Release Date(s)1985 (July 14, 2015)
Studio(s)MGM/20th Century Fox (Shout!/Scream Factory)
- Film/Program Grade: D+
- Video Grade: B+
- Audio Grade: B+
- Extras Grade: A-
The Howling, along with An American Werewolf in London (and to a lesser degree Wolfen), recharged werewolf movies in the 1980’s, giving many that would come after them a run for their money. Joe Dante’s original helped perfect werewolf movies with ground-breaking special effects and a slightly satirized take on the genre. It also unintentionally began a series of less than stellar horror sequels, many of which went straight to home video. The first to come along was the 1985 sequel Howling II.
The movie picks up directly after the events of the first movie. The funeral of TV news reporter Karen White, who is killed after going on the air and exposing werewolves to the world by turning into one on camera, is taking place. Her brother Ben (Reb Brown) is in town to find out exactly what happened to her with local news reporter Jenny (Annie McEnroe) tagging along. With the aid of werewolf expert Stefan (Christopher Lee), the three scour the Transylvanian countryside searching for the queen of the werewolves, known as Stirba (Sybil Danning). Soon they are out to stop her and her kind before they can completely infiltrate society and take over the world.
Howling II has earned a reputation for being a notoriously good-bad movie, but also a cult movie of sorts because of the sex appeal of Sybil Danning and the presence of horror icon Christopher Lee. The movie often feels like it’s trying to pass itself off as a fevered dream, as if it was directly inspired by Don’t Look Now, but without the elements to make it as compelling. Even Christopher Lee, who had done his fair share of questionable movies up to this point, was purportedly so embarrassed by the movie that he later apologized to Joe Dante for being in it while working on Gremlins 2: The New Batch. Most of the blame falls squarely on the lackluster script, the actors’ performances, the editing choices... well, everything really.
Howling II was shot in various parts of Soviet Russia and Los Angeles with a very low budget by director Philippe Mora, who had previously helmed The Beast Within, and also later shot the following sequel Howling III: The Marsupials. Unlike the first movie, the second featured more direct involvement with novelist Gary Brandner, who wrote the book upon which the first movie was based. Although this movie gives his second novel screen credit, it winds up actually having very little to do with it plot-wise. It was also originally released as Howling II: Stirba, Werewolf Bitch, as well as Howling II: It’s Not Over Yet (as seen on the movie’s poster and VHS art). However, Howling II: Your Sister is a Werewolf (sometimes with ellipses, sometimes not) seems to be the title that everyone seems to remember.
All aspects of the movie considered, there just isn’t much in the way of positive things to say about it really. It’s certainly not a stand out good-bad movie in the overall stratosphere of garbage cinema, but it certainly has many memorable moments that manage to keep you engaged just enough without resorting to getting up and shutting it off. As special effects artist Steve Johnson correctly points out in the extras, “if you even try to compare Howling II to Howling I, ...you are tripping.” Indeed the final product makes you wonder if the people behind it weren’t on something when deciding to venture forth with it. It’s basically a garage band type of movie with a little bit of charm. It manages to get everything wrong, yet still winds up being somewhat entertaining despite itself.
Scream Factory’s high definition video presentation of Howling II features a very healthy transfer of the movie, but not without its problems. It’s a very grainy presentation that is mostly organic in appearance, but brightens up some of the darker scenes. Fine detail is very good most of the time, however. Colors are represented well-enough, as are skin tones. Black levels are never entirely consistent from scene to scene, with quite a bit of crush creeping in. Shadow details are sometimes still good, but because of the crush and the inconsistent grain levels during darker shots, not everything is represented as good as it could be. Contrast and brightness levels are pleasing enough, and there are no signs of digital enhancement, major compression issues, or overt film defects to be found. The latter consists mostly of some thin vertical lines and light white specks here and there. It’s a very clean presentation overall, and while it does have some problems, it’s still highly watchable. As for the movie’s soundtrack, a single English mono DTS-HD track is available. It’s a track that’s surprisingly robust when it comes to the music, and both dialogue and sound effects are clean and clear. Simply put, it’s a satisfying one channel audio track, of which there are no major qualms to be found. There are also subtitles in English for those who might need them.
Scream Factory has put together a very nice extras package once again, particularly for a movie of this caliber. There are two audio commentaries: one with director Philippe Mora and the other with composer Steve Parsons and editor Charles Bornstein; Leading Man, an interview with actor Reb Brown; Queen of the Werewolves, an interview with actress Sybil Danning; A Monkey Phase, interviews with special make-up effects artists Steve Johnson and Scott Wheeler; an alternate opening and ending; a set of behind-the-scenes footage; the movie’s original theatrical trailer; and a still gallery. It should be noted that the TV version of the movie included an additional scene and different end credits, neither of which have been preserved here (perhaps due to not being able to find usable elements).
Overall, Scream Factory’s Blu-ray release of Howling II will be a very welcome release for many cult horror fans. Die-hard fans of the first film might turn their noses up at it, but it’s a movie that’s extremely high on the camp and is at least memorable, which is saying a lot.
- Tim Salmons