1981 was shaping up to be a big year for werewolf fans. Long neglected except for cheesy drive-in fare like Werewolves on Wheels or The Boy Who Cried Werewolf, lycanthropy was due to return to the silver screen in a big way.
Fans remain divided on the results. John Landis’ American Werewolf in London was by far the bigger project, made for Universal and sporting a (for the time) quite healthy ten million dollar budget. Directed by John Landis, a man who never thought too much was enough—an aspect that eventually resulted in people getting killed—the film ladled out a Grand Guignol-esque excess of gore and sex. This was enhanced, or mitigated perhaps, by some real (if occasionally juvenile) wit. It is mostly remembered, though,* for its then astounding practical transformation effects by f/x master Rick Baker, who won an Oscar for his work on the film.
[*Well, that and Jenny Agutter’s nude scenes.]
Many of us, though, prefer the year’s earlier release, The Howling. Reuniting the Piranha team of director Joe Dante and screenwriter John Sayles, that film was slyer and classier. With a budget a tenth of that American Werewolf in London boasted, it offered far less spectacle and certainly less gore. And although the effects work by Rick Bottin was somewhat less elaborate Baker’s for AWiL, it was still pretty astounding. Certainly they strike many of us old farts as vastly superior to most modern CGI transformation scenes.
Still, although I generally disdain John Landis’ overly antic directorial sensibility—he’s the Jerry Lewis of horror filmmakers—I am sure that many enjoy both films. Indeed, they share many aspects in common, including sex, nudity, ur-‘80s air bladder f/x and winking nerdboy senses of humor, the latter represented by a raft of in-jokes (moon-related songs in Landis’ films, wolf-related TV clips and books in Dante’s) and cameos.
True, Sayles and Dante’s comedic touches are at least somewhat more slyly satirical. In the wake of a zillion subsequent films that have also named characters after noted horror directors and the like, some of The Howling’s japes might strike modern viewers as overly familiar and somewhat twee. At the time, though, only the hardcore buffs were likely to get the joke over character names like George Waggner, Terry Fischer, Fred Francis, Jerry Warren and Sam Newfield.
Indeed, the film is so larded with gag references that in one case Dante is driven to make it even more Easter Egg-ish. One character is seen reading a book, the title and author of which are hard to discern because they are in the foreground of the shot and somewhat blurred.
The obsessive, however, can with mild straining decipher the tome to be the classic novel You Can’t Go Home Again. That’s a double joke. The author is, of course, Thomas Wolfe. Meanwhile, the character reading it has been bitten by a werewolf by this point and is unknowingly infected. He indeed won’t be able to ‘go home again.’
I have to admit, although Howling II is generally ridiculous (although the campy subtitle seems like the sort of thing a distributor appends to a rotten movie to make it look like it was intentionally stupid), the fact is that I developed a minor crush on it back in the day on the basis of just one scene. So I’m not sure whether it will otherwise prove a very good review subject. This is especially true as the scene in question occurs fairly early in the picture. We’ll see, I guess.
The ‘series’ of Howling films, which quickly segued into Direct to Video territory, are largely just unconnected pictures featuring werewolves of various stripes. Director Philippe Mora cadged the rights to the franchise, and just ground out a series of whimsically bizarre entries under the Howling label. Infamously, the third movie featured Australian, marsupial werewolves, a breed previously somewhat under-scrutinized in cinema.
The Howling II is therefore marked by being a direct sequel the first one. Or at least it so represents itself. As we shall see, it has very little to do with Dante’s film, certainly not in a tonal sense.
Indeed, to establish this, we should give a brief synopsis of the original movie. If you haven’t seen it, shame on you, and be warned: Here there be spoilers.
Karen White is a popular Los Angeles TV anchor who has been receiving calls from one Eddie, who maintains he’s the serial killer who’s been terrorizing the city with mutilation murders. He arranges to meet her in a skeevy porn shop for an interview. He’ll be waiting in one of the porn video viewing booths, and looking for a big scoop, Karen meets him there. He eventually tells her to turn around and look at him, and she does. She screams.
Two cops hear this, and one, a nervous rookie, opens fire through the wall. Luckily, his bullets only find Eddie, and kill him. Karen, however, plunges into depression and suffers from PSTD. She can’t remember anything that happened in the video booth.
Karen consults a popular psychologist, Dr. George Waggner. He suggests she have a stay at the Colony, his resort for patients who need extra care. Karen is joined by her husband Bill, and at first the other patients seem like a nice bunch. The only one who stands out as a problem is the aggressively sexual Marsha Quist, who seems to set her eye on Bill.
As you’d expect, the Colony is largely made up of werewolves. Waggoner is one himself, but is actually working to help his fellows abandon their violent ways and live in peace with regular humans. Several of his patients resist this, though, including Marsha, who proves to be Eddie’s sister. She indeed manages to seduce Bill, and to turn him as well. In the film’s most famous scene, the two have sex during which they change into their werewolf forms.
Eddie is back on the scene, too, having revived once the bullets were removed from his body. Karen calls on a couple of friends as things progress, and one of them is killed by Eddie. Shockingly, it’s the first fatal werewolf attack in the first hour of the film, and indeed I think the only one in the picture. (This is a huge difference from AWiL, which by the end is wall to wall carnage.) Another friend, Chris, procures some silver bullets and comes to the rescue.
They shoot or burn out most of the werewolves, including Bill—Dr. Waggner, seeing his project in ruins, provokes his own shooting, saying “Thank God,” as he dies—but Karen is bitten as they escape. Knowing she is doomed, she reports to work, and triggers her transformation during the broadcast. (In the process she becomes the cutest werewolf ever.) Chris is ready and shoots her before she can kill anyone. The potency of their mutual sacrifice is in doubt, however. Most of the viewers who see the incident apparently just think it’s a special effects stunt.
But, at least according to this movie, the story wasn’t over….
The sequel’s more overt camp antics, not to mention severe audience wincing, begin immediately. We open on a star field (!) over which appears the visage of *WINCE* Christopher Lee. He stentoriously intones some of the most ridiculous gobbledygook you’ll hear this side of Frankenstein Island. As he fades into shot over said star field, we see he is reciting from some Ancient Tome. The Necrononsensicon, perhaps.
