Monday, January 5, 2009

The Howling II: Your Sister Is a Werewolf (1985, Phillippe Mora)

There's a story from the production of the original Howling in which someone went over Joe Dante's head and hired a lot of topless women as extras for the climactic confrontation at the end. Dee Wallace, trash cinema's favorite mother figure, was livid at the seemingly broken promise of a "classy" horror picture. The final say came to just one producer, who sped through the highways in the middle of the night, pulled up at the scene of the nudity, took one look and said "It's STUPID." Then he drove off and that was that.

Gary Bradner's original Howling novel is said to differ greatly from Dante's adaptation. Observing that he co-wrote Howling II's screenplay, I wouldn't be at all surprised if the near-inclusion of gratuitous nudity on the set of the first film was simply in adherence to Bradner's apparent mania for werewolf boobage.

There are more hairy breasts in this piece of dementia than a Ralph Bakshi cartoon, and with half as much plot.

The producers must have felt some powerful need to make every aspect of this sequel as different as possible from the original. In Howling I, the hilariously unpretentious Dick Miller matter-of-factly explained that Hollywood's old fashioned lore about werewolves was baloney. Howling II opens with the very old fashioned horror icon Christopher Lee pretentiously prophecising about ancient werewolf lore, while floating in space. Howling I deliberately takes place in non-"horror movie" locations, like downtown LA and a coastal New Age nature retreat. Most of Howling II is set in Transylvania. Howling I had werewolf effects no one had seen before, like practical makeup transformations and rod-puppet werewolves that towered over the human actors. Howling II's werewolves, when they're not naked women covered in fur, are indistinguishable from men in gorilla suits.

Most conspicuously, Dante directed The Howling as an deceptively modern reinvention of the werewolf flick, the better to draw one into the eerie supernatural elements. Howling II's director Philippe Mora goes modern in the worst way possible, by pacing the story as a 90 minute music video circa 1985 MTV. Hyperactive cuts, comic book style wipes, and scenes that last mere seconds. If Chris Lee even mentions the word "werewolf," you've got a 50% chance of Mora cutting to a previous werewolf scene as a helpful reminder of what they look like. Compounding the dissonance is an official Theme to The Howling II, performed early in the film by an actual stinky New Wavish band in a pointless LA club scene and then repeated ad nauseam until you like it, bitch.

In the most bizarre segue possible from the original movie, (spoiler) Dee Wallace is the actual sister mentioned by the title. Not only that, she's not even dead yet. First her newsroom transformation is recreated, with an actress who looks nothing like her, turning into a cheap Halloween mask werewolf that looks nothing like the were-Shitszu from the previous film. Then to heap further disrespect upon Dee and Dante, Bradner and Mora have Christopher Lee dig up her grave to drive a stake through her heart. This is literally the least original thing you can do with Christopher Lee and the most wildly inappropriate cliche to use in a werewolf movie. Coupled with the Transylvania setting, you have to wonder if Lee even read the script when he supposedly took the role on the grounds he'd never done a werewolf flick before.

Howling II's missteps and flailing attempts at outrageousness are very generous. This is the type of film one either turns off in disgust after the first ten minutes, or sits back and enjoys for the spectacle. Between naked actors covered in hair and growling their lines at each other and Christopher Lee in new wave sunglasses, I opted for the latter. This is one of the great trainwreck sequels of all time, a worser 80s horror sequel than Nightmare On Elm Street 2 and lot funnier. Absolutely essential viewing for bad movie junkies.

When the end credits feature an endless loop of Sybil Danning ripping off her top, that's Mora making some kind of friendly admission to the mess he's made; simultaneously rewarding your perseverance while continuing to disrespect your intelligence.

Oh yeah, and because I don't know where to note this - there's a recycled music cue from Return of the Living Dead, and Hostel Part II all but steals the Transylvanian village scene. Who knew?

The rocking, shocking new wave of horror

No comments: