Friday, May 26, 2017

Gateway Lynch - BLUE VELVET

To celebrate the return of Twin Peaks after a twenty-five year hiatus, I wanted to dip into the exotic, surreal pool of David Lynch films.  Obviously, the most appropriate film for the occasion would be TWIN PEAKS: FIRE WALK WITH ME, but that might be a little too on the nose.  Also, it only came to me just now as I was writing this, and I already made a bunch of notes about a different movie, so I’m sticking with that one.  It turns out that might be an even more appropriate choice, though, because Lynch’s 1986 masterpiece BLUE VELVET could be thought of as his proto-Twin Peaks

The Capsule:
When Jeffrey Beaumont (Kyle MacLachlan) returns to his quaint hometown of Lumberton due to a family emergency, the discovery of a human ear in a field sends him on a dark and increasingly dangerous journey into the corruption hiding just underneath the town’s friendly surface.  His desire to help a desperate and alluring singer, Dorothy Vallens (Isabella Rossellini), sets the innocent young man on a collision course with the abusive, explosively psychotic hoodlum Frank Booth (Dennis Hopper).  Sandy (Laura Dern), the sweet, innocent police detective’s daughter, becomes Jeffrey’s only connection to the light, and the one person who can save him from disappearing completely into the town’s seedy underworld. 

BLUE VELVET wasn’t my first introduction to David Lynch.  That would be DUNE, the doomed sci-fi epic that I saw too young to understand but fell completely in love with none the less.  I had also seen his more traditional drama THE ELEPHANT MAN, which had far fewer spaceships and giant worms, but still captivated me.  As much as I liked those movies, they did not prepare me for BLUE VELVET.  It was like nothing I had ever seen, both beautiful and transgressive.  Like many people developing their taste for strange, BLUE VELVET was the perfect gateway drug.

I’ve seen the movie at least a dozen times, but this was the first time I completely keyed in to how much it could be considered a dry run for Twin Peaks (or Twin Peaks as an extension of BLUE VELVET; however you want to say it).  Lumberton does not look particularly Northwestern (the movie was filmed in North Carolina), but it shares the same heavy lumber town motif central to Twin Peaks.  They also share a quality of being stuck in time, specifically the ‘50s, even though they take place in the present day.  Both towns cover their dark secrets under a layer of bright, law abiding hospitality.  They have matching diners (Arlene’s in BLUE VELVET, The Double R in Twin Peaks) where the kids meet for exposition and devising plans.  Each one has a smoky bar where an enchanting torch singer performs.

Many of the hallmark touches Lynch would use in Twin Peaks are on display here.  There are the hallucinatory dreams, the moments of melodrama, the quirky humor.  No dancing dwarves, but someone does use a very unconvincing disguise.  Not as unconvincing as Piper Laurie pretending to be an Asian man, but it's a start.

BLUE VELVET’s characters have their Twin Peaks correlations as well.  Jeffrey Beaumont has the makings of a Junior Agent Dale Cooper.  Once he catches hold of the mystery, he will not let it go, regardless of the personal risk.  He has Cooper’s earnestness and curiosity.  And while Cooper is a seasoned professional, they both share the same excitement at uncovering secrets.  When Jeffrey is explaining to Sandy what he had learned while staking out Frank Booth, he proudly uses nicknames for suspects like The Yellow Man, or The Well Dressed Man, exactly the way Agent Cooper would.

Jeffrey’s first real encounter with the dark side brilliantly twists the tone of the movie, going from innocent to uncomfortable to completely fucked up within the space of a few minutes.  He is still playing Hardy Boys when he sneaks into Dorothy’s apartment looking for unspecific clues in the Case of the Severed Ear.  When the mysterious singer unexpectedly returns home, Jeffrey hides in the closet.  He watches her through the slats of the door as she undresses, which is not very Boy Scout of him, in my opinion.  Dorothy seems to agree, as she grabs a butcher knife and pulls him from the closet.  The situation becomes more and more squirm inducing as she goes from angrily interrogating him, to ordering him to strip, to practically raping him at knife point.  Things only get worse once Frank shows up.  Dorothy shoves Jeffrey back into the closet where he has to watch Dennis Hopper give one of the most disturbingly effective explosion of psychotic acting ever filmed. 

