Book Review: THE COMPLETE HISTORY OF THE HOWLING by Bryn Curt James Hammond
I love revisiting a cult classic, especially one that doesn’t get half the love it deserves, and in this case I’m talking about Howling II: Stirba – Werewolf Bitch.
After Edinburgh Horror Con came to a close I returned home and went full-on werewolf, going right back to 1985 to enjoy Philippe Mora’s (The Beast Within) cult classic Howling II: Stirba – Werewolf Bitch. In the film one bumbling journalist, Jenny Templeton (Annie McEnroe, Beetlejuice), teams up with Karen White’s (Hana Ludvikova, Muz na dráte) brother, Ben White (Reb Brown, Captain America II: Death Too Soon), who joins forces with Stefan Crosscoe (Christopher Lee, Return from Witch Mountain), the Van Helsing of all werewolves, to fight the growing population of lupine monsters. Travelling to Transylvania, Jenny, Ben and Crosscoe attempt to hunt down the powerful werewolf queen, Stirba (Valérie Kaplanová, The Feather Fairy), an old and decrepit crone who through some magical and mysterious ritual is turned into 33-year-old Sybil Danning (Reform School Girls), much to my delight. Along the way the unlikely heroes must face Stirba’s furry followers, Vlad (Judd Omen, CSI: Miami) and Mariana (Marsha A. Hunt, Fade to Black), as well as other supernatural foes! And with that we are treated to a wacky werewolf apocalypse, werewolf orgies, werewolf threesomes, werewolves that look like something out of Planet of the Apes and even a werewolf rock concert, all of which gives Howling II: Stirba – Werewolf Bitch all the makings of a campy pew-pew adventure whose goofiness elevates it to camp, cult watchability; good times!
My trip back in time was inspired by best-selling author Bryn Curt James Hammond’s (A Case for Murder: Brittany Murphy Files) The Complete History of The Howling, a new paperback from Miami Fox Publishing that is currently only available through the Horror Con until November 7th, when it will hit retailers worldwide. For the first time cast and crew of all eight films in the franchise reveal the stories behind the movies, offering their own opinions and details about life on the sets of some of the most fraught productions in cinema history. And it doesn’t stop there! The gloriously glossy coffee table paperback features hundreds of previously unreleased behind-the-scenes photographs and exclusive artwork that are visually impressive. To date I have never encountered a franchise book so thorough, so encompassing, so witty and truly comprehensive as The Complete History of The Howling.
Bryn is nothing less than exhaustive in his approach to the material. Beginning with an in-depth look at Gary Brandner and his body of work, which includes The Howling trilogy, Cat People and Cameron’s Closet, the book then studiously observes the behind-the-scenes shenanigans of every single film in the series, even the seventh film that nobody really likes, directed by series producer Clive Turner (The Lawnmower Man), where we learn that Howling VII: New Moon Rising was originally going to be a continuation of Howling VI: The Freaks.
Unlike other ‘History of’ books, e.g. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre Companion, which devote a large chunk to their series original, The Complete History of The Howling pays the same amount of detail to the subsequent sequels (all seven) as it does to Joe Dante’s (Gremlins) 1981 classic. Bryn gives each movie an informative recollection of events surrounding the making of the film and following its release; focusing on the on-set drama dominated by uncertainty and egos gone berserk (Clive Turner). And unlike other ‘History of’ books, e.g. The Complete History of The Return of the Living Dead, The Complete History of The Howling never feels weighed down by facts and figures thanks to Bryn’s writing style and sharp sense of humour, which gives the coffee table glossy a natural flow that has been absent in many books of this type (The Hellraiser Films and Their Legacy) to date.
The interviewees for the later movies (Howling IV: The Original Nightmare, Howling V: The Rebirth, Howling VI: The Freaks and Howling VII: New Moon Rising) attest that many of the film’s production problems could be blamed on the confrontational nature of actor, producer and director Clive Turner. “Clive was exhausting, and more than anything else he was energy-sapping!” Neal Sundstrom (Howling V: The Rebirth) said.
Susanne Severeid (Howling IV: The Original Nightmare) told Bryn, “John Hough did not have the final director’s cut and the film was re-edited in a manner that he did not approve of and I think that’s a shame”.
In a pictorial written by Bill Forsche (Scanners III: The Takeover) the actor reveals Turner was also the on-set drug dealer among other things, and the inept and lousy Howling IV: The Original Nightmare was part of the legendary, low-budget, trash-house film studio, Cannon Films (Superman IV: The Quest for Peace) South African-lensed productions.
Along with the in-depth text and stories that have never before been made public the book is loaded with mouth-watering vintage photographs; even the incredible melting man (Howling IV: The Original Nightmare) looks visually pleasing. All the pictures are crisp and never sloppy considering how old the films are, and perusing the sheer variety of images makes you feel like you have just spent a few hours on a Howling movie set. Marketing material, print advertising, international movie posters, a foreword by writer/director Philippe Mora (Howling II: Your Sister Is a Werewolf & The Marsupials: The Howling III), a short story arc from writer Nick Stead and a pictorial by Bill Forsche (Howling IV: The Original Nightmare) round up the paperback.
Nick Stead’s (Hybrid) short story arc accompanied by beautiful ink art is a nice homage to Gary Brandner’s trilogy, but is a little flat. The protagonists don’t fit in with the world Brandner created and therein is the story arc’s problem; without going into detail, Brandner’s character development in The Howling trilogy is outstanding. The reader feels as though they know the characters intimately and are drawn completely into his story. The writing is also done so well that even when there is not a lot of action it holds the attention effectively. Brandner never leaves us wondering what the characters are thinking. Everything is made clear and descriptive! Stead’s character fits the world Stead has created for his story arc and the state that the lead is in. Brandner took a legendary monster and moved it into a new compelling direction; Stead seems more comfortable going over old ground and the angst of becoming a monster.
Philippe Mora’s foreword is stuff of mad science! The writer/director is a wizard with word play and offers an interesting insight into his pioneering thoughts where he cites Greek mythology, Sigmund Frued (Civilization and its Discontents) & Curt Siodmark (Wolf Man’s Maker) for his inspiration in a humorous manner that follows over into his interviews.
Bill Forsche’s pictorial comes fully loaded, giving RUBBERHEAD: Sex, Drugs, and Special FX Vol. 1 (available at IMATS Los Angeles) by Steve Johnson (The Abyss) a run for its money in the literary stakes. Johnson’s book runs to 256 pages and consists of way too much rambling about nonsense, contrary to the raised expectations that it would include blunt stories about the reality of the business and Steve’s experience. The reader is given stories that are easy to find on the net, nothing new, and any information behind the scenes is irrelevant and told in a bland format. Forsche compacts so much into six pages, giving us lots of insight into the preparation and execution of the fourth movie with a lot of name dropping and background on all those involved. The pictorial is an excellent read and includes a lot of rare photos!
Overall The Complete History of The Howling is a thoroughly rewarding book and upon wrapping it up there’s an urge to open it again right away and start all over. It may be non-fiction, focused on a wild world rooted in fiction, but it’s a riveting read all the same and a must-have for any fan of The Howling and its sequels. I loved this book. It’s downright addictive. Amazing work that comes highly recommended. A glossy to end all glossies!
Review by Rick Welington