Howling II: Your Sister is a Werewolf
There are those among us who, in a moment of moral weakness, find themselves unwilling or unable to turn away from a grisly situation. As to the psychological motivations behind this tendency, they are legion and vary from person to person. Perhaps it is a desire to affirm that someone is worse off than you, that even though your rent is overdue and your daughter is hopped up on the goofballs, at least you’re not a corpse being yanked out of some twisted, smoldering wreckage along the interstate. Perhaps, instead, it is little more than a reflex reaction symptomatic of the seemingly insatiable human hunger for spectacle, however grim it may be. And finally, it may be that some of us look out of guilt — that we are torn between not making a gawking spectacle of suffering and ignoring suffering. Whatever the case may be, the urge is there, commonplace, and hardly solely the purview of the misanthropic. It manifests itself in a variety of forms, everything from slowing down to stare at a traffic accident to greedily devouring the sensationalist news about the sordid downfall of a celebrity. Or, in my own peculiar case, it manifests itself in a complete inability to not watch Howling II: Your Sister is a Werewolf every single time I run across it on television.
I have no reasonable explanation for my addiction. At least heroin makes you feel good for a little while. I garner no pleasure from my addiction to Howling II: Your Sister is a Werewolf. There is no benefit to me in staying up until three in the morning yet again just because Howling II: Your Sister is a Werewolf happens to be on. And yet there I am, never the less, Howling II: Your Sister is a Werewolf on the television, a tumbler of bourbon in my hand to help dull the pain, and a deep-seated loathing of myself gnawing away at my very soul as I catch myself tapping my foot in time with that horrid pseudo new wave band that appears in the opening scene. But as much as my hate myself in the morning, as much as my addiction may cripple me socially and bankrupt me morally, I can still go to bed at night with a single dab of salve to soothe my troubled conscience: at least I wasn’t in the movie, which is more than venerated horror film icon Christopher Lee can say.
In 1981, up and coming horror film luminary Joe Dante teamed up with writers Terence Winkless and John Sayles (of all people!) to direct The Howling, an updated werewolf tale released at roughly the same time as John Landis’ An American Werewolf in London. It was a good year to be a werewolf (better than the year in which Van Helsing was released, anyway), because both films were greeted with enthusiasm by fans and praise from a number of hot shot critics. Sequels were in order, but while Landis’ film had to wait roughly sixteen years to get its first godawful sequel, Dante’s own werewolf film wasted no time. Howling II: Your Sister is a Werewolf, also known as Stirba: Werewolf Bitch, was released in 1985 and quickly went down in history (and flames) as one of the worst goddamned movies anyone had ever seen.
I’m not really one to argue — almost nothing about this film resembles anything remotely close to competence. The script by Robert Sarno and Gary Brandner (who’s never written anything but Howling scripts) is dreadful. Direction by Phillipe Mora is passable, but there’s a reason he didn’t go on from here to direct movies that weren’t Pterodactyl Woman from Beverly Hills. The acting is almost uniformly awful, anchored as it is by none other than our good friend Reb Brown and an embarrassed Christopher Lee, who must have been thinking that all those Dracula roles he bitched about his whole career were looking pretty good now that he had appear in movies like this or the one where he fights Chuck Norris. Oh, there’s also Sybil Danning as the alternate title titular werewolf queen (or bitch), Stirba. And some woman named Annie McEnroe who was in Warlords of the 21st Century.
And yet, as undeniably bad as it all is, there I am, every time it’s on television. And what makes it worse is that I own the DVD! I own the goddamn DVD and still I watch it whenever it’s on television. Let this be a lesson to anyone who ever takes my advice on anything; if you ever find yourself faced with a difficult decision and ask yourself, “What would Keith from Teleport City do?” then your immediate next thought should be, “Watch Howling II: Your Sister is a Werewolf.”