Frank Booth is a live wire of menace.  He is already on edge when he enters the room because the meticulous script he imposes on Dorothy was not performed to the letter (“Where’s my fucking bourbon?”).  The light has to be just so, she can’t say anything to him or touch him, and for god’s sake, DO NOT LOOK AT HIM.  Frank is totally unhinged, and that is before he starts huffing from a canister of amyl nitrite.  Then all of Frank’s unhealthy mommy issues come out.

Even though she is at no point dead and wrapped in plastic, Dorothy mirrors the tragic face of Twin Peaks', Laura Palmer.  Like Sheryl Lee’s character, Dorothy is a victim of hideous forces beyond her control.  Both women internalize all the abuse, sending them farther down a twisted, self-destructive path.  After Booth’s assault, Jeffrey tries to help Dorothy, but she has no interest in being helped.  Instead, she goes right back to seducing him as if nothing had happened.  Her behavior vacillates between Booth’s aggressive style and her own masochistic feelings of worthlessness.  Jeffrey, being a fresh faced young horndog, is happy to go along until she whispers “hit me” in his ear.  At first Jeffrey reacts to this total boner killing moment appropriately, but she keeps pressing the issue until he gives in.

Jeffrey's attraction to the dark side puts him at odds with Agent Cooper’s unbending morals, and makes it harder to match him to any one person in Twin Peaks.  Most of the younger characters dabble in being bad to various degrees (Bobby, James, Audrey, Donna), but none perfectly capture both Jeffrey’s weakness to temptation and his tortured guilt at being unable to resist.   He keeps going back to Dorothy, not to help get her out of her situation, but for sex.  She is obviously not in a rational state of mind, saying things like “I have your disease in me now,” as if were romantic rather than batshit crazy, but he keeps coming back.  

Not that his illicit affair keeps him from also making time with Sandy.  The counter point to Dorothy, Sandy is introduced emerging from darkness like a beam of light.   She is the clear prototype for Lara Flynn Boyle’s Donna in Twin Peaks, sweet, pure, and trusting.  They even both have meathead football player boyfriends named Mike.  

Jeffrey does his best to keep his two worlds separate, but they collide in a spectacularly messy scene.  While taking Sandy back from a party, Jeffrey is chased home by a speeding car.  Jeffrey is relieved when it turns out to be a drunk and jealous Mike intent on kicking his ass rather than Frank Booth come to kill him, so much so that he completely throws Mike off his game.  He gets even more confused when Dorothy, naked and beaten up, staggers into Jeffrey’s yard.  He crudely asks Jeffrey “is that your mom,” but shuts up once he realizes the woman is hurt.  All he can do is apologize as Jeffrey and Sandy cover up Dorothy and get her into the car.  I love that one of Mike’s moron friends breaks the somber mood by complaining “I thought you were going to kill that guy.” 

It really gets awkward when they get Dorothy back to Sandy’s house.  Dorothy keeps clutching onto Jeffrey, calling him her secret lover and proudly telling Sandy and her mom, “I have his disease in me,” as if it meant they were engaged or something.  Understandably, Sandy doesn’t take it so well, but later she forgives Jeffrey over the phone and tells him she loves him.  Man, she should have twisted his balls a little before taking him back.  This is more than being stood up at the dance, Sandy.   Make him grovel for pulling some shit like that.

Dennis Hopper makes Frank such a singular and unique creation it’s hard to compare to anyone else, ever.  Frank Booth is the King Fuck of Psychos.  If you had to match him to a Twin Peaks counterpart, he’s most like a combination of Eric DaRe’s abusive lowlife criminal Leo and the chaotic malevolence of Bob (Frank Silva).  Not even a body hopping demon can hold a candle to Frank Booth, though.  He’s the type of guy you never want to be noticed by.  I get a pit in my stomach the moment he locks his eyes on Jeffrey coming out of Dorothy’s apartment.  It’s like being spotted by a tiger, but one that wants to fuck with you for a few hours before biting your head off.  With no way to refuse, Jeffrey gets dragged into one of the most intensely nerve-wracking road trips in history.

