Sequels often fall short of the original and never has this been more true than with Howling II. The original Howling, released in 1981 and directed by Joe Dante, achieved box office success and helped reinvigorate the werewolf genre in the early 80s. The sequel was released in 1985 and has only a thin tie-in with the original film. Its over the top name (known as both Your Sister is a Werewolf and Stirba: Werewolf Bitch in some markets) foreshadows the film’s equally over the top plot and characters.
Howling II was directed by Phillipe Mora who completed another well known 80s creature feature, The Beast Within in 1982. While the film features a stable of mostly B-movie actors, it is notable for casting horror icon Christopher Lee in the role of Stefan, a seasoned werewolf hunter. Apparently one of his least favourite films, it is said that Lee later apologized to Joe Dante for appearing in this undeserving sequel to Dante’s original film when he was cast in Dante’s Gremlins 2.
The awkward opening monologue sets the tone for the rest of the film with Christopher Lee reading some nonsensical scripture in front of an oddly out of place space background. The story begins at the funeral for the journalist heroine from the original film who it turns out was a werewolf herself and was shot as she transformed on the set of her TV newscast. Lee crashes the event to inform her brother Ben, played by Reb Brown, that hey, your sister is a werewolf! He also helps to save the day when she tries to escape from the grave.
After some convincing, Ben joins forces with Stefan and Jenny, a colleague of his sister and travels to Transylvania (hey why not?) to take on an evil pack of werewolves led by the evil queen Stirba. The queen werewolf is played by Sybil Danning who was a staple of many B-movies in the 70s and 80s such as Chained Heat and Malibu Express. Danning’s resume for camp was put to good use in this movie, and she pulls off the role of the nympho lycanthrope leader with great enthusiasm.
The rest of the film basically follows Stefan, Ben and Jenny as they traverse the villages and countryside of Transylvania in search of Stirba and her pack of sex crazed werewolves who spend as much time holding orgies in their fortress as they do terrorizing the villagers. For a low-budget 80s horror film, the special effects and make-up for the werewolf transformations were actually not bad, unlike the repetitive synth-pop soundtrack that played incessantly throughout the film.
There is little suspense in Howling II and a lot of camp. I’m still not sure if was intended to be a horror-comedy or if it just turned out that way. I wouldn’t be surprised if “Your Sister is a Werewolf” was added to the title post production when the film makers realized what type of film they had inadvertently made and decided to rebrand it as horror-comedy to save face.
The most memorable scene of the film when comes when Christopher Lee attempts to go undercover at a music club filled with punk rockers in order to track down the werewolves. Seeing Lee dressed up in full 1980s punk attire trying to blend in with a bunch of twenty somethings was truly a sight to behold. I can only hope that Lee was well compensated for the indignity of appearing in this film and the damage it caused to his reputation as a serious actor.
The “climax” of the film involves Stefan taking on Stirba in a battle of good vs. evil that ends as predictably as you might expect after a fleeting embrace between the two. Plot and character development are definitely not the strong suits of this film and the main thing Howling II has going for it is the presence of Lee who provides a semblance of respectability. Throughout the film I wondered how he ended up in the role while watching somewhat mystified as he tried to bring some credibility to a film that is otherwise devoid of any redeeming qualities.
If you’re a fan of Christopher Lee you may want to skip this film as you’ll likely never look at him the same way after you see him in his 80s club attire but if you’re in the mood for some camp or a little lycanthrope lust, Howling II: Your Sister is a Werewolf may be worth a watch.
Howling II is currently available to stream on Tubi (US).
This is my entry in the Christopher Lee Blogathon hosted by Cinematic Catharsis and Realweegiemidget Reviews. Thanks for including Maniacs & Monsters and for picking such a worthy theme – sorry I picked such an unworthy film. 🙂 My maniacal partner in crime has also contributed an article for the blogathon about a slightly more respectable Lee film. You can read it here.