[‘THE HOWLING’ WEEK] EVEN CHRISTOPHER LEE’S DIGNITY WAS NO MATCH FOR ‘HOWLING II’

 

HOWLING II (a.k.a. HOLWING II: …YOUR SISTER IS A WEREWOLF and HOWLING II: STIRBA – WEREWOLF BITCH) really is as memorably bad as its reputation. Even more damning for the franchise is that it is not even close to the worst film in the series. Trying to put together an epic werewolf film with a budget that should barely cover craft services for a week, director Philippe Mora steers the film from accidentally awful to intentional camp in his efforts to make a coherent movie. The resulting mishmash of cheap-looking special effects, tonally clashing performances, and terrible dialogue is actually worth seeing for the pure, unadulterated trashiness of it all. And nowhere is that trashiness more obvious than in the pained expressions on Christopher Lee’s face as his dignity is put through the wringer.

 

I have not seen every project of which Lee was a participant—the man has over 280 listed acting credits on IMDB, for god’s sake. Given the fact that he took so many paycheck gigs in his career, I doubt HOWLING II was the worst film he made. But I am willing to bet that it is the one film in which this most dignified of British movie stars was unable to hide his absolute disdain for the material. That he was often the sole cast member in some very bad films who managed to rise above the hacky material, his loss of composure in a cash in sequel is worth contemplating. At the very least, it humanizes Lee a bit to see that not even he was able to elevate every terrible scene or bit of dialogue thrown his way.

 

 

With that in mind, let us understand how Christopher Lee’s brilliance was often taken for granted by highlighting the five most cringe-worthy moments he endured in HOWLING II.

 

Number One: “The filthiness of fornications” (and plastic skeletons)

Lee had one of the greatest voices in film acting. It is surprising when you consider he became famous playing a character who rarely spoke. But once filmmakers heard his sonorous tone, they used his voice to add gravitas to the silliest of films. HOWLING II is no different in that intent. The script by Gary Brandner and Robert Sarno requires Lee’s character—paranormal investigator Stefan Crosscoe—to do all the heavy lifting of exposition. But Lee’s opening dialogue, reading some supernatural nonsense from a book (example: “For it is written, the inhabitants of the Earth have been made drunk with her blood and I saw her sit upon a hairy beast and she held forth a golden chalice full of the filthiness of fornications.”), while he is superimposed over shots of the cosmos with a cheap plastic skeleton behind him, is pointless and silly and oh so embarrassing for the actor.

 

 

Number Two: The Pentacle of Power

Even though they are not the final lines spoken in the film, Lee’s voiceover prayer of “Oh, pentacle of power, be thou fortress and defense to Jenny Templeton against all foes visible and invisible in every magical work.” comes close enough to the conclusion to be considered a bookend that complements his opening reading from the book. It is certainly just as silly and random a collection of mumbo jumbo as the opening. Even though Lee barely appears on screen for this bit of narration, making it impossible to see his level of embarrassment, I winced for him anyway.

 

Number Three: Exploding Holy Water…for werewolves

Christopher Lee was a highly educated man, so it is no surprise when he looks positively mortified to yell a random string of words in Latin that actually mean nothing when put together in the order spoken. To make the scene even sillier, he then throws exploding Holy Water on a werewolf because, “Hey, look! It’s Dracula using Holy Water to kill a werewolf!” I suppose in the world of HOWLING II, if a vampire had shown up, it could be killed with silver bullets.

 

 

Number Four: “Your sister is a werewolf”

There is a lengthy scene in the first act where Lee’s character is forced to explain the ending of THE HOWLING and the nonsensical mythology of HOWLING II‘s plot to the other characters. Lee’s voice was made for exposition, but this dialogue is so slapdash that it seems to have been hastily scribbled on the back of an envelope five minutes before the scene was shot (examples: “This type of bullet, Mr. White, means your sister is a werewolf.” and “There are many phases before man becomes beast.”). Not surprisingly, in his commentary track on the Blu-ray, Mora reveals that this was more or less the case as he and Lee quickly brainstormed some ideas to explain why some of the werewolf costumes were actually ape costumes left over from the original PLANET OF THE APES movies—seriously.

 

Number Five: …There really are no words

Presented without context: Christopher Lee “undercover” in a New Wave club, wearing a satin shirt, leather jacket, and wrap-around sunglasses. I am honestly stunned that he allowed such a visual to happen.

 

 

To be fair to Mr. Lee, there are far worse moments and performances in this film and he was forced to play many of his scenes opposite sentient hunk of wood Reb Brown. But Lee also had the most sterling reputation of any member of the cast to be tarnished. While HOWLING II was not a career killer, it did mark possibly the lowest moment in the fallow period of his career before fans-turned-filmmakers like John Landis, Joe Dante, George Lucas, Peter Jackson, and Tim Burton started taking advantage of his elder-statesman-of-genre-films status. While he never lost his dignity during his impressive career, HOWLING II was the closest he ever came to doing so. In a perverse way, that is an impressive feat of filmmaking.

Matt Wedge

Matt Wedge

Matt Wedge is a writer, film fanatic, cat herder, and Daily Grindhouse news editor whose obsession with the films of Larry Cohen and sticking up for unfairly-maligned cinematic bombs can be read at his site, Obsessive Movie Nerd. You can follow him on Twitter as @MovieNerdMatt.
Matt Wedge

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