Monday, June 27, 2016
THE HOWLING (1981), HOWLING II (1985)
MYTHICITY: (1) *fair,* (2) *poor*
FRYEAN MYTHOS: *drama*
CAMPBELLIAN FUNCTIONS: *sociological*
I've never read the Gary Brandner novel on which Joe Dante based his classic werewolf film, but from summations, it sounds as if the key idea Dante (or screenplay-authors Sayles and Winkless) took from Brandner was the idea of a community of werewolves living out in the sticks.
Though I believe that there had been a handful of obscure novels depicting societies of werewolves, the idea never became as popular as parallel treatments of vampires. Pop-culture vampires always seemed more than capable of generating their own secret communities, but werewolves were almost always asocial, in line with European folklore's image of the wolf as a predacious outsider.
Though HOWLING is not a comedy, Dante and his writers take full advantage of comic relief to sell the idea of a Esalen-like rural community, wherein most of the members are seeking to control their violent urges with psychological guidance. I confess I never did follow the reason why the head of the community (Patrick MacNee) invites a couple of non-werewolves to join the commune, with the idea of their solving their personal problems. It's something of an absurd premise, but the light touch, used in concert with the gorier shock-scenes, works better than the vast majority of films that have sought to mix horror and humor.
The first HOWLING film is so well-structured that I just about have nothing but banal praise for it, just as most of the other films following in the franchise failed utterly to come up to its standard.
HOWLING II is in every way stupid where the original film is smart, and this despite input from novelist Brandner, and despite the presence of ever-reliable Christopher Lee and gorgeous Sybil Danning in her salad years.
Perhaps because the producers arranged to shoot the film in Prague, the dominant idea from Brandner and director Phillippe Mora was to replace the idea of a werewolf community with that of a werewolf sex-cult, ruled over by an apparently ageless queen named Stirba (Danning). Stirba apparently plans some evil ritual on the "10th millennium" of her birth, although the film is maddeningly vague about what she means to do and how she means to do it. A former sheriff, brother to the leading lady killed at the end of the first film, and a lady reporter are enlisted into the good fight by a road-company Van Helsing named Stefan Crosscoe (Lee). Toward the end of the film it's belatedly revealed that Stefan and Stirba are brother and sister, with scant foreshadowing by the clumsy script, far more concerned with having extras shamble about in shoddy costumes and try to exemplify European decadence. There are some curious, badly chosen attempts to play with the werewolf legend: Stefan advises his adherents that Stirba and her acolytes are so evil, mere silver won't kill them, only bullets of titanium. (Titanium bullets are mentioned in the Mexican "Nostradamus" serial of the 1960s, but this may be mere coincidence, as Mora does not strike me as a fannish type after the example of Dante.) After all this emphasis on titanium, though, at the end Srefan reveals mystical powers and manages to kill his sister with them even as she kills him (perhaps meant to suggest a "love-death," though the film is too muddled to put this across). This final scene does make HOWLING II to be, unlike the original, a "combative drama," for what little that's worth.
There have been worse horror-movies, simply by virtue of being duller than this nonsense. But it's still pretty awful.