series of hokey lines, contrived situations, werewolf orgies, werewolf threesomes, werewolves that look like something out of Planet of the Apes (and the bonus features reveal why), and even werewolf rock concerts. Reb Brown is all clichéd swagger. Lee gives his most serious performance but often looks embarrassed. Lee had since been open about his criticism of the film.
The truth is that Howling II can be a lot of fun in a lot of ways. The film is well-shot, and it makes great use of the natural scenery as well as the unique gothic architecture of Prague. Even the goth-rock theme song (written by composer Stephen W. Parsons) is pretty damned cool, even though it is greatly overused in the film. That said, director Mora clearly didn’t take the film terribly seriously, so why should the audience? It’s just a crazy, crazy, crazy movie. As the final credits roll, you are most likely going to wonder what the hell you’ve just watched.
This is especially true after the now-infamous closing credits scene in which producer John Daly (a 13 time Academy Award Nominee — not kidding) had Syblil Danning’s rapid-fire striptease replayed no less than 17 times. Danning was livid at the exploitation. Mora was not.
This is one of the many revelations found on the Shout! Factory release. Danning gives a long-form interview, as does Brown. Mora’s contribution comes in a feature-length commentary. The second commentary is given by Parsons and film editor Charles Bornstein. There is also a documentary/interview with makeup effects artists Scott Wheeler and Steve Johnson.
One thing that just about every voice agrees on within these bonus features is that Howling II is an almost universally reviled film, not just by the critics, but by the cast and crew themselves. Bornstein repeatedly states that he wishes he could expunge all existence of this film from his résumé and describes the film as, and I quote, “fucking horrible”. Mora, on the other hand, seems to be the only one of the crew who looks back upon this film and laugh today as much as he laughed during the making of the film.
If the subtitles “Stirba Werewolf Bitch” and “Your Sister is a Werewolf” aren’t glowing signs pointing to the fact that you shouldn’t take this film seriously one iota, I don’t know what could possibly give you that hint, except for actually watching the damned thing.
Make no mistake, however: even though Lee considered this to be the worst film he had ever made (and please note, Lee starred in Police Academy: Mission to Moscow), the director considered it to be a joke, and while many members of the cast and crew are ashamed of their involvement, there is a lot of fun to have in Howling II, whether you watch it ironically or not. It’s not very scary, but it is a goofy, funny, and good time, even if you owe your brain an apology afterward. Yes, folks, there actually are some good parts.
Like any good Blu-ray release, this one enhances the film with excellent bonus features. In some cases, these add some depth to a flawed, low-budget movie. In other cases, the extras act as something of a collective apologist for the film, explaining and attempting to excuse the film. Still, other instances of the extras make Howling II even funnier, and much more of a cult classic.
For fans of werewolf movies, especially the Howling films, this is most assuredly the Blu-ray for you. This is not a movie to buy streaming online. This is a Blu-ray that earns its worth with its extras that truly prop up the legendarily silly feature film they come with. A stylized threesome where the actors can’t actually touch each other (for fear of ruining their glued on werewolf hair); Christopher Lee in funky New Wave sunglasses; Sybil Danning shooting weird optical effects from her fingertips; long expository dialogue that Lee can barely speak without laughing; Reb Brown at his most Reb Brown; and quite possibly the weirdest closing credits sequence you’ll ever see: where else are you going to find anything like this?
Nowhere. Howling II may well be a train wreck, but it is a train wreck that also involves a clown car. In other words, it’s exactly the kind of wreck that you simply cannot look away from.