Lee, being an actor not much known for his tongue in cheek side, naturally delivers this monologue like it was a monologue from Hamlet. Due to his extraordinary personal gravitas, he even somehow manages to maintain his dignity. This holds true even when the director fades a skeleton into the shot behind him. (!)
They used to do that exact same thing to Carl Sagan.
“For it is written: The inhabitants of the Earth have been made drunk with her blood. And I saw her sit upon the hairy beast. And she held forth a golden chalice, full of the filthiness of her fornications. And upon her forehead was written, “Behold, I am the great mother of harlots, and all abominations of the Earth.”
Cut to the opening credits, accompanied by (what else) a disco-y music beat. It was 1985, after all. Still, you can’t argue with the cast, as it features not just *wince* Lee but also Sybil Danning. Being European actors who kicked around the continent a lot, it’s actually one of five movies the two co-starred in. I’m assuming the two listed Richard Lester’s pair of Musketeer movies a bit above this one, however.
Also on the veteran front is a thankless role for Ferdy Mayne, who played the Dracula analogue in Roman Polanski’s The Fearless Vampire Killers. He had a minor line in such films after that, appearing in Hammer’s The Vampire Lovers while actually playing the Count himself in The Vampire Happening. He also starred as an undead horror movie star in 1983’s Frightmare, and played (really) God in the repugnant Night Train to Terror (1985). Mayne has over 250 credits on the IMDB, so I guess the occasional piece of dreck is to be expected.
On the American side we have…oh, my. Reb Brown. Was there a worse, more leaden leading man of that era? An era that made Dack Rambo and Jared Martin stars of sorts? And yet he has 60 credits on the IMDB, and more than a few starring roles. Go figure.
The female lead is Annie McEnroe, best known for playing the dishonest real estate agent—pardon the redundancy—in Beetlejuice. She also had genre cred, of sorts, having starred in The Hand opposite Michael Caine. That film was directed by Oliver Stone, who went on to cast McEnroe in very small roles in many of his later films, perhaps viewing her as a good luck charm of sorts. Ms. McEnroe also starred in Battletruck, a Mad Max knockoff, opposite Michael Beck. Beck, actually, can be added to that Brown / Rambo / Martin list.
Ms. McEnroe is…OK, here, I guess. Certainly acting opposite Reb Brown isn’t going to raise your game or anything.
We open in “Los Angeles, California U.S.A.” So not the Los Angeles, California in Pakistan, then. “City of the Angles” a further text then clarifies. Presumably this is meant ironically, or something. Meanwhile, the locale is visually indicated by a shot of palm trees. The verisimilitude is all but dripping off the screen.
Cut to a church. In progress is the funeral of Karen White, the central protagonist of the previous film. No mention is made of her recently murdered husband. Or of the fact that, you know, she turned into a werewolf and was then shot to death on a popular big city news broadcast.
Although the funeral is well attended, no one seen in Dante’s film is on hand, including her coworkers or the station manager. Nor is there any word on the fate of Chris, the friend who by prearrangement shot her with a silver bullet after said transformation. It’s hard to see how he escaped being charged for murder, however.
The scene goes on for a while. Having rented a church, paid a bunch of extras and given veteran production manager James Crawford the role of the priest, well, you’ve got to get your money’s worth. Crawford gets quite a long monologue, and although he doesn’t embarrass himself—he’s appearing, again, in a film starring Reb Brown—it’s not entirely surprising that this remained his only acting gig.
Among the onlookers is Karen’s brother Ben (Brown, here looking rather like a bulked-out Ryan O’Neal). He’s a small town cop from Montana for some reason, perhaps to explain his bolo tie secured with a steer’s head clasp. After all, guys from Montana wouldn’t own a normal neck tie. Also on hand is fellow TV reporter Jenny Templeton (McEnroe), as well as the mysterious and saturnine Stefan Crosscoe (Lee). To be fair, the funeral does provide a logical mechanism to bring together a bunch of characters who haven’t met before, so there’s that.
Soon the coffin is being slid into a niche in a mausoleum wall. The casket is one of those with the little glass viewing panel, so you know we’ll see something ‘shocking’ at some point. Sure enough, as soon as the coffin is sealed away, Karen’s eyes pop open.
We cut outside, whereupon any illusion we were actually in Los Angeles, California—the one in the U.S.A.—immediately dissipates. It’s quite obvious that the exterior of the church, the surrounding graveyard and the people attending the funeral are all clearly European. The conceit that this is occurring, as did the previous film, in Los Angeles is…tenuous at best. Even the actress playing Karen’s now apparently reactivated corpse, one Hana Ludvidkova, is a rather implausible substitute for the all-American, blonde Dee Wallace.
A man is leading Jenny by the arm, mentioning a leaked police report that “six bodies were found mauled and killed, by either wild dogs or coyotes.” We are never given any context on this, so I’m not sure where this event was meant to occur, or how it ties into the Karen White situation.
Nor is mention made of the mass deaths, by gunshot and immolation, at the retreat Karen just been staying at just prior to her death. And, again, her husband, like Karen apparently murdered, remains entirely ignored by everyone in the film. I don’t know, that all seems like it would be a bigger story, especially considering that Karen was a Los Angeles (California U.S.A.) news celebrity.
After the fellow leaves, Jenny glances over to a commotion between Ben and Stefan. The latter is telling Ben that his sister is still alive, a contention the grieving sibling is ill-equipped to deal with at the moment. “It is her immortal soul which is in very grave danger,” Stephan asserts.
This is one of the weirder aspects of this movie, which freely, and oddly, mixes in vampire tropes with the more standard Siodmakian werewolf lore. The first film established that the full moon had nothing to do with the ability to transform*, and this is carried over here.
However, past that there’s a lot of stuff here that just seems lifted from vampire movies. This includes Helen somehow coming back to life in her coffin after taking several silver bullets. At least Larry Talbot had to be exposed to the rays of the full moon before he came back.
[*So The Howling dispensed with the full moon thing, but kept Sidomak’s silver bullet trope. Oddly, An American Werewolf in London flipped this. There David Naughton becomes a werewolf under the full moon, but proves vulnerable to regular bullets, which is also consistent with folklore.]
An increasingly angry—I’m guessing, although it’s hard to tell since he’s played by Reb Brown—Ben asks Stefan to leave. The latter acquiesces, although he gives Ben his card first. Following this, Jenny trots over to ask Ben who that was. Apparently she and Ben already know each other, although they don’t say how.
