Joe Dante’s The Howling (1980) is one of the finest werewolf movies ever made, but author Gary Brandner was critical of the liberties taken with his original novel. Brandner co-scripted this loopy sequel, the only one of the six film series to take up where Dante’s film left off. It’s a flabbergasting mess, yet this surreal melange of punk rock, topless werewolf sex, a zombie dwarf with exploding eyeballs, a venerable horror icon wearing wraparound shades at a New Wave club, and a sexploitation starlet firing laser beams from her hands, is so compellingly awful this has become an almost beloved bad film classic.
It opens with Christopher Lee floating midst the stars, quoting from the book of Revelations. Now shouldn’t all movies, even Meg Ryan romantic comedies, begin like that? Anyway, Karen White, the TV reporter played by Dee Wallace in the original Howling, is dead. At the funeral, her dumb-ass, hick brother Ben (Reb Brown - a.k.a. Yor, the Hunter from the Future (1983)) and simpering journalist, Jenny Templeton (Annie McEnroe) are confronted by occult investigator Stefan Crosscoe (Christopher Lee), who warns “Your sister is a werewolf” (also the movie’s alternate, US release title). Although Stefan produces video footage of Karen’s lycanthropic transformation, Ben refuses to believe she isn’t dead.
Meanwhile, punk rock werewolf chick, Mariana (Marsha A. Hunt) and her feral manservant, Erle (Ferdy Mayne - probably wishing he was back in Dance of the Vampires (1967)) hang out at a trashy club, where awful synth-rock combo Babel perform the theme song and Stefan lurks undercover. Despite sporting a hilarious snakeskin jacket, denim and shades ensemble, Christopher Lee surveys this throbbing mass of mid-eighties leather and hairspray casualties with the same bemused disdain he held for those groovy hippies in Dracula A.D. 1972. A movie that co-starred… Marsha A. Hunt. If only Peter Cushing and Caroline Munro dropped by, we could have a reunion! But I digress…
After shucking her clothes, Mariana picks up a posse of lowlife punks (including a young Jimmy Nail, with a terrible faux American accent) whom she gorily slaughters. Back at the crypt, Ben becomes a believer after undead Karen springs out of her coffin and they are set upon by moon-crazy werewolves. As Stefan explains, now is a special time when lycanthropes will reveal themselves, for their millennia-old, witch-queen Stirba has risen. It’s off to Transylvania, where a lycanthropic cult revive Stirba with - what else? - a virgin sacrifice, which transforms the old crone into frizzy-haired Amazon, Sybil Danning, garbed in a skin-tight, PVC catsuit lined with mirrors.
Danning pops her blouse open every few minutes, but neither she nor Hunt are all that engaging, especially when transformed for the hairy werewolf orgies that make up the bulk of this bizarre, MTV-styled gothic. Nothing wrong with naked werewolf orgies per se, although connoisseurs might fare better with Naked Werewolf Woman (1976) or Joey Wong in the accomplished, but hard to track down Lady Wolf (1991). Like the inexplicable addition of titanium bullets to lycanthropic lore, and the sacred earwax Stefan and his ill-fated, mace-wielding dwarf sidekick use to block out Stirba’s magic incantations (also handy for avoiding the synth-rock stylings of Babel!), ingredients that could have made for trashy fun are delivered in listless, ham-fisted fashion. Legend has it, when Christopher Lee was cast in Gremlins 2: The New Batch (1990), the first thing he did was apologise to Joe Dante for acting in this. God bless him though, because he lends his customary gravitas to the ropey script. Everyone else is beyond awful, with drippy McEnroe and Brown’s unbelievably thick-headed hero the most woeful offenders. Ben and Jenny’s Transylvanian misadventures amidst mumbling peasants, wolf-worshipping cultists and sinister hoteliers (who book them into room 666!) are tedious filler, culminating in the world’s dumbest sex scene. Watch out for those sniffing gypsies...
Philippe Mora - who landed this after The Beast Within (1982) - overdoes the artsy flash-forward/backward editing and hoary optical wipes, yet makes effective use of the Czechoslovakian locations, wolf men makeup, rubber bat attacks and blood squibs. Mora followed this up with Howling III: The Marsupials (1987), taking a more deliberately campy approach more in line with his superhero musical, The Return of Captain Invincible (1983), which also starred Christopher Lee.
Howling II rouses from its stupor for a blood and boobs climax with werewolves leaping out of the undergrowth, a bat exploding out of dead priest’s mouth, and Lee and Danning zapping lasers at each other, although a jokey coda involving a werewolf boy out trick or treating is just plain weird. And then there are the end credits: a highlights reel wherein Danning’s big, blouse-busting moment is repeated an amazing seventeen times, in perfect sync with the pulsating New Wave theme song!