Howling II: Your Sister is a Werewolf, 1985.
Directed by Philippe Mora.
Starring Christopher Lee, Sybil Danning, Annie McEnroe, Marsha J. Hunt, Reb Brown, Jimmy Nail, Ladislav Krecmer, James M. Crawford and Hana Ludvikova.
The brother of a girl murdered by werewolves hires an investigator to track the beasts from the US across to Europe.
So the story goes, when Christopher Lee was cast in Joe Dante’s Gremlins 2: The New Batch the first thing the veteran actor did was approach the director and apologise for appearing in Howling II. Dante wasn’t involved in the sequel to his 1981 werewolf hit but it goes to show a) how fond people are of his movie and b) where Christopher Lee’s career was in the mid-1980s because Howling II: Your Sister is a Werewolf (a horrible title amongst a whole list of even worse alternatives) is both an insult to Dante’s movie and also terrific fun but for all the wrong reasons. Tellingly, Christopher Lee also once remarked that he only took the role because up until that point he had never appeared in a proper werewolf movie, and after watching Howling II some would say that was still the case.
One of those reasons is the casting of Christopher Lee who, at the time, was still remembered for his roles in various Hammer movies from the 1960s and ‘70s and his turn as Scaramanga in the Bond movie The Man with the Golden Gun, but ever since those days the leading roles had dried up. Lee had bills to pay and, like a lot of actors facing a mid-career slump, took to random TV work and forgettable B-movies, and, the odd nostalgia piece like House of the Long Shadows aside, his genre movie stock had dropped considerably during the VHS era as the next generation of horror icons was ushered in. Despite appearing in some total dreck during this period, Lee was never less than professional and in this movie plays it totally straight, delivering absurd dialogue and reading sermons as if nobody had given him the full script and told him it was a serious terror movie (Lee famously didn’t like the word ‘horror’), but have no fear because Howling II is nuts and not to be taken seriously one little bit.
The only movie in the Howling series to directly follow on from the previous one, Howling II begins with the funeral of Karen White, played in the first film by Dee Wallace but replaced here (i.e. there was no way she was coming back for this after starring in E.T.) by Hana Ludvikova, which is attended, amongst others, by her brother Ben (Reb Brown – Space Mutiny), former colleague Jenny Templeton (Annie McEnroe – Beetlejuice) and Stefan Crosscoe (Lee), a private investigator who knows the truth about Karen and how she ‘died’. Initially telling Stefan to clear off, Ben is soon convinced of the truth when Stefan shows him and Jenny a videotape of Karen being shot after turning into a werewolf on TV. After having to kill Karen again as she lays in her coffin, Stefan persuades Ben and Jenny to travel with him to Transylvania (where else?) to destroy Stirba (Sybil Danning – Reform School Girls), the werewolf queen. Easy…
Sounds pretty good but this was the mid-1980s so in amongst the straightforward revenge plot points that tie back to the first movie we get copious amounts of nudity (nearly every female in the film gets their top off at least once), extremely dodgy visual effects that make the drawn-on lightning effects at the end of Hellraiser look like top-end CGI, a new wave/electro-punk band that keeps playing the same annoying song over and over to accompany every werewolf attack, Geordie actor Jimmy Nail randomly popping up in a nightclub scene and, best of all, a 60-something Christopher Lee wearing a pink shirt, leather jacket and shades in order to not draw attention to himself at a punk gig. No really, you have to see it, and if you look really closely on this crisp HD print you can almost see him silently gnashing his teeth in disgust. Perhaps it’s where he got the inspiration for those metal albums he recorded later on – who knows?
Anyway, once the unlikely Scooby Gang get to Transylvania and try to blend in with the locals and their crazy customs – because everybody in Transylvania happens to have fangs and too much body hair – the film goes even more bonkers as Stirba is introduced and spends the rest of the movie strutting about in next-to-nothing (and occasionally nothing at all) and frolicking about with an equally naked Mariana (Marsha J. Hunt – Dracula A.D. 1972), all the while Stefan is amassing some help in the shape of a few more middle-aged men with titanium-bladed knives and vials of holy water ready to take down the forces of darkness. Amidst all of this tomfoolery, Ben and Jenny are getting it on in a badly acted and chemistry-free way as Stirba’s magic seems to transcend traditional werewolf folklore and brings a bit of vampire mythology and Wicca to the party, as Stefan turns up still thinking that this is deadly serious and sets about casting the wicked werewolf queen back to hell… or something.
As you may have guessed, Howling II is total nonsense but despite some dodgy acting and po-faced line delivery it is very clear that the filmmakers are having a blast and not taking it very seriously at all. The final scene of The Howling is recreated briefly, in a shot with the recast Karen White looking less like Dee Wallace’s Chewbacca/Pound Puppies hybrid and more like a toothy extra from Michael Jackson’s Thriller video which in no way, shape or form is meant to be played straight. Also, there is a shot of Sybil Danning’s breasts bursting out of her top that is repeated no less than 17 times during the closing credits while that earworm of a song is played again for what feels like the hundredth time, so someone is clearly having a laugh here somewhere. It isn’t Christopher Lee though, that’s for sure, and although Sybil Danning appears to be playing it a little more arch, she isn’t that much more relaxed about it than Lee is, which leaves charisma vacuums Reb Brown and Annie McEnroe to try and carry the film when the two proper actors (alright, one proper actor and Sybil Danning) aren’t on-screen, and those are the parts when the film threatens to come to a halt. However, the silly and most over-the-top parts involving Lee and/or Danning are tremendous fun, almost Charles Band-ish in style, and make the whole thing worth sitting through, despite having very little to do with Joe Dante’s original classic.
So whether you get any enjoyment from this or not depends on your tolerance for so-bad-they’re-good franchise sequels. Leprechaun 4: In Space, Jason Goes To Hell: The Final Friday, Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Next Generation, Jaws: The Revenge and many other dumb franchise sequels still have their fans and Howling II: Your Sister is a Werewolf fits in very nicely alongside those guilty pleasures, and out of all of the Howling sequels it is the best one as the series took a major nosedive after this when the filmmakers tried to steer the franchise back in a more serious direction and never again hit the stylish highs of the original or the balls-to-the-wall madness of this one. So is Howling II a good movie? Not in the common sense of the word but is it a fun movie that is perfect for a ripping with a few mates as part of a bad movie marathon? Oh yes, most definitely.
But the question remains – just what the hell is Jimmy Nail doing in this movie?
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★