Examining the fellow’s card, they learn he’s “Stefan Crosscoe, Occult Investigator.” Smelling a story (I guess), Jenny leaves without a word and runs after the mystery man. I don’t know, you’d think she’d mumble some pro forma condolences to Ben before leaving, at least. By this point he must be reflecting on how many assholes there are in the big city.
Jenny catches up to Crosscoe as the latter is walking off in a parade of fellow mourners; all of them, again, clearly dressed in rural European fashions. This is especially true of the kids; one young boy appears to be wearing knickerbockers, of all things.
“That sure was a sad American funeral…here in America…which is where we are.”
Looking on is the veiled Mariana, a pretty woman in a rather tight fitting dress for a funeral. With her is the emaciated Erle (Ferdy Mayne, looking presumably by design quite a bit like an older Peter Cushing). Mariana hisses when she sees Stefan, so apparently she’s one of the bad guys.
Jenny finally reaches Stefan, after hiking up her skirt so she could run after him more effectively. Truly, decorum is a reporter’s most valuable tool. She demands (rather stiltedly) to be told what he knows about Karen’s death. “I know she is a werewolf,” he declaims before leaving. Jenny looks at best mildly surprised by the werewolf assertion. I don’t know, it seems like something that would call for a bigger reaction. Ben appears, and laughs off Stefan’s contention. But then we cut to screaming Karen’s coffin, which she is pounding on from the inside.
Then we cut to a punk club rave, or something. A generic ‘80s band, one Babel (which also provides with film with its utterly blah score), is playing a set to the rather exaggerated fervor of the club’s patrons. Maybe the film provided free beer for the extras or something. One band member, of course, is playing a keytar. So, yes, this was made in the ‘80s.
Wait, what decade was this made in?
Sadly, Babel will play more than one full length song during the film. This is the closest the film comes to being a successful horror picture.
Stefan is there, and provides yet another *wince* moment for Lee’s fans when he is forced to don Devo- sunglasses. This all leads into a long, and utterly extraneous scene where Mariana lures three guys and a punkette in full early Madonna mode to a deserted warehouse for sex. However, Mariana is revealed—are you ready?—to be a werewolf. I know, surprising, right?
She and some of her hirsute comrades POV stalk and kill these folks in a rather by the numbers but drawn out fashion. I don’t know if this reflected a lack of plot, or just that they could only afford Lee and Danning for so many days, and so had to have filler stuff to pad out the hour and a half running time. Certainly the actress playing Mariana is also on hand to provide the nudity that Danning was finally getting reluctant to display for every movie. More on that latter.
There’s some mild gore here, but nothing to write home about. I guess if you’re renting a werewolf movie (is this the sort of thing anybody actually buys?), you expect some killing scenes. So here’s one. It’s not great, but I suppose it provides some low-grade carnage in between the *cough* plot stuff. The extensive use of POV shots, presumably, was so they didn’t have to suit up the werewolf actors as much.
Speaking of, while there are some extremely rudimentary transformation effects here, for the most part the werewolves are represented by furry body suits and masks. One can only guess this kept time-intensive and hence expensive make-up sessions to a minimum. Shots of these cheaper beasties will be kept as eliptical as possible, presumably in hopes of disguising their threadbare nature. Still, here we do see repeated shots of Mariana with some bumpy-face make-up. This doesn’t really suggest a werewolf, so much, but whatever.
Having seen to the obligatory violence, we return to our main, er, characters. Ben and Jenny are seen driving to Stefan’s house. Ben is annoyed, wondering why Jenny would even want to talk to the guy. Jenny, in turn, is annoyed by Ben’s truculence. She suggests he return home to his “sheriff’s office in Montana”—EXPOSITION!—so she can do her job as a reporter.
In reply, Ben pulls out a revolver. He notes with a big smug, crap-eating grin that country boys like him know that “when the varmints start knocking off the chickens, we start knocking off the varmints.” If I’m following this correctly, the dead chicken in this metaphor is Ben’s own recently murdered sister.
The two arrive at Stefan’s house. This weathered stone edifice looks weirdly more ancient and, I don’t know, Romanian than something you’d normally find in L.A. (California, U.S.A.). The inside of the house is as baroque as the outside, and filled with the obligatory display of purportedly occult oddities. The only thing keeping these scenes from being completely ridiculous is, again, Lee’s utter lack of irony. It’s pathetic that actors of his caliber have to resort to stuff like this to find work.
Stefan produces some silver bullets, noting that the same sort was used to kill Karen. He claims, however, that their removal during the autopsy means that Karen will return to life. This doesn’t really comport with the first movie, but really, that’s the least of this chapter’s sins against continuity.
“This type of bullet, Mr. White, means that your sister is a werewolf,” Stefan asserts. Well, it means, perhaps, that someone thought she was a werewolf, which is hardly the same thing. Ben is understandably unconvinced by this purported evidence. And really, even the silver bullets were used on Karen is purely a contention on Stefan’s part.
Despite Ben’s amused reaction, Stefan declaims that “Even now, there are great numbers of werewolves living secretly among us.” ‘Great numbers’ might be overstating thing. If there were, say, thousands of werewolves in America savaging people all the time, surely someone would have noticed.
Still, the general idea does comport with the first film. “Your sister was working on a story about one such group,” he continues. That’s not strictly true. Still, since the film goes far more greatly afield in continuity than that, I guess I should hold my powder.
Stefan further explains that Karen was infected, and thus arranged her own death. Ben stands up to leave, but Stefan’s produces what he claims is the video of her death. Jenny is shocked, noting that the tape of the fatal broadcast is known to have disappeared. Stefan slips it into his VCR, and it’s here that the film won at least a small portion of my heart.
Now, it should be noted that The Howling was a fairly popular movie, and most likely would have been seen by a goodly percentage, probably a majority, of those who would watch this film. It didn’t sell as many tickets as American Werewolf in London, but it did pretty well. My point being that it would have been stuck in the mind of many of those viewing this.
[*The Howling made around $18,000,000 at the box office, while American Werewolf In London made substantially more, with a worldwide gross of around $62,000,000. With a ten million dollar budget, AWiL was clearly a major success. Still, The Howling cost but $1,000,000 to make, and an 18 to 1 return on investment is nothing to sneeze at.]
