I remember it well—one of the very first “informant” letters I sent to the young Video Watchdog Magazine… seems I was the first to mention (let alone care) that there were no less than three separate versions of Philippe Mora’s HOWLING II …YOUR SISTER IS A WEREWOLF to account for.
As fate would have it, I never got to see that particular film on the big screen (though rumors abound that some people actually did). So “Version 1” for me was the old Thorn/EMI-HBO videocassette. As was typical for that particular company (did you ever try to watch their version of DR. JEKYLL & SISTER HYDE, for example?), the transfer was overly dark and murky, and it only exacerbated the fact that the film seemed rough and unfinished (I’m taking it on faith that this still essentially represented the theatrical version).
What an eye-opener when the film hit cable TV! The naysayers had nothing new to contribute, but no longer could one complain about the film’s overwhelming darkness. That was strictly a VHS distributor issue. The version of Mora’s sequel that greeted me on HBO was very nicely bright and sharp… I had access to plenty of detail that had previously eluded me. Not only that, but I was treated to an additional scene! The “up against the wall” sexual encounter between Ben (Reb Brown) and Jenny (Annie McEnroe) was completely missing from the VHS version! Ah, now things start to come together… but wait! The cable version (inadvertently?) deleted the shot in which the eyes of the heroic dwarf Vasile blew out of his head after he lost his blessed earplugs and fell sway to the sonic utterances of Stirba (Sybil Danning)!
A nice try, but still somehow less than perfect. The film then went to syndicated television. Might there be some additional answers there? Well… yes and no. Thankfully, the TV print featured the optimal picture quality as seen in the cable version. It even retained the sex scene (although they blew it up so as to tone it down, as it were). No, Vasile’s eyes didn’t blow out, and the remaining gore and nudity were also excised. And yet… and yet… exclusive to the TV version (so far) was a brand-new epilogue in which Ben and Jenny (now safely back in L.A.) were confronted by a mysterious trick-or-treater in convincing ‘werewolf’ guise and then met their new neighbor… an extremely suspiciously-behaving priest! Now, THAT was a major breakthrough—but from there we went to a ‘tame’ version of the daring end-title sequence (we’re given repeated shots Sybil Danning opening her cloak during Jenny’s abduction as opposed to the scandalous ‘ripaway’ shot seen in the two previous versions). And yet even in this softened television version, the sequence was extended, offering several more reaction shots taken from earlier in the film… and in the most important touch, music was added to the final crawl (which previously played in frustrating silence on VHS and cable).
Well, my friends, I thought I had surely seen it all by then. And as I had preserved copies of all three versions of the film, I didn’t even work up any enthusiasm when MGM offered the film on DVD years ago. It took me plenty of time (not to mention a drastic price reduction) to pick up a copy “just for the record” to see which rendition made it to disc.
Holy. Flaming. Cow. Had I only known! The MGM DVD represents the true, fully restored director’s cut of Mora’s sequel! The picture quality was even better than that of the cable version. The sex scene was there. Vasile’s eyes blew out of his head beautifully. The Halloween epilogue was retained. The end titles played in the fully uncensored AND extended version… never before did we see that the aforementioned “eye blowing” was ALSO repeated as a reaction shot to Stirba’s disrobing! And needless to say, the final crawl came with full musical accompaniment.
This has got to be it, folks. If there’s a more definitive HOWLING II out there, I defy you to prove it. Only with each and EVERY piece in place, looking and sounding exactly as the director intended, does HOWLING II emerge as the true high point of the series (not even Mora’s own HOWLING III: THE MARSUPIALS, as underrated as it was, could quite reach up to this achievement). With all respect to Joe Dante and John Sayles, this is the traditional werewolf film that should have initiated the Gary Brandner screen sequence.
It’s time to give HOWLING II …YOUR SISTER IS A WEREWOLF a fresh chance via DVD (still waiting for the Blu-Ray). Do it NOW.
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