Philippe Mora is a jour­ney­man film­mak­er who has a fas­ci­nat­ing­ly eclec­tic career. Genre fare has played a big role in that career but his rep­u­ta­tion in gen­re cir­cles tends more towards infamy that fame. A key rea­son for this is that he fol­lowed up one of the most beloved were­wolf films of mod­ern times, The Howling, with a pair of sequels that reduced a poten­tial fran­chise to some­thing syn­ony­mous with direct-to-video dreck.

Howling2-posHowever, Mora might have had the last laugh: both of his Howling sequels are so utter­ly bonkers that they’ve acquired a ret­ro­spec­tive cult fol­low­ing. Howling II is the more pop­u­lar of the duo — and it lives up to its rep­u­ta­tion as one of the strangest sequels to a hor­ror hit ever made.

Howling II picks up at the funer­al of the last film’s hero­ine, where her broth­er Ben (Reb Brown) is try­ing to grieve when he is approached by occult expert Stefan Crosscoe (Christopher Lee). He claims that his sis­ter is a were­wolf (also the film’s sub­ti­tle!) and not yet dead. Ben doesn’t believe it but changes his opin­ion when the full moon res­ur­rects his sis­ter and brings in a group of attack­ing were­wolves. Ben and Stefan team up and trav­el to east­ern Europe with reporter/Ben’s love inter­est Jenny (Annie McEnroe) in tow. Their aim is a show­down with were­wolf queen Stirba (Sybil Danning) and her min­ions — and that lupine crew is ready for lycan­thrope vs. human action.

Mora pre­vi­ous­ly revealed him­self to have a camp atti­tude towards the hor­ror gen­re at cer­tain points in The Beast Within, par­tic­u­lar­ly dur­ing its infa­mous trans­for­ma­tion sequence, but even fans of that film might be shocked at how he goes camp-in-over­drive with Howling II. In fair­ness to him: he didn’t have much of a chance to make a seri­ous film: the slap­dash script cares lit­tle for tidi­ness, aban­don­ing plot threads at a moment’s notice. For instance, Jenny goes with the heroes for a news sto­ry and doesn’t so much take a note while she’s there.

That said, Mora shows lit­tle Howling2-01inter­est in scares: he’s more inter­est­ed in shoot­ing a con­cert scene that emu­lates the open­ing rock-video style sequence from The Hunger and stag­ing an unfor­get­tably ludi­crous ménage a trois between three were­wolves in mid-trans­for­ma­tion. His direc­to­ri­al tech­nique is pret­ty slop­py in gen­er­al, with vir­tu­al­ly every set­piece rely­ing on fast edit­ing filled with insert shots to make up for what the mas­ter shots don’t cov­er. Throw in some rub­bery make­up effects and a few bar­gain-base­ment opti­cals and you have a mis­fire for the ages.

However, Howling II is a dopey good time if you can appre­ci­ate a good camp dis­as­ter. The afore­men­tioned were­wolf three­some is one for the record books and the film is filled with sim­i­lar odd­ball moments: a were­wolf howl mak­ing one character’s eyes explode, anoth­er vic­tim who gets suf­fo­cat­ed by a demon’s tale being shoved down his throat and a music video-style end cred­its scene where a shot of Danning yank­ing off her blouse is repHowling2-02eat­ed no less than 17 times, com­plete with shots of char­ac­ters from oth­er sce­nes being cut in to do dou­ble-takes at the sight.

Howling II also has a once-in-a-life­time cast. MST3K favorite Brown blus­ters his way through the pro­ceed­ings like he was in an action movie and his non-reac­tions to shocks will raise smiles with the bad movie crowd. McEnroe gives a quirky light com­e­dy per­for­mance and Danning off­sets her stiff line deliv­er­ies with some mem­o­rable dis­plays of flesh (some­times fur-cov­ered). The cast also includes Ferdinand Mayne pick­ing up a quick pay­check alongside ex-mod­el Marsha Hunt, who is as cloth­ing-averse as Danning. Lee is the only one who tries to play it straight and his abil­i­ty to keep a straight face in the­se wacko pro­ceed­ings is a tes­ta­ment to both his tal­ent and innate dig­ni­ty.

In short, Howling II is every bit the dis­as­ter that its rep­u­ta­tion sug­gests but it’s also hyp­not­i­cal­ly weird in a way that its rep­u­ta­tion can’t describe. If you want to do a sur­vey of bad hor­ror flicks from the ‘80s, your list sim­ply isn’t com­plete with­out it.