Howling II: Your Sister is a Werewolf Blu-ray Review (originally published 2015)
After newscaster Karen White's shocking on-screen transformation and violent death her brother, Ben (Reb Brown), is approached by Stefan Crosscoe (Christopher Lee), a mysterious man who claims that Karen has, in fact, become a werewolf. But this is the least of their worries... to save mankind, Stefan and Ben must travel to Transylvania to battle and destroy Stirba (Sybil Danning), the immortal queen of all werewolves, before she is restored to her full powers! (From Scream Factory’s official synopsis)
Movies – sequels in particular – are often burden with the brunt of audience expectations. For years, there were many accepted truths about horror franchise films. In those days, any deviations from a formula (Danny Steinmann’s Friday the 13th: A New Beginning , for example) were to be avoided and chided at all costs. Slowly, but surely, these films tend to find their audiences, thanks in large part to the fact that they break with the formulas that inspired them. Scream Factory and other boutique, genre-centric labels are very good at ignoring years of poisonous word-of-mouth when re-releasing cult titles to new audiences. Philippe Mora’s Howling II: Your Sister is a Werewolf (aka: Howling II: Stirba – Werewolf Bitch, 1985) is what they refer to in the home video industry a ‘hard sell.’ Originally belonging to that class of sequel that was hated simply because it didn’t follow the formula set by the film(s) before it, Mora’s film is so weird, so badly conceived, so anarchically stupid that its horrible reputation has endured for decades. But these are also the ingredients for a new cult classic, which begs the question – is Howling II unique and entertaining enough to deserve revisiting, like another once-hated horror sequel, Tommy Lee Wallace’s Halloween III: Season of the Witch (1982)?
The short answer is that I don’t think Mora can make a movie entirely bereft of entertainment value. His entire career is defined by movies that are crummy in broad strokes (bad editing and inconsistent photography are his trademarks), but amusing in fine details and solitary sequences. The ‘best’ Mora movies are eccentric, genre-bending blobs brimming with colourful imagery and comfortably horrible jokes. Howling II definitely fits the mould, but anyone that has seen the more Aussie culture-flavoured Howling III: The Marsupials, knows how much further into madness Mora could take the franchise (despite its lack of R-rated sex & violence). Comparatively, Howling II is a disappointment – both as a sequel to Dante’s film and as a full-bore Philippe Mora movie. It’s just too tedious. There are oddball additions worth revisiting (the script is strange by anyone’s standards), it just so happens that most of the enjoyment is ironic. Laughing at the antiquated, MTV imagery (Mora seems to have been more inspired by John Landis’ “Thriller” music video than Dante’s film), hideous mid-‘80s clothing, and Christopher Lee’s inability to hide his disdain for the project outweighs any genuine and intended enjoyment.
Howling II was released on barebones anamorphic DVD stateside via MGM and is making its unlikely Blu-ray debut here. There is less print damage (i.e. some white flecks and vertical black scratches here and there) and the overall image is cleaner than expected from this 1080p, 1.85:1 MGM scan. Unfortunately, there are also some signs of DNR enhancement, which leaves some of the otherwise tightly separated details flat and grain levels suspiciously soft. Close-up textures are well-preserved, while wide-angle images suffer fuzziness and slight banding – both of which might be a side effect of soft focus photography. This may be due to compression, though other compression artifacts are minimal, aside from slight sharpening haloes around the harshest highlights. The colors are pretty vivid, but also show signs of post-scan tinkering. The night scenes have a modern blue/grey tone and suspiciously poppy pink skin tones. Blacks are inconsistent and gamma levels appear pretty flat.
The original mono soundtrack has been preserved in DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0. Despite the lack of a stereo mix (which would be unusual for a studio film at the time, but not for a foreign production), the dialogue and incidental effects are clear (if not a little thin) and the more aggressive sounds are nicely layered. Steve Parsons’ ‘wee-woo-wee-woo’ keyboard and drum machine soundtrack is an enjoyable addition, but doesn’t crop up often enough to make a difference. The score and a song from obscure pop band Babel called, appropriately enough, “The Howling,” are warm and punchy when cranked loudly enough, but tend to be pushed into the aural background.
Commentary with director Philippe Mora – This pleasantly honest discussion with the director is actually the preferred way to view the film, despite some loss of focus as it drones on. His Christopher Lee stories, though brief, are golden, as is the extended conversation about shooting behind the Iron Curtain in the Czech Republic. Michael Felsher once again acts as moderator.
Commentary with composer Steve Parsons and editor Charles Bornstein – This technical commentary moves quickly, in part because Parsons and Bornstein don’t stick to Howling II – they instead take the chance to discuss their entire careers with each other. It’s a pleasant track, though it may have worked better as a podcast interview.
Leading Man (13:50, HD) – An interview with actor Reb Brown, who covers his career in television (including Captain America TV movies) and B-movies, and shares fond memories of Howling II.
Queen Of The Werewolves (17:00, HD) – Actress and sex icon Sybil Danning is dressed to the nines for this new interview. Her opinion of the film and the role are also affectionate, not to mention incredibly specific. She also has good Christopher Lee anecdotes to share.
A Monkey Phase (15:30, HD) – Special make-up effects artists Steve Johnson & Scott Wheeler humbly discuss the film’s cheap yet charming physical effects work.
Behind-the-scenes footage from Mora's personal archive (3:50, HD)
Alternate opening and ending (10:30, 9:50, HD)
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