Things start out OK. After floating across a starscape in front of a jangling anatomy class skeleton, Stefan Croscoe (Christopher Lee) shows up to harass Ben (Reb Brown), who is supposed to be the brother of one of the women who turned into a werewolf in the first movie. Ben and and his girlfriend Jenny Templeton (Annie McEnroe) don’t take too kindly to this nine-foot-tall guy lurking around the cemetery during the sister’s funeral, constantly walking up to them and, in gravest tone imaginable, delivering the line, “Your sister is a werewolf,” over and over. When, during the next full moon, the sister does spring forth from her tomb and make with the lycanthropy, they are more disposed toward believing Stefan Crosscoe (oh good grief — did a spooky high schooler come up with that name? At least it wasn’t Chris I. Fixtion or something).
They all end up going to Transylvania together, because it is the heart of werewolf power. But they don’t do that before Christopher Lee gets to go to the punky club and put on a pair of those plastic wrap-around new wave sunglasses. If any scene justifies watching this movie, this is it. But when, “venerated horror film icon Christopher Lee dons amusing new wave sunglasses” is the high point of your movie, you know you’re in trouble. Actually, pretty much everyone agrees that if there is a high point in this movie, it’s “werewolf orgy,” but we haven’t gotten to that part yet, and honestly, it’s not as good as ” venerated horror film icon Christopher Lee dons amusing new wave sunglasses.” When “werewolf orgy” isn’t as good as “venerated horror film icon Christopher Lee dons amusing new wave sunglasses,” you’re in ever deeper trouble than you were when it was just “venerated horror film icon Christopher Lee dons amusing new wave sunglasses.”
So next we’re in one of those secret warehouse clubs where the usual assortment of movie punks/new wavers/dominatrixes/neon freaks are hanging out listening to a crummy band called Babel — and by “crummy,” I mean, yes, I did buy the soundtrack…on cassette! I couldn’t help myself. While the band goes through their wolfy song about howling (what a coincidence!), a hot rocker chick named Mariana picks up a couple of typical goofball movie punks who I’m sure had names like Razor and Chainlink and Puke. She shows them her boobs (quite nice of her), then turns into…I guess it’s a werewolf. It looks more like one of those zombies from After Death though. Anyway, she gets all hairy and toothy and rips them apart. When The Rolling Stones wrote the song “Brown Sugar,” it was about Marsha Hunt, the actress who plays Mariana. I bet they didn’t envision her turning into a hairy zombie-woman werewolf, but then, maybe they did. I mean, it is the Stones, after all, and they’re weird dudes. She was also in Dracula A.D. 1972, though I doubt she and venerated horror film icon Christopher Lee looked upon Howling II: Your Sister is a Werewolf as a grade-A reunion.
It turns out that Stirba, the queen bitch of the werewolves, lives in a castle in Transylvania, which in this movie is a country rather than a region and is the seat of werewolfery rather than the seat of vampirism — but whatever, man. Any chance to needle Christopher Lee about the Dracula movies is worth taking. He, Ben, and Jenny must unite to destroy Stirba and her werewolf legion, which includes Brown Sugar and Mickey the escaped convict who hung out with Pee Wee Herman. That actor’s name is Judd Omen. Judd Omen! Seriously, man, if they had named one of the characters Judd Omen, I would have complained about that, but then it turns out there’s really a guy named Judd Omen. I hope he hung out at some point with Thurl Ravenscroft. When Stirba and her minions aren’t messing around with punker dudes at new wave clubs in Los Angeles, they’re busy having werewolf orgies where they all grow lots of hair but don’t quite turn into werewolves, then they writhe about on the big ornate bed in Stirba’s antechamber.
While this is going on, our trio of half-assed vampire killers, err, werewolf hunters, show up and, in one of the movie’s most nonsensical scenes, stumble upon a car wreck out in the middle of nowhere. While all the colorful, toothless local peasants vanish into thin air, Jenny, Ben, and Christopher Lee are attacked by werewolves. In broad daylight. And after Lee battles the murderous locals, he sort of just randomly wanders off and says, “We’ll meet back in the village.” But aren’t they all going to the village right now? Why the hell does Stefan Croscoe wander off at random, except to go weep quietly behind a nearby tree? Sure enough, as soon as he’s gone, one of the dead daylight werewolf things springs back to life to menace our remaining heroes for a little while.
When we finally get to the town, it’s one of those typical bad Eastern European movie towns where everyone is a medieval peasant clad in a colorful array of rags and potato sacks and ill-fitting wool suits, and they all spend every waking hour cackling insanely and making “crazy eyes.” We spend a lot of time watching people wander around the town square or chase midgets in disturbing Punchinello masks. I’d say it’s pointless, but this movie pretty much lost any point it might have had right after Christopher Lee took off those sunglasses. So basically, after some random town nonsense, some lame werewolf ambushes, and that werewolf orgy seemingly playing on loop, we discover that Stirba and Stefan are brother and sister (oh SNAP Stefan Crisco or whatever your name is — your sister is a werewolf, too!), and it is his destiny to put an end to her reign of terror, which seems to consist largely of killing jerks at new wave clubs and inconveniencing the local fall festival or whatever it was that was going on in that town. Eastern European towns are always having some sort of festival in the town square, complete with medieval era puppet shows. No matter what year it is, they’re always watching medieval puppet shows, and no matter what time of year it is, they’re having a festival. It’s sort of how any film that has a chase scene through a Chinatown will run into a lion dance or dragon parade or something, no matter what time of year it is, like they have those things every day in Chinatown.
Oh folks, it’s just terrible. And when I sit down and try to write about this film, it becomes even more evident just how bad it really is. And when the true depths to which this film plummets become thusly crystal clear, my fondness for it is only amplified. In fact, right now, I’m sitting here, writing this, and thinking to myself, “Man, this movie really is horrible. I wish I was watching it right now.” This week, as with every week, I will have the choice to either go out and get a lap dance from a gorgeous exotic dancer or stay home and watch Howling II: Your Sister is a Werewolf, and Howling II will always win.
I guess we should go step by step, and start with the acting. I don’t think I really need to even comment on Reb Brown. I’m pretty sure the big lug might not even know he ever had a film career. He goes through pretty much every film with the same dazed look of confusion on his face, and he doesn’t stretch his acting chops here. Man, I wish someone had put him, Sam Jones, and Miles O’Keefe in the same movie. That would have been a classic. And as for Annie McEnroe — really, do you even care? She looks like Jamie Lee Curtis’ little sister, and neither she nor Reb serve any real purpose than to spout lines like, “What’s going on?” and “Stefan!” Similarly, Brown Sugar and Mickey from Pee Wee’s Big Adventure are mostly there to wear a leather catsuit (what self-respecting canine would wear a catsuit???) and a jaunty circus knife-thrower gypsy outfit respectively.
Sybil Danning is in the film primarily to preside over her werewolf court, then rip her bodice open. Oh, and she wears possibly one of the worst outfits ever made — the pointy-hipped baggy leather catsuit covered in angular mirrors. What in the the hell??? From all I hear, Sybil is a spectacularly friendly and charming person, and I would love to hang out with her for hours on end and listen to ridiculous stories about the making of Howling II: Your Sister is a Werewolf or Panther Squad. The makers of Howling II: Your Sister is a Werewolf must have known that Sybil’s breasts were a much bigger potential attraction than her flashy animated laser beam showdown with Christopher Lee, because her bodice-ripping scene (or whatever you call a leather halter top plastered with giant mirrors) is repeated over and over in the movie — like ten times during the end credits alone. I guess they paid her for a breast flash, and this was their way of getting their money’s worth out of that couple of seconds of nudity.
