The ’80s babies at Scream Factory have done it again: Howling II is the one of the last movies from that era that you would expect to get the special edition treatment… and yet, here it is in high-def with special features a-plenty. Whatever its failings as a proper horror movie, it has acquired a camp classic cachet in certain cult movie circles and has a fascinating story behind it. Thankfully for the bad movie fans, this new disc takes you deep into that strange story.
You can criticize Howling II for a lot of things but the cinematography is not one of them. Indeed, Geoffrey Stephenson’s camerawork is often quite atmospheric and makes lovely use of the film’s Czech locales. This transfer does well by its look, capturing the location stuff with nice depth and color and handling the frequent night photography well. The lossless mono track is nicely mixed and uses the goth-rock score to nice effect.
The extras begin with two commentary tracks. The first features director Philippe Mora with moderator and extras producer Michael Felsher. Mora has fun talking about his misadventures on the film, which include being shipped ape suits for his werewolves, dealing with KGB agents in Czechoslovakia and a hilarious tale about the technical challenges of directing the werewolf ménage a trois. He’s got a sly sense of humor about the whole thing and Felsher keeps him prompted well, including delving into some questions about the equally weird Howling III.
Felsher returns to moderate a second commentary track featuring composer Steve Parsons and editor Charles Bornstein. Both are interviewed separately for a more relaxed, Q&A-style format. Parsons talks about how he applied rock music methods to film scoring in an experimental way as well as telling some interesting stories about shooting the concert sequence. Bornstein, who admits struggling with the film and its quality, tells some neat stories about dinners with Christopher Lee and how the film’s infamous end credits came to be. He also talks about his early career, a fascinating tale that includes Nicholas Ray, Steven Spielberg and John Carpenter!
Next up are a trio of interviews. The first is a 14-minute chat with Reb Brown, who talks about the oddities of shooting in Czechoslovakia and offers fond memories of both Mora and Lee. He embraces the ridiculousness of the film in a fun-loving way that is charming. Next up is 17 minutes with Sybil Danning. She offers a surprisingly thoughtful chat that covers how she took the role seriously and offers up warm memories of Lee, who she worked with frequently. She also talks about her heated response to that wild end-credits sequence.
That said, the most amusing of the interviews might be the piece involving makeup FX men Steve Johnson and Scott Wheeler. Over 15 minutes, they offer two intriguingly different viewpoints: Wheeler is very fond of it despite the film’s quality because it was an important early gig for him while Johnson views it more sardonically as a film-gone-awry. Johnson also tells the segment’s best story with an anecdote about applying makeup for the big werewolf sex scene.
A few film-based extras follow. An alternate beginning and an alternate opening offer beginning and closing reels for the film that offer slight variations on the editing choices that end up in the film, both taken from what look to be real workprint celluloid. A “Behind The Scenes” option offers up 4 minutes of between-takes goofing around from Mora as he uses the opportunity to create intros for different edits of the film. A theatrical trailer plays up the film’s new wave edge, trying to sell it as midnight movie material. An animated image gallery closes things out, offering an eight minute montage of stills and behind the scenes photos.
In short, this is an excellent package for a camp favorite that few expected to get this level of attention on home video. If you’re part of its following, this offers a nice transfer and an educational set of extras.
To read Schlockmania’s film review of Howling II, click here.