Monday, August 24, 2009

Props just for being titled 'Werewolf Bitch'

The Howling II: Your Sister Is a Werewolf (aka "Howling II: Stirba, Werewolf Bitch")(1986)
Starring: Annie McEnroe, Reb Brown, Christopher Lee, Marsha Hunt, Sybil Danning, Judd Omen and Ladislav Krecmer
Director: Philippe Mora
Rating: Three of Ten Stars

Occultist Stefan Crosscoe (Lee) convinces Jenny (McEnroe) that her newscaster sister's mysterious death was caused by werewolves. Together with Jenny's fiance Ben (Brown), they travel to Transylvania to avenge her sister and take advantage of a once-in-a-millenia chance to destroy the immortal Stirba, Mother of Werewolves (Danning).

"The Howling II: Your Sister Is a Werewof" (released in GB with the subtitle "Stirba, Werewolf Bitch", one of my all-time favorite movie titles) is not a good movie by any standard. The script is muddled to the point of near-incomprehensibility and the film is edited in such a way that scenes seem like they're out of place--Is the underground club at the start of the movie a werewolf hangout or not? Is the new wave/punk band performing there also performing at Stirba's Transylvanian werewolf sex party, or is reusing the performance some weird attempt at padding the run-time? Why does Jenny decide to take a bath in the middle of the day, especially when she knows Stefan may call her to head out to werewolf castle any time? Why do the number of werewolves seem to increase and descrease at random and/or according to the needs of the plot? Why do the heroes wait until nightfall to raid the castle?-- and the acting is barely passable by everyone involved, including that offered by the great Christopher Lee.

And then there's the werewolf make-up and transformation scenes. It's not the worst I've ever seen, but, although this was clearly a low-budget quickie, the budget stil was such that it could have allowed for something better than werewolf costuming that looks like it was created with a make-up kit bought off the shelf in a Halloween costume shop along with fake fur harvested from coats at the thrift shop. The take-away lesson here is that if you're going to make a werewolf movie, put the money into hiriing a decent make-up artist and make-up effects designer.

For all that's wrong with this movie, it's still got a touch of that "so bad it's good" charm to it. There are few movies you;ll see that will have you wondering "Did I just see what I think I saw? Did I just hear them say what I think they said?"

I hesitate to recommend this film--too many of you reading this know how to email me and some of you even know where I live--but it might be a worthwhile addition to a werewolf-themed Bad Movie Night, or perhaps something to have running in a screening room at a large Halloween party. (Just be aware, there is subject matter in the film that's not appropriate for the kiddies. The players of "Ricky Shore Sings the Blues" called attention to that fact when they featured a clip from "Howling II" in their Werewolves in Heat skit. And a great skit that was, too. I would have loved to have imbedded it here, but it seems to have vanished from the web. A shame really.)

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Eddie Murphy is a 'Vampire in Brooklyn'

Vampire In Brooklyn (1995)
Starring: Eddie Murphy, Angela Bassett, Kadeem Hardison, and Allen Payne
Director: Wes Craven
Rating: Six of Ten Stars

Maximillian (Murphy) is the last of a dying breed of vampires. He travels to New York City to woo the one woman who can become his undead bride and save his bloodline (Bassett). But he first has to overcome her devoted friend and valiant defender (Payne), and the incompetence of the local help (Hardison).

"Vampire in Brooklyn" is a horror/comedy that, despite its great cast and talented director barely manages to achieve the upper end of average. It's a great homage/send-up of the blacksploitation flicks from the 1970s, and the classic vampire movies of the 30s, 50s, and 60s, and it mixes its elements well... but it doesn't go quite far enough with either its humor or horror.

The cast, though, needs to be acknowledged. Murphy plays an excellent vampire, bringing charm and menace to every scene he's in--not to mention a fair amount of well-delivered laugh lines. Hardison, however, is the true comedic heart of the film. As Maximillian's slowly rotting undead henchman, he is funny and disgusting all at the same time. Bassett and Payne both make for great romantic figures--her with her troubled past and even more troubled destiny, and he with his unwavering devotion to her and his duty as a police officer. Every actor and every character in the film are perfect for the type of movie this is... it's just that there isn't enough "oomph" here.

I've been told there are some out there who believe this movie is racist, because of Hardison's dimwitted, lowlife, criminal character who becomes an even more repulsive undead creature. They also like to point to the various black criminals and all-around scum that Maximillian meets when he arrives in Brooklyn. Oh my God... the movie features black characters who are less than righteous, and who serve as comic relief!

What these critics seem to miss (or, more likely, willfully ignore) is that Bassett and Payne both present black characters who are high-achieving, highly intelligent career police detectives. And then there's Murphy's vampire character--the lead figure in our story.

So, if you've heard someone condemn this movie for its racists undertones, just write that person off as a moron whose love of Political Correctness has rotten his brain. If you've heard someone condemn "Vampire In Brooklyn" for its timid, middle-of-the-road script that seems to be striving for acceptance among polite society, you're dealing with someone who is closer to criticizing the movie's true flaws.

The bottom line is that Eddie Murphy and Wes Craven have both done films worse than "Vampire In Brooklyn". However, this is a movie that should have ratcheted up the comedy and/or horror aspects just a tad more to be truly good.