Do you remember the first time you saw Howling II: Your Sister is a Werewolf?
For me, it was a sunny winter’s day in 2004. I was working at a local grocery store, one that still had a video rental department. As anyone who used to hunt down video nasties knows, these merchants were hotbeds for abandoned VHS treasures like Bad Channels or Retribution.
Even though the Blockbuster down the street had a fantastic offering of faded ‘80s horror gems, they were missing the first – and best – sequel to The Howling. It was weird. They had everything else, even the franchise’s sixth entry (The Freaks, my second favorite installment). Needless to say, I was kind of perplexed. I knew my life would never be complete unless I got to see whether or not the movie was, indeed, an extended Goosebumps episode like its YA novel title suggested.
Somehow, the very small video section of the supermarket I worked at had it in stock. I could feel the B-movie gods smiling down upon me. After I got off my shift, I grabbed that neglected (and therefore rather dusty) clamshell case and rented it for two whole days.
Those fateful two days changed everything about how I viewed werewolves and their sexuality. Also, my life.
Much like the previous obscurities I had dug up, such as Creepers (aka Phenomena) and Demons, this film became an something of an event for me. It’s what I showed all of my friends at the time who, thankfully, were all as highly as amused by the experience as I was. The editing, the pacing, the story, the lighting, the music, the sheer audacity of its existence – all of it was hilarious and inspiring.
I wanted to know more about it, why it was so absurd, how it was made, and what the hell was up with that theme song. I wanted an explanation. Notice I say wanted, not needed. Sometimes not knowing anything about these mysterious crappy horror flicks added to their gritty mystique.
Sadly, at that time, there really wasn’t much to go on. The internet was still a toddler. YouTube didn’t exist. And on top of that, the damn thing hadn’t even been released on DVD yet! (That would take another year or so.)
Flash forward to earlier this year, 2015, when Shout! Factory released the special edition Blu-ray. It was stuffed with behind-the-scenes featurettes and commentary full of endless amounts of trivia that had my head spinning counterclockwise and then growing extra hair and some fangs.
After spending the better part of a day carefully combing through everything, I present to you (and my younger 2004 self) eight weird facts about Howling II you never knew you wanted to know.
1. The cast and crew were constantly being spied on.
What contributes to the unreal atmosphere of Howling II is the fact that most scenes were filmed in Prague and parts of Czechoslovakia (yes, even most of the scenes that were set in Los Angeles). Since the year was 1984, that means the movie was shot behind the Iron Curtain. Naturally, this was the source of particularly unusual production issues on and around the set, mostly because everyone was being surveilled by the KGB every waking hour.
In fact, both Sybill Danning and Christopher Lee were watched by a strange man that sat in a corner of the restaurant they ate dinner at every night. Even Reb Brown said that during his transatlantic phone calls with his wife, he could hear men breathing and coughing on the line. The truth is, the KGB had no idea what to make of these Americans that were coming in to make a monster movie. Because the cast and crew were there in the name of art, nothing ever came of the monitoring. We think.
2. The werewolves weren’t wolves.
If you watch Howling II closely enough, you begin to realize that one of the strangest, most frustrating things about it is there isn’t much real time werewolf action – at all. Most of the fight scenes are disjointed messy montages with insert shots of prosthetic claws emerging and puppet teeth gnashing and full moons rising. Initially, one could mistake this for an edgy, MTV-inspired creative decision. But, it was actually just a poetic way of dealing with a gigantic production setback.
Turns out the werewolf costumes arrived on set two weeks later than they should have. When he opened up the crates, Director Philippe Mora was stunned to find out they were all second-hand ape suits. The department responsible for making them had just refurbished old suits from The Planet of the Apes TV series, gluing on more hair to make them look “convincing.” Forced to make do with what he had, Mora had to wait until he was back in LA to film the stock footage of the werewolves you see spliced in.
This was something that Christopher Lee was not happy about at all. But thanks to his extensive B-movie credit, Lee was a pro at making a little bit go a long way. To help smooth things out for the production, the silver screen legend improvised a hasty explanation about how mankind devolves into an monkey-like state before turning into a werewolf on film (which is something that I must have zoned out during before).
3. She wore her sunglasses at night. But why?
If there were to be an action figure of Stirba (which, let’s be real, there definitely should be), it would come dressed up in the leather and gold outfit from the epic throne room scene. It would also come with that weird dragon staff thing, the poofy hair, and those Pat Benatar from hell sunglasses, of course.
Speaking of which, the shades weren’t in the script. They weren’t planned at all, actually. Before shooting began that day, Sybill Danning had gotten oil in her eyes during a massage. This caused a painful allergic reaction that she had to cover up. So she pulled a Corey Hart and wound up looking like a last minute badass. In retrospect, I’m glad she did. It’s kinda hard to imagine Stirba without them, right?