So it was to my great, aghast pleasure to see that Mora had the spectacular chutzpah to recreate the first film’s climax on what seems to be a $50 budget. We see a woman at a really cheap desk, with a logo for the news station with a different call sign (it’s Kdhb7) than the one Helen worked for in the first movie. None of Karen’s four co-anchors are in evidence either.
What we see here literally looks like the end of the movie made by a junior high school kid who filmed 16mm horror movie recreations in his basement. The idea that films featuring scenes like this could receive a theatrical release as late as 1985 fills my heart both with warmth and bitterness at the passing of a better age.
As the tape starts, ‘Karen’ is already seen wearing some hilariously chintzy werewolf make-up. One can only hope Rob Bottin saw this and appreciated the humor of the thing. Meanwhile, starting the tape after the transformation has occurred presumably allowed Mora both to save money on actually showing the transformation, as well as to allow for a substitution of Dee Wallace’s stand-in Hana Ludvidkova.
Admittedly, the downside of this scene occurring 16 minutes in is the knowledge that it will never remotely scale such heights again for the remaining 75 minutes. Still, Howling II will always be the movie that gave me this sublime moment. Thank you, Philippe Mora.
The film now takes one of its more radical turns from Dante’s movie, as again it seems to plumb vampire folklore. The first film posited the existence of a group of werewolves who were otherwise utterly average Americans. Here Stefan explains that these werewolves emanate from–where else?–Transylvania. The mundane ‘werewolf-next-door’ naturalism of the first movie is thus abandoned in favor of a patently storybook horror tale set in a (coincidentally far cheaper) central Europe locale.
Next Stefan produces a set of photos glued to a sheet of cardboard, looking exactly like something a school kid would whip up for a report. These are pictures of Mariana, who Jenny recognizes from Karen’s funeral. “Werewolves will never allow one of their kind to remain in consecrated ground,”
Stefan intones. Again, this folklore mysticism is about as big of a tonal change from the first film as you could possibly come up with.
Stefan furthers explains that Mariana is of a particularly dangerous kind of werewolf, because “she is immune.” To what, you ask? “Silver bullets are useless against such creatures,” he avers. “Quite useless. Only titanium will kill them.” It should be noted that titanium is much less scarce than silver, so I’m not sure how that makes these werewolves “far more dangerous.” Meanwhile, the entire substitution of one special bullet for another special bullet seems quixotic, at best.
Stefan produces what looks like knitting needle, albeit one supposedly made of titanium. “Tonight I will return to Karen’s grave for her body,” he declares. Karen didn’t actually have a grave, but whatever. Although not directly stated, the pretty obvious implication is that he will plunge the knitting needle into her heart as she lies in her coffin. This is, of course, the traditional manner for dispatching a werewolf.
“These creatures,” Stefan continues, “they have a leader. A woman called Stirba. At the next full moon, it will be the tenth millennium (!!) of Stirba’s birth. At midnight on that day, all werewolves will reveal themselves. The process of evolution is reversed.” Take that, Darwin!
“There are many stages before man becomes a beast,” he continues. This statement is presumably to cover the fact there are many styles of werewolf masks and make-ups on display here, presumably due to budgetary issues. Certainly the background players are generally provided with cheaper costumes that look entirely different than the ones sported by the feature players. Still, at least they made a nod towards this issue. The variety of werewolves is due to reverse evolution, you see. Anyway, the only way to stop the Werewolf Apocalypse, of course, is to kill Stirba, which Stefan is determined to do.
Ben has had just about enough of this malarkey—and really, who can blame him?—and he storms out. Jenny trails after, but not before pocketing a small handful of silver bullets at Stefan’s behest. I hope she has a gun that will chamber them. Bullets aren’t generic, after all. And although she seems to grab up a very small number of shells, later on of course they’ll have an endless supply of them.
Also, weren’t those bullets supposedly silver? What if Jenny and Ben meet up with one of the titanium werewolves. Aren’t those exactly the sort that Stefan just explained are nosing around? See how muddled things can get when you change things for no good reason?
As they drive back, Jenny is heard to say, “Man, I’m sorry about your sister. Want to come in for a drink?” Smooth transition, lady. We cut to a close-up shot of a pair of Bloody Marys (Maries?) being poured. I guess, maybe, this is meant to be a nod to the sort of visual puns Dante seeded throughout the first movie? Although again, a Bloody Mary seems more like a vampire gag than a werewolf one.
Jenny tries to convince Ben of the validity of Stefan’s assertions, which she apparently believes mostly because the script says she does. Of course, our credulity is far more stretched than usual by the whole ten thousand year old werewolf queen and the titanium bullets and such. Still, in for a penny, in for a pound.
She also has to explain to Ben, who appears to be uncommonly dense—a rare attribute ably communicated by Reb Brown’s acting—that Stefan intends to stake his sister’s body. When he asks what she thinks Stefan plans to do tonight, she recites the line “Drive a stake through a werewolf’s heart,” like it’s some sort of common refrain. Again, that’s what you do with werewolves, right? Everybody knows that. Finally putting the pieces together (I’m assuming not a lot of crimes get solved in his neck of Montana), he vows to “kill the son of the bitch.”
As he strides out, Jenny chases after him, after pausing to grab up the silver bullets. Cut to the church that night, which naturally boasts a full moon. Stefan is already there, while we see Jenny and Ben just arriving. Ben grabs up a rifle and walks onto the church grounds. Surely his sidearm would be enough to stop Stefan, but they needed him to be well armed for the subsequent scene, I guess.
They find the chain securing the gate has been broken over, and are at a loss over who could have done it. Uh, wouldn’t they assume Stefan did it? Didn’t they come here specifically to find him? Handing Jenny the flashlight, the pair proceed to amble in a suspenseful (not to mention time-wasting) fashion through the extensive woods that, of course, surround the crypt.
Meanwhile, inside the crypt, which is bloody huge, we see Stefan at prayer beside Karen’s open coffin, in which the occupant is currently dormant. Earlier she was awake in the daytime, and now she’s dormant after the rise of the full moon. Werewolf lore sure is confusing. Anyway, as this occurs, Erle enters and begins to stalk around the place.
Back to Jenny and Ben, who continue to hear wolf howls. Meanwhile, they are being stalked by actors in cheap fur jump suits and the sorts of rubber werewolf masks you might have found in a K-Mart back in the day. Jenny tells Ben to load the silver bullets into his rifle (again, the ones we were told would be useless). He just immediately agrees to this. This again would require far more bullets than Jenny was apparently given, although now she clearly has a much larger handful of them. And again, lucky they are the same caliber as Ben’s rifle chambers. People know bullets aren’t generic, right?