One place you never, ever want to be is stuffed in a muscle car between Raymond (Brad Dourif!) and Paul (Jack Nance, Pete from Twin Peaks in a very different role), with Frank Booth at the wheel.  It is a tense experience.  Frank's toadies don't get many lines, but with faces like theirs, they don't need them.

Their first stop takes a turn towards the surreal when they meet up with Ben (Dean Stockwell in his best role ever) a delicately suave heroin junkie who runs the most depressing brothel ever.  There's nobody quite like Ben in Twin Peaks. Ben is just Ben.  At first he seems like he could be sympathetic to Jeffrey’s dilemma since he appears to only be placating Frank for his own safety, but he turns out to be just another willing denizen of Frank’s strange world.  He sucker punches Jeffrey in the stomach, just because he can.  Then, in one of the most bizarre musical numbers ever, he entertains Frank by lip syncing a Roy Orbison song into a work lamp until Frank’s mood swings and sends his entourage back on the road.

Things come to a head when Jeffrey, unable to stomach Frank sexually abusing Dorothy (while driving AND huffing gas), suddenly punches the lunatic in the face.  Everything screeches to a halt and the cronies pull Jeffrey out of the car and hold him in front of Frank, who is literally delirious with rage.  Thanks to Hopper’s performance, the scene transcends from simply suspenseful to full out nightmare.  The crossed wires in Frank’s brain keep mixing up violence with attraction.  One second he is threatening to shoot Jeffrey in the head, the next he is smearing on lipstick and kissing the terrified kid over and over on the mouth.  Realistically we know the hero won’t die in the middle of the movie, but aside from death (maybe?), all bets are off.

Right in the middle of all this we get a beautifully Lynchian moment.  While Dorothy is in the car screaming for Frank not to hurt Jeffrey, Frank demands someone put on the Roy Orbison music again.  As soon as the song starts playing, the random hooker who tagged along from Ben’s place wordlessly gets out of the car, climbs onto the roof and starts go-go dancing.  No one acknowledges that this is happening.  It is wonderful.

Jeffrey only winds up having the shit beat out of him, which is the most he could have hoped for.  Especially since—as rumor has it—the original script had him waking up in a field with his pants around his ankles.

Their final confrontation occurs in the place where they first crossed paths.  [Spoiler for a 31 year old movie] For all his unrestrained brutality, Frank still gets outplayed by Jeffrey's quick thinking at the end.  The look of shock on Frank’s face when he realizes Jeffrey has the drop on him—the second before the kid puts a bullet through his head—is priceless.  Frank Booth’s exit is just as sudden and violent as his entrance into the movie.

The final shot of the film is a symbolic image of good triumphing (or eating) evil.  Everything is set right and life in the sun can continue.  The happy ending extended to Lynch as well.  The movie’s success allowed the director to bring us darker, stranger material, including expanding BLUE VELVET’s premise into an entire television series, one which very much subverted its predecessor’s tidy ending.  Lynch learned that just like Jeffrey, his audience had a fascination with the dangerous, sordid world lying just under the cheerful surface.  We should thank him for allowing us to safely dig in.

As Frank would say (by way of Ben’s toast), “Here’s to your fuck.”

C Chaka  

Friday, May 19, 2017

Better Off Bad: IRONMASTER

The classic story of good versus evil can be deceptively complicated, especially those times when evil is so much cooler than good.  Face it, villains often make the best characters.  They get all the best lines, the most memorable scenes, and the dopest outfits.  That’s why Darth Vader is an icon and Luke Skywalker is just a whiny farm boy.  Clarice Starling may be awesome, but it’s Hannibal Lecter you want more of.  It’s hard to root for good to triumph when it’s so much more fun to hang out with the bad guys.  One of the more glaring examples of this moral dissonance comes in the form of Umberto Lenzi’s 1981 Italian fightin’ caveman epic, IRONMASTER.