And then there’s Christopher Lee, who intones every single line with — well, honestly, it’s pretty much the same acting job he always does. No more, but no less even though the material isn’t just below him — it’s also below Reb Brown. “Material not worthy of Reb Brown” is really something, but Christopher Lee still gives it the ol’ college try and treats every single line, no matter how ludicrous, as if it was the single most important line of dialogue ever uttered. That said, Lee’s acting style is not well-suited to making this movie more tolerable, and here in lies the big difference between him and fellow venerated horror film icon Vincent Price. Price would have had a field day with this movie. Lee is way too solemn.
Although PRice would have been much more delicious, Lee’s acting actually works well with the movie’s overall tone. Where Joe Dante’s original was fused with his usual tongue-in-cheek humor, Howling II: Your Sister is a Werewolf plays it completely straight. As far as Howling II: Your Sister is a Werewolf is concerned, this is nothing short of the greatest story ever told, and it goes about the whole nutty affair with a seriousness and complete lack of humor generally only found in adaptations of the various books of the Bible (of which, this might be one, as the whole film opens with Christopher Lee solemnly reading from a giant leather-bound tome while he and that skeleton from the old House on Haunted Hill float around in space).
As goofy as the acting may be, the sets and special effects are even worse. The Howling was famous for its revolutionary (within the world of special effects, anyway) werewolf transformation scenes, which may have been overshadowed by the same in An American Werewolf in London but remain impressive never the less. Howling II: Your Sister is a Werewolf achieves its transformation scenes by showing Sybil Danning making “growly face,” then cutting to someone else making growly face, then cutting back to Sybil, only this time they’ve pasted some mangy hair to her chest. There’s almost no effort put into making any of these werewolves look like werewolves. They mostly look like humans with some fake hair pasted to them. The town/country/region of Transylvania is realized via a painting of some hills and a castle, then one street carnival set. An annoying guy does get his eyes gouged out, but other than that, we’re in pretty shoddy special effects territory this time out.
And the werewolf lore is almost as jumbled and hodge-podge as Underworld, which may or may not be a worse film than Howling II: Your Sister is a Werewolf. It’s really a toss-up. Silver bullets, it turns out, are not what kills werewolves. No, you have to use titanium bullets. If the grubby peasants of yore had no titanium bullets with which to dispatch the werewolves, they could always use the trusty old wooden stakes. I guess a wooden stake will kill pretty much anything in Transylvania. Oh yeah — garlic wards off all evil, too. And there’s apparently a full moon every night.
As bad as Howling II: Your Sister is a Werewolf is, it’s also strangely compelling. Lots of people try to make films this flaky and weird on purpose, and it never works. Howling II: Your Sister is a Werewolf is one of those rare occurrences where a tremendous lack of care, talent, and sanity combined to make a completely warped movie that has immense entertainment value, provided werewolf orgies and midgets getting thrown out of windows are what you consider entertaining (and why wouldn’t you?). Mora pads out his film with inexplicable cut-aways to puppets, people in masks, fake werewolf heads, owls, some complex grim reaper clockwork scene, and whatever the hell else he found lying around the place. It gives the film a bonkers sense of surrealism, though I will bet good money it was less an artistic decision and more an “I really don’t give a crap” decision. Whatever the case, the end result is an off-kilter weirdness I find endearing.
Howling II: Your Sister is a Werewolf isn’t the worst movie ever made, but it’s pretty bad. Still, I really enjoy it. I know I try to cover for the fact by pretending that it is in some way painful for me to watch Howling II: Your Sister is a Werewolf, but that’s not true. I lied. I experience no pain. Partially, this is because I died inside a long time ago. But also it’s because I just like Howling II: Your Sister is a Werewolf despite its being a truly odious example of filmmaking. And I like that as bad and as goofy as it is, this isn’t the worst movie in Christopher Lee’s filmography. Hell, it’s not even the worst movie in venerated horror film icon Sybil Danning’s filmography.