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Thursday, July 9, 2015

New on Video: New-Wave Werewolves in Howling II

Posted By on Thu, Jul 9, 2015 at 1:15 PM


The Howling was not Joe Dante's first film. He'd already co-directed Hollywood Boulevard in 1976 with Allan Arkush, 1978's Piranha by himself, and did uncredited work on Arkush's 1979 Rock 'n' Roll High School. They're all classics in their own way — Piranha was written by John Sayles! — but it was The Howling that put him on the map. Released during the werewolf-happy year of 1981, which also saw saw the releases of An American Werewolf in London and Wolfen, it brought Dante to the attention of Steven Spielberg. Spielberg he cast Dee Wallace Stone in E. T. after seeing her in The Howling, and kickstarted Dante's most fertile period, a chain of solid work including the best segment of Twilight Zone: The Movie, followed by Gremlins, Explorers, Innerspace, The 'Burbs, and the underrated Gremlins 2: The New Batch, and what may be his masterpiece, Matinee.

But we're not here to praise Joe Dante. We're here to talk about the sequel he had nothing to do with: Howling II, which is being released on Blu-Ray on July 14 by Shout! Factory.

Just what the heck this movie is actually called depends on where you look. The onscreen title is Howling II: Your Sister is a Werewolf, and that's what Shout! Factory is officially calling it, but that's also a very dumb title which I personally reject. (The posters and trailers imply that it's actually Howling II: It's Not Over Yet, which is perhaps a little less dumb.) The "sister" of that title is Dee Wallace Stone, seen in footage from the first film, and the "your" is a big hunk o' beef Ben (Reb Brown). He's recruited to go to Transylvania to take on the werewolf queen Stirba (Sybil Danning, in all her squished-cleavage glory).

Howling II doesn't have a lot going for it, but I'll give it this: there was an attempt to cash in on the whole "New Wave" thing, which wasn't really a thing anymore by the time of the film's 1985 release, but by god, it has the band Babel performing their song "Howling" in a club in Romania, both early in the film and again over the end credits. The quality of the video below is lousy, but I gotta say, the song is catchy (and you can hear it better in the trailer).

The movie also stars Christopher Lee (RIP), and in his audio commentary, director Philippe Mora says that Lee kinda hated everything about being in the movie. [UPDATE: Mr. Mora disagrees with my interpretation of what he says in the commentary about Mr. Lee's feelings about working on the film, and we bicker about it in the comments below. Check it out, it's fun!] In his own commentary on the Gremlins II Blu-ray, Dante recalls with some amusement that when he met Lee, the first thing Lee did was to apologize for having been in Howling II. For his part, Dante says he hadn't even remembered that he'd had been in that film in the first place. No doubt Lee was relieved, and he was a consummate professional, so you can't really tell how much he hated being there. And he was such a class act, he even maintained his dignity while wearing these.


Howling II has two particular footnotes in horror-movie history. For starters, it's one of that string of horror sequels in which an American director is followed up by a not-American director, more often than not Italian. Other notable examples include Jeannot Szwarc's Jaws 2, Lucio Fulci's Zombi 2, and perhaps most notoriously, Claudio Fragasso's Troll 2. The sequel to Dante's other early-career horror movie, Piranha 2, was directed by some "James Cameron," which is an Italian name if I've ever heard one.

The other footnote is that it spawned a series of sequels which, if they didn't go straight to video, might as well have: 1987's The Marsupials: Howling III, 1988's Howling IV: The Original Nightmare, 1989's Howling V: The Rebirth, and 1991's Howling VI: The Rebirth. Shout! Factory even released III, V, and VI in a triple-feature Blu-Ray back in 2010, because somebody had to.

But if you have to see a Howling film, be sure to start with the original.

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Sherilyn Connelly

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