4. About that werewolf threeway…
If you were to distill the essence of Howling II into just one of its scenes, it would have to be the hirsute menage a trois sequence between Sybill Danning, Marsha Hunt, and Judd Omen. I mean, come on. How can you top that? After all, it finally shows us what a blonde werewolf looks like.
Well, as you might guess, the makeup process for that wasn’t exactly fun. Everyone involved had to stand naked for eight whole hours while the effects people glued wisps of hair all over their bodies, starting down at the feet. I might also mention that they didn’t have underwear on, either.
When it was finally time to shoot the scene, everyone discovered that all the hair wasn’t sticking on like it was supposed to. Especially if you moved around a lot. Thus, if all three of the actors rubbed on each other and pretended to have actual, y’know, sex – it would ruin all those hours of effects work.
Pressed for time, director Mora and the cast came up with a solution: the actors would simply just lie down and make bizarre (and ridiculous) clawing and biting movements. So, guess what? The did. And that’s why we have furry foreplay goodness now. Whoops, I mean, evil furry foreplay goodness.
5. Oh, and about that werewolf orgy….
Since most of the crew were Czech, they didn’t speak a lot of English. Most of the direction wasn’t easily translatable between director Mora and the extras. This lead to a lot of unexpected surprise touches that give the film an authentic, spontaneous charm that exists despite any arguments about its quality.
This is most apparent in the part with the huge orgy set in the throne room (which was shot in an honest-to-goodness castle, despite what the critics at the time said). There are dozens of people dressed up in medieval bondage gear writhing, groping, and spitting all over each other in a wild bacchanal. And it was all very real, down to the last sweat drop.
As with everything else, Czech extras put a lot of passion and sincerity in their performance. And, as people living in a Communist country, they did what they were told. So when Mora told them to go do it, they literally went and did it. When he yelled cut, they didn’t stop. I’ll let you imagine the rest.
6. Play it again, Stevie.
The biggest star of Howling II is, obviously, its theme song. Think about it. How many movies do you know that have a theme song? Forget Wild Wild West. And Men In Black (actually, it might be best to put most of Will Smith’s filmography out of our minds for the sake of this discussion).
So what’s the story behind it? Stephen Parsons was hired on by Hemdale to compose the score electronically, for cheap. This turned out to be a great opportunity for him as a musician, since he was able to get away with pretty much whatever he wanted to do. Yet although there were barely any rules or limits, the expectations were still high. Producer John Daly and Mora gave Parsons only two days to come up with a title song for the film. That’s why he spent the next 48 hours hiding out in the studio with the band he created for the film (Babel), cranking out different variations of the “Howling”, the movie’s anthem.
So why was it played so often? The first thirty minutes are dominated with montages set to the thing for god’s sake. Although you might think otherwise, its rate of repetition wasn’t precisely intentional. Parsons had composed other musical pieces for most of these sequences on his synthesizer – but they were pulled out at the last minute and replaced with more traditional sounding incidental music by the studio. Parsons suggested that instead of using those cues, which felt out of place with the rest of his arrangement, the scenes should be scored using just the theme song instead.
Everyone hated the idea – except for Daly and Mora, who had the final say. So they went with it, and that’s why you have the song stuck in your head today. You’re welcome.
7. The concert scene was highly illegal.
When Mora and his crew filmed Babel’s live show at a club in Prague in the middle of the night, they weren’t quite sure why all the punk extras were so excited at first. They assumed that it was the genuine spirit of the Czech people coming through in their work once again.
Until the military showed up to ask what was going on.
Turns out that if you’re a teenager living in a communist regime during the 1980s, you’re allowed to go to a concert only if it’s held in the afternoon. Once you’re there, you must remain seated throughout the entire show. And, when it’s over, you must leave in a calm and organized fashion.
Also, crowd surfing? That’s a no-no. And the merch booth? Forget it.
Director Mora nervously explained to the authorities that he was working on a movie. They asked what kind. He attempted to explain what a werewolf was, which was when they starting laughing. They told him to slowly evacuate the building within the next hour by getting people out three at a time. That production managed to do this and finish their shoot at the same time is yet another one of the odd miracles that helped Howling II on its long, strange trip to shock bewildered moviegoers everywhere.
8. Finally – yes, Sybill Danning was pissed about those end credits.
If you were to pick another iconic moment from Howling II besides the lycan threeway, it wouldn’t be the part where the random guy gets his face humped to death by the gargoyle puppet (sorry, dude). Instead, you would most likely pick the unforgettable end credits montage which features a three second clip of Danning exposing her breasts repeated over and over again set to – wait for it – the “Howling” theme song.
Yes. That’s as incredible as it sounds.
Originally, Danning had no idea this was going to be attached to the movie until she attended the premiere, where she sat in the back. When she saw the sequence go on…and on…and on…she became increasingly unamused. The next day, she stormed into producer John Daly’s office and demanded that it be removed from the picture. Since the studio wanted to keep it, they came to a compromise and trimmed it down to the clip repeating only a mere seventeen times instead of infinitely throughout the whole end credits. Gee, what nice guys.