I find Ben’s instant acceptance of the ammunition to be entirely unlikely. Even if he wants to keep Jenny happy, given his irate rejection of Stefan’s claims, it’s hard to see him treating the bullets with anything but scorn. Plus, they aren’t even standard ammo, and were provided by a guy he thinks is a dangerous crackpot. Would he even trust those shells? Probably not. I guess the idea is that he’s starting to believe something is going on here, but even so, he takes the bullets far too readily.
Stefan continues to prayer over Karen’s body, before pausing to sanctify the knitting needle stake with holy water. Again, this seems rather more like stuff from a vampire movie, but there you go. Outside, Ben and Jenny see their first werewolf. Ben blazes away while Jenny runs. Yes, run away from the experienced hunter with the gun. Good survival instincts there, Jenny.
Ben follows after, and they make it inside the crypt just as Stefan is finally ready to plunge the knitting needle stake into Karen’s heart. Despite the whole werewolf thing, Ben is still murderously irate to see Stefan holding the knitting needle stake above his sister’s coffin. Of course, at this moment a furry arm emerges from the casket.
Well, I can only see her arms, but I’m guessing she’s French.
Karen is now a completely naked werewolf. I don’t know where her dress went. Hey, magic doesn’t have to make sense. A startled Ben blazes away. This kills Karen, despite the fact he has silver bullets and Stefan was planning to use the titanium knitting needle stake. Again, the whole introduction of the titanium thing was just a major mistake.
Suddenly they are swarmed by werewolves in full body suits. I can only assume these were repurposed gorilla suits. Ben fires at them, eventually switching to his revolver. This means, assuming anybody thought any of this out, that he loaded his both his rifle and revolver with silver bullets, all out in the woods in the dark. And that his apparently .38 caliber pistol chambers the same ammo as his rifle, with both guns just happening to use the same caliber ammo as Stefan had on hand to give to Jenny. Whew, what a break!
Erle appears, wearing distinct make-up, and Ben shoots him a number of times. In fact, he has now fired his revolver eight times without reloading, an unlikely event. “Don’t let him get away!” Stefan calls as Erle stumbles from the crypt. They follow after him, and Ben throws a cheap nylon net over him. With Erle grievously, if presumably not fatally, wounded—that friggin’ silver / titanium thing—Stefan then brushes the net aside and unsheathes what I assume is a titanium dagger. Holding it over Erle, Stefan demands to know Stirba’s whereabouts.
Erle refuses, but it turns out he seeks death, and Stirba’s location is the price for getting Stefan to kack him. Erle reveals she can be found in “the Dark Country,” and begs for release, which Stefan grants by stabbing him. At this Erle changes back to a peaceful-looking human. And inside, we see it’s the same thing with Karen, who also again has her dress back on. Meanwhile, looking upon Erle’s demise with tears in her eyes—not to mention a werewolf hand that is the only sign she currently bears of lycanthropy—is Mariana.
The ‘peace through death’ thing is of course another classic vampire movie trope Mora just drops into their werewolf movie. There is now so much of this that I have to wonder if Mora just took a preexisting vampire script, and, having secured the rights to the ‘Howling’ title, just halfassedly adapted it into a werewolf movie.
Since it’s hard to deny the werewolf thing at this point, Ben and Jenny tell Stefan they are now with him all the way. This naturally means a quick trip to Transylvania, the traditional home of werewolves. We cut over there, as shots of gothic architecture are accompanied by the film’s now even more egregious disco theme.
Arriving at the predictably picaresque village of Vlkava is Marina, seen disembarking on an old fashioned locomotive. She’s wearing a gaping leather duster with no blouse, affording us plenty of cleavage. She is greeted by Vlad, and they sniff at each other, because, you know, the wolf thing. Then, as a double precaution, they each produce a jagged half of a coin split in two. They put them together, and I was highly disappointed when Shazzan didn’t show up.
Oh, boy, that evil Caliph is in for it now!
Meanwhile, Jenny, Ben and Stefan are arriving via car. They managed to dig up a 4×4 type of vehicle, luckily. I can’t imagine the hulking Brown and the 6’ 5” Lee would have enjoyed being stuck in a typically puny Czech car very much.
Jenny and Ben are clearly getting along increasingly well, with him making fun of her driving—accompanied by Brown’s patented Incongruous Huge Guy Giggle—and sarcastically replying “Yes, dear,” when she asks him to look for a map. But then they’re the male and female lead of a movie, so that’s to be expected. Meanwhile, Stefan (or Lee) assumes a pained grimace at their attempts at badinage, which is entirely understandable.
Then it’s time for one of the film’s intermitted ‘funny’ scenes, although Mora’s sense of humor proves—surprise!—less droll than Dante and Sayle’s. This one involves the truck full of werewolves, including Mariana, that Vlad is taking to Stirba. Noting that “they’re getting hungry,” and having failed to bring food, he and the driver pull over to pick up a convenient pair of hitchhiking German tourists. They climb into the back of the truck, whereupon one of the werewolves (they are all currently in economical human guise) approvingly declares “Schnitzel!” The tourists are subsequently eaten off-camera. Hilarious!
We cut that night to a medieval castle. Inside an old woman is presiding over what looks like and S&M ceremony, with lots of folks standing around chanting in bondage gear. The inevitable sacrifice is carried in, attired in virginal white. The old crone stands over the woman and, via a cartoon (!) beam, sucks in, I guess, the victim’s life essence.
When said energy is completely drained, the crone rises and now appears in the guise of a 40s-ish Sybil Danning. This is, of course, Stirba. We see a head melting in a fire (clearly a wax head in a furnace or something). I guess is somehow supposed to represent the victim being drained of life? Maybe? Anyway, the pack, exposed boobies and all, reacts by howling in the background. This whole scene is just ineffably ridiculous. Still, I imagine any number of beer-blasted teenage video renters back in the day thought it was the bee’s knees.
Stirba pulls off her robe, exposing a predictably sexy and cleavage-tastic black dress. For what it’s worth, Stirba and Mariane are, at least on some faint level, clearly inspired by the sex bomb, black leather dress-wearing werewolf Marsha from the original film. Admittedly, the two characters here are far more ridiculous and comic book-y. Still, of you squint real tight you can sort of see some connection between them all.
Cut to Vlad, wearing a wolf’s fur cowl, standing before a mirror and doing *cough* sexy make out stuff with Stirba. Getting back to what I said just before, the big scene everyone remembered from The Howling was when Marsha seduced Karen’s husband, and they had sex while transforming into werewolves. The scene to modern eyes looks severely handicapped by the limits of low-budget practical effects, but at the time it seemed incredibly outrageous.
Here Mora tries to top that scene (although since the idea’s already been done, it can never be as surprising) by having the two joined by Mariane for a transforming threesome. This mostly involves the three having ever more hair glued to them throughout, although the effect is that they seem trapped in a room with a cotton candy machine gone berserk.
Danning apparently mandated that she would do but one topless shot. (More on that later.) So she pops her top, pretty much literally, tearing it off to expose her generous talents. After that, her boobs are quickly, if not entirely opaquely, covered with fake fur. Mariane has to provide most of the nudity, and has a bit of a faux lesbian bit with Danning. The scene is vastly more silly than erotic, but at least Mora was trying to give the fans what they wanted.
At one point we cut away to the Scooby Gang in the Mystery Machine. Seeing a crowd standing in the road, including a priest, they stop to investigate. The priest explains that a local peasant woman has been hit by a car, and needs to be taken to a hospital. The other villagers begin to leave, and Jenny leans over the woman to try to comfort her. I don’t want to shock the hell out of you, but she’s a werewolf. Before she can do much more than grow some fangs, Stefan pulls out his dagger and offs her. Worst…ambush…ever.
Then Stefan heads off on foot, explaining that he’s heading to the village. Why? Got me. Anyway, Jenny and Ben climb back into the truck. She takes a swill form a flask, and only do the two of them notice a big honking werewolf sitting in the back seat. Luckily, movie tradition holds that said werewolf can’t actually menace them until they see him back there.
Ben somehow gets his gun out (so wait, is that loaded with silver or titanium bullets now…my head hurts) and dispatches the guy. They brake to a half, and somehow their car ends up stopped on the very edge of a cliff. This despite the fact that the long length of road we saw through the windshield seconds ago was along an entirely flat plain. Still, suspenseful, eh?
Back to the Yiffy Sex Scene. Danning is now partly obscured with fake blonde fur and elf ear, and joins Mariana and Vlad in bed. There’s a lot of growling and slobbering and howling. How the hell these actors filmed this without constantly breaking into gales of laughter is a monumental credit to their thespian skills.
Jabootu’s Bad Movie Dimension can not be held responsible for any effects or actions inspired by gazing up this highly erotic tableau.
Meanwhile, Ben and Jenny, apparently having abandoned the truck, are seen walking down the village street on foot. The natives are all dressed in cartoonish Mittle European garb, and there’s a realistically scaled festival / market day going on. Our protagonists check in at the local hotel, where the desk clerk proves to be the Schnitzel guy from the truck earlier. He explains that the goings on are *gasp* celebrating “the festival of the new full moon.”
Ben tries to get two rooms, but Jenny says one room will do. So she’s kind of a hoe, I guess. They are given Room 666, which…I don’t even know. I guess it’s another gag. When Ben mentions that the hotel doesn’t seem to have six floors, the clerk shrugs and replies, “I know. Funny, isn’t it?” Then he and some other dudes sitting around in the lobby all start laughing manically. So, so eerie.
I’ll spare you a detailed description, but sure enough Ben and Jenny go to their suite and have sex. Indeed, they seem inexplicably randy, so maybe the idea was that there’s something in the air because of all the werewolves? Or maybe I’m thinking about this more than the filmmakers did. Before the antics, though, we see Jenny unpacking her bag, from which she produces a big bunch of garlic bulbs. “Just in case,” she explains. Man, her clothes must smell great. Oh, and garlic…never mind.
Back to the sex stuff. Annie McEnroe clearly forewent the extra fifty bucks for doing a topless scene, and so her petite frame is entirely blocked from camera view throughout by Brown’s massive torso. The gag in the scene is that some of the street performers (including Vlad, so I guess the werewolf sex scene is over) outside prove to be werewolves, and leer at each other as they smell Ben and Jerry’s sex scent. Then we cut to a startled-looking owl as Jenny achieves La Petite Mort. I guess—although it can only be a guess—that this too was meant to be comical.
A bit later the two emerge from the hotel, all grinning and such. Because, you know, the sex. Am I still supposed to be thinking about how Jenny’s changed clothes must reek of garlic? Probably not. Out in the street, a little person beckons at them. Thus leading to this bit of Immortal Dialogue:
Jenny: “You see that dwarf staring at us?”
Jenny: “Should we follow him?”
Ben: Why not?”
Who can argue with that logic? I mean, what could possibly go wrong here? Call me stodgy, but I’m not sure why you’d follow a random beckoning street dwarf in a regular movie, much less one in a horror picture.
On the other hand, this proves the correct choice. The dwarf proves to be Vasile, and he brings them to a church where Stefan is waiting. (Should Stefan be encouraging Jenny and Ben to follow random strangers around town?) Vasile is one of four whole guys, including Father Florin, a rotund middle-aged priest, who Stefan has recruited to fight Stirba. They’ve all lost loved ones to the werewolves. Aside the priest and the dwarf, the other two are indistinguishable cannon fodder who you can’t really tell apart.
Stefan again produces pictures of Mariana. She will be attending the Festival, and they are to seek her out. They will then trail her back to Stirba. Ben and Jenny are to look for her in the guise of ordinary tourists enjoying the Festival. If they see her first, they are to report back. Stirba, Stefan emphasizes, is to be left for him to deal with. Before the lovers leave, Stefan presents them with “holy medals,” which will provide them with some undefined protection.
Again, my hat’s off to Christopher Lee. He sells this ridiculous movie and his unerringly ludicrous dialogue well past the point anyone should be able to. Admittedly, Danning also comports herself well. However, she takes the far easier—albeit entirely appropriate—route of camping things up. Lee stays completely in character at all times, and somehow manages to avoid looking like an ass. It’s really quite an achievement, even if you can never shake your awareness that he’s being incredibly wasted here.