The Capsule:
Way back in unspecified caveman times, Iksay (Benito Stefanelli), chief of the tribe of Vot, is getting close to retirement age (in those days, retirement usually meant you were eaten by lions).  There are two contenders for his job, the capable but hot headed Vood (George Eastman) and the well-intentioned but rock stupid Ela (Sam Pasco).  It's a difficult choice, at least until Vood, always the go-getter, sidesteps the process by caving in Iksay’s skull and proclaiming himself chief.  His assertive strategy is frowned upon by his fellow cavemen and they exile him to a nearby volcano.  There he discovers a shaft of iron naturally created in the last fiery eruption.  With his overwhelming technological advantage (iron beats sticks and rocks), Vood takes over the tribe of Vot and gives that chump Ela the boot into hostile apeman territory.  Not satisfied with one tribe, Vood teaches his crew to forge their own iron weapons and soon has conquered all the other tribes in the valley.  Meanwhile, Ela has been taken in by a by a bunch of vegan hippies living an idyllic life of peace (only occasionally interrupted by hungry lions).  Ela knows it is only a matter of time before Vood’s evil falls upon their sweet little lakeside commune.  If he wants to save his new home, he will need to devise a weapon strong enough to bring down the Ironmaster.

Always one to jump on a successful theme, IRONMASTER is Italy’s answer to the highbrow 1981 Dawn of Man epic QUEST FOR FIRE (with a hint of CONAN THE BARBARIAN thrown in for good measure).  Lenzi, trading in cannibal jungles for the dramatic hills of South Dakota, keeps the ambition down and the story more accessible.  Unlike QUEST FOR FIRE, whose entire cast communicated in a made-up caveman dialect, Lenzi’s primitives just cut straight to English, or more accurately, a combo of Italian, French, English, and a bit of German, all dubbed into the appropriate language depending on the distribution.  

It’s practically family-friendly as well, with no nudity except for Pamela Prati’s occasional nip slip wardrobe malfunction and a fair amount of prosthetic apeman wang.  It is also much less gruesome than one would expect from the director of CANNIBAL FERROX.  The only serious gore effect is when Vood cracks open the old chief’s brainpan.  The rest of the violence is restricted to guys clutching handfuls of fake blood to their stomachs and groaning.

While IRONMASTER could never be called authentic (that we know of, not a lot of home video from the caveman era), it isn’t a complete fantasy version of prehistory like ONE MILLION YEARS BC.  No one gets attacked by T-Rexes or flies on the back of a pterodactyl.  The wildlife in the area, buffalo, boar, and those pesky lions, seem plausible to the time period, if not the geography.  The most exotic beasties shown are a herd of mastodon, adorably represented in forced perspective by shuffling some plastic elephants around.  It rivals the low-fi cuteness of the toy rats on a conveyor belt from RATS.   
While relatively restrained by Italian standards, the highlight of this movie is unquestionably George Eastman.  Eastman is the Italian version Danny Trejo, instantly recognizable, physically intimidating, and thoroughly badass.  Eastman ran the gamut from mindless beast (ANTROPOPHAGUS) to unnervingly believable psycho (RABID DOGS) to over the top super villain (WARRIORS OF THE WASTELAND).   Here he plays Vood as an impulsive Stone Age proto-dictator.   He is violent and cruel, but has an undeniable brutish charisma.  You know you should hate him, but he is just such an asskicker compared to Ela, who has the personality of a block of wood.  When everyone else is cowering in a cave while the volcano erupts, Vood fearlessly walks right up to it to check that shit out.  It’s a pity there weren’t more pyrotechnics in the movie, because Vood is just the type of motherfucker to calmly walk away from an explosion in slow motion.    

Vood even dresses like a pimp.  His first action after finding the iron spike is to kill a lion (to be fair, the lion started it).  The next time we see him, he is wearing the lion head as a helmet!  This man knows how to make a fashion statement.  Check out the (wildly inaccurate) poster, even.  It’s way more Conan that caveman, but look what the heroic main dude is wearing.  Beard or no, that’s supposed to be Vood.  Even the artist thinks he’s cooler.    

The thing is, while Vood is a merciless ruler, it’s hard to argue he makes the better leader, at least from an evolutionary standpoint.  The scene where Vood discovers the iron shard shamelessly apes the bone scene from 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY, but the movie extends the metaphor by showing Vood bring about a technological revolution.  Within a matter of weeks, he’s taught his tribe not only to mine the iron, but how to smelt it and forge it into swords and axe heads.  He even invents tongs and bellows.  The dude totally leap-frogged over the Bronze Age.  All Ela had to offer was awesome hair.

