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.
However, 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 interest 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 repeated 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.