Camp David


By • Dec 1st, 2006 • Pages: 1 2 3 4

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In the not so distant glory days of picture making if a film was a financial success at the box office, not to mention garnering impressive reviews from the nations’ critics, a sequel was more often than not a slam dunk. The sequel would try to copy the elements that made the first one work and sometimes even surpass it in one way or another (think BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN or THE GODFATHER PART TWO).

Now granted director Joe Dante struck gold with screenwriter John Sayles’ witty and humorous script which was a send up of THE WOLF MAN and genre films like it. THE HOWLING was a box office hit in its day and received raves from fans and critics alike, so when the time came for a sequel what happened?

Well I am going to tell you exactly what happened because I was there from the time the late Elizabeth Brooks received her first script until the film premiered at the American Film Market at the Beverly Center’s multi-plex with the amazing Sybil Danning standing bravely at the back of the theater enduring the catcalls of the press, rabid horror junkies, and her fans, as the end credits rolled underneath the image of Sybil ripping her bra off, revealing her two best assets over and over again – a total of 17 times – before the lights finally came up. By then, mercifully, Sybil had left the building. This is the story of THE HOWLING II or “Your sister is a werewolf” or my personal favorite “Stirba: werewolf bitch!”

In 1977 author Gary Brandner penned the first of what would become a trilogy of werewolf novels all of which have found their way to the big screen. THE HOWLING was made into a film by Joe Dante in 1981 and would have been a mega hit instead of just successful if it had not been for AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON which made for just one too many werewolf transformations in one season. What made the Joe Dante film work as a send-up as well as a thriller is entirely due to John Sayles’ flair for genre-friendly humor and his understanding of genre lore. Whereas the Landis film recreated the village atmosphere and folklore of THE WOLF MAN, and then betrayed it with jock humor, and a lame subplot redeemed somewhat with big bad wolf effects that impressed fans at the time. Be that as it may, the Landis film softened the blow for any werewolf film that followed, even a superior one, plus you had a double dose of the same transformation effects from Rob Bottin and Rick Baker in back-to-back releases, and nothing says “jaded” to a horror fan faster that a double dose.

In organizing a sequel it was always understood that the character of “Marsha” as played by Elizabeth Brooks would be the carry over from the first film as well as being a lead character in continuing the saga as the “Queen of the werewolves,” and there was your franchise for all the HOWLING films to come. However from 1981 until the cameras started rolling on part two, Brooks would received no less than half a dozen scripts of varying quality not to mention continuity from the first film. By 1983 Elizabeth began to experience the oncoming effects of the cancer that would eventually take her life. The final script that she would receive in 1983 was more or less the one that was filmed the next year with Sybil Danning as the werewolf Queen. Elizabeth had real misgivings from the first film regarding the nudity that was required in the sequence where she and actor Chris Stone shed their clothes and make love in the woods by a roaring fire as their lovemaking triggers a full transformation into werewolves. The set was closed for this sequence yet stills leaked out to the media and resulted in an unwelcome appearance in Playboy. Elizabeth was a mother and she did not want her son to see this aspect of her work turned into what she considered pornography. Her displeasure over this did nothing towards ensuring her participation in a sequel especially one without Joe Dante as the director.

The arrival of the script for what became THE HOWLING PART II (1984) was a major disappointment for Brooks as it contained “a three-way sex scene” of transforming werewolves as well as a number of questionable “improvements” on what came before. In spite of her desperate need for work, Elizabeth Brooks said goodbye to the role that brought her so close to stardom, yet sadly not close enough.

Enter the Australian auteur Philippe Mora who had to his credit a sleeper cult film with the great Dennis Hopper called MAD DOG MORGAN. Mora is a very charming man with a knowledge and appreciation of Hollywood history to the point of being a fan. The casting of Christopher Lee for a lead in THE HOWLING PART TWO seemed to establish an aura of classic horror in the grand tradition as well as keeping true to the spirit of the original film that boasted a classic star turn by veteran Horror star John Carradine in a key role. The character of “Marsha” was dropped from the script and the continuity from the first film to the sequel would be the resurrection of Karen White (Dee Wallace) as a werewolf. Since she was to be dispatched by a monster hunter played by Lee (in the Van Helsing tradition), Ms. Wallace decided not to appear. The sloppy transition of creating “new” footage of Karen being shot at the television station without the original actors such as Kevin McCarthy or Dee Wallace made the production begin to appear like a high school play version of the original, or worse, something thrown together at the last minute when the real stars said no.

Instead of “Marsha” the nymphomaniac werewolf from the first film, we are treated to “Stirba” the blonde bi-sexual Queen of the werewolves who lives in a castle in the “dark country,” in other words Transylvania. The actress chosen to play this character was the incredible outrageous-looking Sybil Danning. Danning had achieved major cult recognition in a low budget Roger Corman-produced space epic entitled BATTLE BEYOND THE STARS and cemented her cult queen status by appearing topless whenever possible and for a time seemed to be channeling Jayne Mansfield in the sense that, like Jayne, she bought a classic Hollywood Mansion that had once belonged to Jean Harlow (a gift from Howard Hughes) and made the scene in a series of outlandish outfits that gave her breasts star billing at all times. Her relentless campaign to play the title role in the James Bond film OCTOPUSSY is legend; unfortunately she did not get the part and to her credit has never given up the quest for her rightful place in the lights of LA.

My involvement in the proceedings was the direct result of working with a really fun and hip PR firm known as The Michael Dalling Company, which had a funky floor of offices above a popular British pub/restaurant on the sunset strip. I had covered a few films they were promoting as correspondent for ‘Film and Filming’ magazine, and my friendship with Chris Lee made me a natural to cover the making of THE HOWLING PART II. A delightful young woman named Jane Covner was placed in charge of the Hemdale production and began getting the word out and I was given the task of interviewing all of the leads and director for the European market. Jane had a great sense of humor and I am happy to report that she went on to bigger and better things and today is an executive at the prestigious PR firm of Rogers and Cowen.

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