Again, I’m not saying that Vood isn’t a total dick.  He kills anyone who opposes him, forces other tribes to provide food for his people, and enslaves men to work at the iron mine.  Clearly he is a jerk, but he did unify the tribes of the valley, establish supply and communication routes, and offered some protection from all the damn lions.  It’s sort of like the ancient Roman Empire.  Those guys were straight up assholes most of the time, but they also advanced human civilization in remarkable ways.  We got aqueducts and pizza out of the deal.  Not bad, big picture wise.

I would hardly call Vood a monster, either.  He doesn’t seem to enjoy killing people, he just considers it necessary sometimes.  There are no scenes of torture, or of him laughing maniacally at the pain of others.  And he shows some vaguely progressive ideas in a period classically thought of as being pretty shitty towards women.  Lith (Pamela Prati) was the first to see Vood's potential, and practically groomed him into becoming a conqueror.  Vood makes her his second in command, as well as his advisor and probably speech writer.  She abuses power more than he does, in fact, especially when she is left in charge of the hippy village.  Apart from her, women still have it bad.  All able bodied women of a conquered tribe are rounded up and informed they will bear children for Vood’s warriors.   They are told that a man can claim any woman he wants.  On the flip side, though, a woman can also claim any man she wants.  Still not great, but I haven’t seen brutal sexual dominance with an egalitarian twist before.  As far as ruthless despots go, you could do a lot worse.  

On the other side of the power dynamic is Mogo (William Berger) and his village of prehistoric hippies.  They live in cooperation, don’t hunt animals, and shun weapons of any kind.  Mogo is so dedicated to pacifism that he even objects to raising a hand against the lions that occasionally stop by for a hippy snack.  He’s a likable character who only wants the best for his people, but Ela knows that Vood is going to roll right over them, especially when Mogo suggest they oppose Vood with “the wisdom and persuasion that comes from the heart.”  Mogo doesn’t stand in the way when Ela convinces the others to fight back, but he can’t be a part of it, either.  Before departing his once peaceful paradise, he warns Ela that “weapons may give you your freedom, but they may one day take it from you.”  Then he is almost instantly stopped by a bunch of Vood’s goons and killed.  Sweet old man, though.

Right in the middle is Ela, who approves of Mogo’s peacenik ideals but has had enough experience with Vood to know his heart won’t be persuaded with anything less than a chunk of iron piercing it.    He doesn’t have Vood’s skill at making inspiringly bloodthirsty speeches, but with the aid of Mogo’s daughter, Isa (Elvire Audray) he convinces the lakeside village to put peace aside and give pointy sticks a chance.  Somehow the lunkhead even manages to one up Vood’s technological advantage when he invents the bow and arrow.  

In the end [spoiler], Ela lures Vood’s warriors into a surprisingly well laid trap (Isa must have come up with it), which leads to many an arrow through cavemen necks.   Vood and Ela cross swords, and the Ironmaster eventually falls to Ela’s overwhelming blandness.  Then, in the spirit of Mogo, Ela throws all the weapons into the lake and completely resets the evolutionary clock.  Nice one, dumbass.  I know its supposed to be a positive message about ridding ourselves of the engines of war before they destroy us, but have a little vision, Ela.  What could you possibly use iron for other than weapons?  Tools, maybe? Or construction, or art, or anti-lion barriers?  So when your hippy commune gets raided by apemen, don’t blame me, I voted for Vood.

C Chaka

Friday, May 12, 2017


The ‘80s was a wonderful time for crazy sequels to horror movies, particularly Part 2s.  In many ways these initial sequels were the best starting off points for a franchise, especially for people just getting into the genre.  They were often a little more mainstream, with a lighter, quirkier tone than their stronger, more intimidating older brothers.  THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE is a masterpiece, but it can also be a grueling and emotionally exhausting experience.  THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE PART 2, on the other hand, is a carnival ride, fast paced, over the top, and with a clear—if deranged—sense of humor.  It is the same with EVIL DEAD and EVIL DEAD 2.  The best sequels had their own identity.  Sometimes they would continue the story directly, and other times they would spin off in their own weird trajectories.  Trajectories don’t come much weirder than Philippe Mora’s 1985 werewolf tale, HOWLING II.            