We’re definitely at the treading water stage of things, with various incidents and odd little scenes to keep things going until the big climax. More montages of the medieval architecture. Jenny is freaked out by a puppet show featuring a wolf attack. A scene where Jenny’s in the tub (under a ton of suds), and the camera moves toward her, only to reveal that it’s Ben who’s approaching.
He reaches the doorway and yells “Boo!” This might make sense if the couple weren’t, in fact, currently imperiled by werewolves. You don’t pull cheap pranks when your lives are actually in danger. What if the dozing Jenny had a lick of sense and was keeping a gun by the tub? Anyway, the whole scene is filmed in such a low-energy fashion that it never even seems like a false scare.
A particularly odd bit sees Ben and Jenny in bed. She’s perusing a Czech translation book and notes that the name of the town they’re in means “the place where the wolves live.” She and Ben both smile and chuckle over this like it’s an amusing little tidbit. Considering that they are in fact presently ensconced in a remote village full of werewolves, their mirth seems oddly misplaced.
The next day Jenny and Ben, accompanied by Tondo, a hotel employee acting as a guide, are again enjoying the Festival. The camera roams around because, hey, they’ve got 90 minutes to fill. Ben and Jenny again appear genuinely light-hearted and carefree given the circumstances. Ben decides to look for a gift for Jenny. So without informing her, he asks Tondo (who is, after all, pretty much a complete stranger) to watch after her and walks off. Man, these two have to learn to keep their eye on the prize.
A second later Ben spots Mariana, who is strolling around with Vlad. Of course, Ben follows after them without telling Jenny what’s going on. The Hotel Manager joins Mariana and Vlad and points out that Stefan is watching them. They look over at him, and he nods in their direction. Vasile is also with him, and they see them conversing. I’m assuming Stefan isn’t planning anything based on stealth. Stefan sees Ben following them, and doesn’t stop him to ask what’s become of Jenny. And I have to say, the hulking Ben in his bright blue denim outfit doesn’t exactly suggest a ninja.
Jenny finally notices Ben is gone and asks Tondo where he went. Tondo says they are to meet him at “the gypsy camp” out in the woods. This is obviously a lie, just in case we were all just incredibly stupid and didn’t ‘get’ that Tondo would turn out to be a bad guy. He leads Jenny away, and frankly at this point she deserves whatever she gets.
Cut to Stirba, wearing a stiffened leather outfit with boxy, unconnected leather leggings so thick she can barely move. It’s like one of those awkward sheet metal robot suits from the ‘40s, and its especially funny watching her carefully maneuver when she has to bit down.
She is declaiming gibberish via an echo chamber as she calls upon the Forces of Darkness. “By Barabbas, by Satanas, I conjure thee.” Etc., etc. Apparently she is trying to cast a spell upon Stefan.
Ben is following Vlad and Mariana back to Stirba’s castle, and he is turn is being tailed by Vasile, who is running around with a lit torch. (!!) These guys are the greatest team of covert commandos ever. Vasile joins Ben, who immediately douses the torch. You’re in bad shape when that guy is the one making the smarter decisions.
Their quarry enter the castle. Vasile gives Ben some blessed ear plugs. The dwarf then dispatches the outside guard with a knife thrown over a ludicrous distance, followed up with an up close and personal awkward swipe of this huge flail Vasile is carrying. “That’s a definite new kill technique,” Ben chuckles. Yes, there’s no weapon more cutting edge than a flail. It’s like something from a Tom Clancy novel.
The two run inside, where Vasile manages to spy on Stirba, who’s sitting in a throne and stroking a stuffed wolf (!!!) at her side. She is yakking away with Vlad and Mariana, who report that Stefan is in the village. “I have been waiting for him for a long time,” Stirba replies. Then she drops her bombshell. Stefan is…bum bum bum…her brother.
OK, OK, stop the bus. Wait, what? He’s your brother? Didn’t they already establish that Stirba is ten thousand years old? So presumably Stefan is equally ancient, right? We’ve seen that Stirba steals her youth by killing others, but how does Stefan achieve him immortality? He’s a good guy, so presumably not in the same way.
The film unsurprisingly flat out ignores all these issues, but you can’t just open such a huge can of worms and not be called on it. That’s just epically bad scripting. Moreover, you have the feeling that if pressed on it, Mora would just lazily fall back on the “hey, it’s a spoof” defense. This is the sort of thinking that makes intentionally ‘bad’ movies generally so unwatchable.
Stirba finally notices Vasile spying on them, and the latter flees. Yep, I’m sure a dwarf can outrun a bunch of werewolves, right? Vlad and Mariana chase after him and Ben. Stirba, however, stays behind, wielding a goofy looking staff with a leather dragon puppet on it. She recites an incantation, and all her followers begin to transform. The result is a bunch of extras in what look to be barely altered Bigfoot suits, who set out into the woods.
Meanwhile, Vasile trips and his blessed earplugs pop out. Since it’s dark he can’t find them (bring spares, moron). Or maybe if instead of a torch, you had brought a flashlight, that might have come in handy right now. Anyway, Vasile urges Ben to escape and relay Stirba’s location to Stefan.
Stirba’s spell is also apparently fatal to unprotected humans; hence the ear plugs. Eventually Stirba suddenly appears in the woods before Vasile. She’s wearing a cloak whose interior glows red (!), after which she begins shooting cartoon magic beams from her fingertips. We’re a long way from Dante and Sayle’s film, children.
Vasile writhes as his head turns into a clearly fake noggin. This leaks blood, or maybe Cherry Cola. Then his eyes explode, an effect lovingly shown from three different angles. Stefan’s counterinsurgency force just lost one fourth of its native manpower. Well, maybe not a fourth. How do you calculate a dwarf?
Worst case scenario for “get the red out.”
Ben runs through the woods, pursued by various werewolves. Luckily, they prove extraordinarily easy to dispatch with his revolver. Aiding Our Hero is that the gun is, of course, of the never-needs-reloading variety. Again, the whole silver / titanium thing is pretty much ignored; in any case, Ben is sporting the correct ammo.
Cut over to Jenny, who’s apparently been following Tondo into the darkened woods all this time. She finally grows suspicious, which, duh. Tondo proves to be…gasp!…a bad guy, and announces his plans to rape and then kill Jenny. Nice. However, before he can do this, he is hauled off by one of his fellow werewolves for exceeding his portfolio. Stirba wants Jenny unharmed. Stirba appears and removes Jenny’s holy medal—those things are apparently dynamite protection—and notes it can be used to lure in their real prey.