The Capsule:
Ben White (Reb Brown) is attending the funeral for his sister Karen, the main character from the first movie [spoiler for The Howling], when his is approached by Stefan (Christopher Lee), a paranormal investigator.  Stefan informs him his sister is not truly dead, but is in fact a werewolf.  Ben doesn’t buy it until he and his reporter girlfriend, Jenny (Annie McEnroe) follow Stefan to the cemetery and are jumped by a whole pack of werewolves.  Drawn into the exciting new world of werewolf hunting, Ben and Jenny accompany Stefan to Transylvania, where the werewolf queen, Stilba (Sybil Danning) will celebrate her 10,000th birthday by causing the world’s werewolves to simultaneously revert into their monster form (which actually sounds like more of a hassle than a celebration for the werewolves).  Unfortunately, the hunters choose to set up camp in a predominately wolf heavy village, so while Ben and Stefan are out looking for clues, Jenny gets kidnapped and taken to Stilba’s castle of freaky S&M werewolves.  Can Ben’s rock stupid determination and Stefan’s unbelievably cool Christopher Lee-ness allow them to rescue Jenny, or will the hunters fall under Stilba’s frequently naked spell?

HOWLING II is a perfect example of mid ‘80s transitional horror.  Slashers were petering out, being replaced by supernatural horror, and franchises were establishing themselves as reliable money makers.  The rules had yet to be formalized; it was a bit of a free for all.  As long as there was enough blood, boobs, and cheesy effects, you were in pretty good shape.  HOWLING II took all those things in great abundance, shook them up together in a bag, and dumped it out all over Soviet era Prague.  The plot is sketchy, the motivations are impenetrable, and nothing makes a lick of sense, but the movie is a crazy careening busload of fun.

Lee and Danning handle all the acting heavy lifting.  Their scenes are all uniformly ridiculous and disconnected, but they absolutely give it their all.  It is testament to Lee that he can maintain his impeachable aura of dignity throughout the film, even when wearing New Wave sunglasses to blend in at the local punk rock club.  The movie starts with Lee reading passages from Revelations (I think), and anytime things get too hard to explain, the movie pulls out a Lee voice over reciting from the Book of Stilba.  It’s all gibberish, but Lee delivers it with such gravitas that it doesn’t have to make sense.  He elevates any scene he is in almost to the point of respectability.

Danning doesn’t have Lee’s hallowed presence, but she is a commanding figure in her own right.  I can think of few actresses who could take such a phenomenally silly role as Stilba (or Stirba, as it is listed in the credits, but no one pronounces it that way) and thoroughly own it.  One look at her in her crazy space dominatrix outfit and I totally bought that she was a 10,000 year old sorceress werewolf queen.  She doesn’t get as much screen time as Lee, but she makes the most of it.

Though the sequel opens with a direct link to Karen White from the original film (Hana Ludvikova, who is most definitely not Dee Wallace), any  connection abruptly ends after the hunters have re-killed her.  In fact, the way it is edited, it is hard to tell whether Ben’s werewolf sister has really been put to rest, or if the hunters just ran off to Transylvania to get the rest of the story going, leaving her to suffer for eternity inside her sealed coffin.  Either way, no one mentions her ever again.  The subtitle for the movie should have been YOUR SISTER IS A WEREWOLF, BUT MOVING ON…

Part 2 certainly ups the ante with the sheer number of werewolves.  There are plenty of them running around California, but once the hunters arrive in the Transylvania there are more hell beasts in the village of Vklana than there are punks in DEATH WISH III.  They should have been suspicious of a town that celebrates a huge, week-long Festival of the New Moon, which, if my math is correct, occurs every month.  Those cats are a little too moon happy.  The fact that everyone licks their lips while talking to Ben and Jenny should also have been a tip off.  

The gimmick in the first Howling was that the werewolf pack lived in a flaky self-actualizing commune trying to balance their human and bestial sides through trust circles and sharing sticks.   Part 2 drops all the pop psychology and casts the werewolves as randy S&M freaks that can barely keep from humping each other even in human form.  Stilba’s castle is pretty much an all-night orgy pad filled with half nude and half transformed wolfies pawing and snarling over each other.  It’s not as great as it sounds.  Hairy naked people are gross, not even Sybil can pull that one off.  There are also a bunch of old women wearing eye masks just watching and smiling, which is awkward.  

They really go all out with the kinky castle atmosphere.  Decorations include a bunch of sacrificial virgins chained to the wall (just for show, no one seems to notice them), shirtless guards in leather pants and huge, face covering helmets, and dead goats hanging from the ceiling.  I didn’t see it, but I’m betting there has to be a waterbed filled with blood in there somewhere.  It’s that kind of place.  

The deaths are more exotic than your typical neck munching and belly shredding werewolf action.  Stilba uses some deadly spoken word witchcraft to make a dwarf’s eyes explode after his protective earplugs fall out.  His reanimated corpse later tries to kill Stefan, but Ben tosses him out a window onto some spikes.  The movie does not take a progressive stance on the treatment of little people, in my opinion.  The best death comes from Stilba’s desiccated bat monster, who pecks at a priest’s face while shoving its tail down his throat.  It apparently backed all the way into his stomach, because it later pops out of his mouth, chestburster style.  It is all done in a charmingly goofy practical effect.    

The movie is more of a loose collection of vignettes about sexy werewolf parties, assorted maulings, and Christopher Lee monologues than it is a single cohesive story.  The whole is definitely less than the sum of its parts, but those parts can be fantastic all by themselves.  The most entertaining thing is the constant supply of incredibly bizarre statements or images that crop up and are never explained.  At one point we learn that Stefan is actually Stilba’s brother (HOWLING II: HEY, MY SISTER IS ALSO A WEREWOLF, SMALL WORLD).  This means that Stefan, who is not a werewolf, is somehow approximately 10,000 years old as well.   No one finds this unusual enough to ask him about it, though, so we never find out what his deal is.

Stilba’s castle contains a load of hairy leather fetishists, but there are also some even weirder guests.  In addition to the aforementioned masked old women, there is also a group of people dressed like 17th century French dukes, gadding about and laughing amidst the fornicating furballs.  I seriously have no idea what the fuck they are supposed to be.  Are they really 400 years old, or are they just a bunch of weirdos?  Probably both.  Stirba's court takes all kinds, I suppose.

Even the graphics are random and confusing.  The movie opens with a location slate that reads “Los Angeles, California, U.S.A.”  They follow it up a second later with “The City of Lost Angels” just in case you were still unclear.  There are no location slates for any of the imaginary places in Transylvania, which actually would be helpful, but they do bring up one after a night scene that states “The following afternoon”, in case the audience does not understand how the passage of time works.

The greatest moment comes when Stefan is telling Ben about the weapons and defenses he has lined up for the big werewolf assault.  He’s brought some consecrated oil,  daggers made of pure titanium (effective against super werewolves), wax earplugs made from the sacred candle, the chalice that held the blood of Christ, a nice titanium ax, and lots of silver bullets.  Wait, did he just say he had the Holy Fucking Grail?  Dude, people have been looking for that—for a while now.  You should probably let someone know.  Especially since we don’t see him do anything with it or get an explanation of how it helps against werewolves.  Maybe it’s just where he keeps his keys.  

The best part is that Ben has absolutely no reaction when Stefan tells him about the Grail.  He looks like he is trying to remember the words to a Loverboy song.  To be fair, Reb Brown has exactly two expressions he uses for the movie.  This one:
and this one:

It’s no surprise to find the climax makes no sense at all, but the magic of this movie does not come from a cohesive plot.  HOWLING II is a hallucinatory lazy river ride through pockets of creepy Eastern Europeans, crypts made of bone, bloody mayhem, and furry sex.  Ben and Jenny are perfect stand-ins for the viewer, completely befuddled, speechless, and just going with the flow. 

C Chaka