Not that this is necessary. Ben is, after all, heading back to the village. From there he will clearly be meeting up with Stefan and the remaining commandos. And Ben, after all, now knows where Stirba’s castle is. So the whole ‘luring Stefan in’ thing seems kind of redundant. But again, there’s still nearly half an hour of running time left, and they have to waste it somehow.
And so Stephan, still ambling around merrily watching the Festival, sees a masked dwarf. The conceit is that he doesn’t recognize him as Vasile, despite the fact that just from body language it clearly is. The way it’s played I think we’re perhaps meant to think that Stefan has taken the small masked figure to be a child. Since the figure is clearly a dwarf, though, the idea is immediately moot. It’s the sort of thing that works on paper but seldom on screen, like writing a female character who successfully disguises herself as a male.
Anyway, seeing that the little fellow is wearing Jenny’s medal, Stefan chases after him. They end up on the upper floor of a building, where *gasp* it turns out the figure is in fact Eyeless Zombie Vasile. He cuts Stefan with a knife in a minor way, when suddenly Ben conveniently shows up and tosses ZEV out a window. Needless to say, ZEV ends up impaled on the iron spikes of a fence.
Back to the church, where Stefan shows Ben their cache of special weapons. These basically amount to some titanium blades, a container of holy water (?), and another of “Chrism, the consecrated oil.” Oh, and “a chalice which held the sacred blood of Christ.”(!!) That sounds like a pretty monty item, but it never actually gets used that I can tell.
Ben, proving the smart one for once, just grabs Vasile’s rifle. (This just happens to be the same, rather odd model of gun Ben also had back in Los Angeles. What a coincidence.) He and Stefan are thus the only ones armed with guns. Since firearms work ludicrously well on these rather subpar lycanthropes, you’d think maybe the supporting players would get some too.
Meanwhile, Jenny is secured in the castle, in a large chamber whose walls are lined with bones and skulls. It’s actually pretty elaborate, making me think it was already extant and just borrowed for this film, left over from another movie or a tourist attraction somewhere. Anyway, Jenny is trussed up and anointed with blood. She really doesn’t have much to do for the rest of the picture, other than to be rescued.
So the guys set out, again going the stealth route by walking through the woods with lit torches. Meanwhile, at the castle Stirba is presiding over the sort of movie orgy that would make the Church Lady yawn. Sadly, Babel is performing there too. Ugh. I’m sure they gave the band screentime to pay for their score, but believe me, the price was way too high.
Stirba is informed of Stefan’s approach. At her command all her underlings transform and pour from the castle. They attack Stefan’s group, killing but one guy. This despite the fact that dozens of werewolves—the cheap, Bigfoot-looking ones—rush at them in waves. Or that three of the men are only wielding blades.
Ben and Stefan, meanwhile, make hilariously good use of their Never-MT™ revolvers. They just point and shoot and werewolves fall over. It’s not much more choreographed than a kids’ Cowboys and Indians shootout. Let’s just say that Zulu it ain’t. Still, it’s an extended action scene that probably satisfied more than one undiscriminating (or plastered) viewer back in the day.
The other Red Shirt dies a bit later when a werewolf pops up from a ninja pit and grabs him. This is sadly telegraphed, though, by an otherwise inexplicable series of shoe-level shots—it’s like a friggin’ Doris Wishman movie all of a sudden—and thus doesn’t remotely surprise us. And actually the guy is killed by Stefan, who chucks the Chrism in there. This turns out to be basically Holy Napalm, and the werewolf and the Red Shirt go up in a big fireball.
The remaining three decide to split up. You know, Horror Movie Logic. Father Florian makes it to the castle first, and tries to sneak up on Stirba. However, she knows he’s there, and unleashes the leather puppet dragon on her staff. Florian’s head, like Vasile’s, turns into an obvious fake, as the dragon (I guess) shoves itself down his throat until he chokes to death. Or something.
Take that, Game of Thrones!
Ben goes to save Jenny. This involves a hilariously anticlimactic death for Mariana, who Ben just stabs with a knife. Wow. Oh, and he shoots Vlad, who has lost control and turned into a werewolf that doesn’t remotely look like his previous werewolf form. Ben frees Jenny, and they flee. In the process he guns down a few more werewolves. This is all pretty pro forma, as if Mora himself just wanted to get things over with.
Meanwhile, there’s the true climax, with Stefan confronting Stirba. She recites a prayer to the Forces of Evil, he to the Forces of Good. She begins to glow and tosses cartoon energy beams around, while Stefan is (maybe?) protected by a cartoon aura. Or something. There’s the implication that Stirba has seduced Stefan in the past, and expects to do so again. Maybe. Still, nothing like an intimation of incest.
Eventually Stirba’s cartoons seem to overwhelm Stefan’s, and he is drawn into her embrace. However, it’s a ploy, and he instead knifes her. (Again, wowsie. How epic.) She turns back into a crone and then they both go up in mystic flames, which also kill the dragon. I guess that wraps everything up on that end.
Ben and Jenny make it back to the village, where Ben sticks his revolver in a guy’s face and asks for directions to the airport. He then thanks the guy—it’s funny, I guess—and the two of them apparently fly home.
There’s the inevitable coda. Ben and Jenny are in their apartment. It’s Halloween, and the doorbell rings. They are momentarily shocked when the open door reveals a kid in an elaborate werewolf mask. The kid takes his candy and leaves. Ben tells Jenny, with no apparent evidence whatsoever, that the kid must live right across the hall. They knock on that door, but the guy who lives here is a priest. So he wouldn’t have any kids, get it? (I know, just go with it.) How mysterious!
Oh, here are the leads.
And then there’s the de rigueur shot of another werewolf to let us know the menace continues and, finally, end picture.
Oddly, it’s here we get the film’s most famous element. As Babel performs another song (for the love of Pete!), we get a montage of shots from earlier in the movie, cut to the ‘beat’ of the ‘tune.’ This includes, infamously, 17 iterations of the shot where Danning rips her top off.
Legend has it that Danning, who again only agreed to do this one, very brief topless shot, was royally pissed off to learn it was repeated nearly 20 times over the end credits. Considering the amount of crappy, softcore B-movies Danning had already starred it, it says something that Mora managed to find a new way to sleaze her.