Blu-Ray Review- Howling II: Your Sister is a Werewolf
Distributor: Scream Factory
Street Date: July 14th 2015
Technical Specifications: 1080P Video, Color, 1.85:1 Aspect Ratio, DTS-HD Master Audio Mono
Runtime: 91 Minutes
Few would argue with the fact that Howling II: Your Sister is a Werewolf is the very definition of a bad movie. One could also argue that this is the very reason why it’s so incredibly enjoyable. Absent from this sequel are the stylish storytelling, horrifying werewolf effects, and creeping suspense of Joe Dante’s original film. But what exactly does Howling II offer up for Horror fans? Horror legend Christopher Lee hamming it up with every line delivery, Sybil Danning’s incredible body and less-than-stellar acting abilities, random out-of-sequence editing that completely confuses the viewer, and an 80’s rock soundtrack complete with synthesizer and title-referencing music that is just about as cheesy as can be. It’s an endlessly enjoyable hodge-podge of self-referential humor, over-the-top performances, and terrible screenwriting. For B movie fans (those who get an insane kick out of MST3K style humor), Howling II is right up your alley!
The film attempts to pick up directly where Dante’s original left off, with the funeral for Karen White taking place and her brother Ben (Reb Brown) in mourning. Soon a mysterious man named Stefan Crosscoe (Christopher Lee) appears and attempts to convince Ben that his sister’s death was more complicated than he realizes, and that his sister was, in fact, a werewolf. Though Dee Wallace is entirely absent from this sequel and the actress that replaces her will never be confused as her doppelganger, we’re soon introduced to the completely ridiculous “lost” footage of Karen’s violent death. Pay no mind to this sequence being completely different than the ending of the first film. No mind at all. Ben and Karen’s former colleague Jenny (Annie McEnroe) are soon not only convinced of his sister’s affliction, but of the entire underground existence of werewolves that threaten the human race. Stefan soon convinces Ben and Jenny to travel all the way to Transylvania to battle the queen of the werewolves, the incredibly sexy Stirba (Sybil Danning). This task, of course, turns out to be more difficult than any of them could imagine.
Howling II is one of those rainy day B movies that bad film aficionados can appreciate on so many levels. It’s also one that requires time to fully appreciate its awkwardness and charm. I remember seeing the first Howling as a teenager, absolutely loving it, and running straight back to the video store to get the sequel. Saying I was disappointed by what I saw that night would be an understatement when compared to the first film. But then something strange happened…I rented it again. Perhaps it was my burgeoning manhood craving countless playbacks of Sybil Danning’s best moments. Whatever the case may be, I’ve since been able to appreciate the film on that “next level”, savoring every moment of pure ridiculousness. With that being said, Howling II on Blu-Ray from Scream Factory comes highly recommended.
Rest assured Horror fans (and bad movie aficionados); Howling II looks fantastic on Blu-Ray from Scream Factory! The natural film grain is plentiful, colors look accurate for the time period, and digital manipulation is entirely absent from the print. It should, and does, look like film. Scratches and slight damage occasionally rear their head, but they are few and far between. Facial features and fine object detail, while not the strongest I’ve seen for the decade, look quite clear here in High Definition.
The 2.0 DTS-HD audio track is a solid one, regularly balancing dialogue, background effects, and the cheesy score in fine fashion. There is a lack of power and depth to the overall experience, which is to be expected, but when paired with the great video, it makes for a finely presented experience.
Scream Factory has given Howling II a fantastic array of bonus features that will surely make you bark at the moon with joy. Here’s a breakdown of what’s included:
- Audio Commentaries (2) – Scream Factory has provided fans with two commentaries on this brand new Blu-Ray edition. The first commentary features Director Philippe Mora and the second has composer Steve Parsons and Editor Charles Bornstein. Both commentaries are informative for fans of the film and franchise!
- Leading Man: An Interview with Actor Reb Brown- This brand new HD interview from Red Shirt Pictures features actor Reb Brown and runs nearly 14 minutes. It’s an absolute blast hearing from Reb, who was a club bouncer and training to be a Sheriff when he was noticed by casting agents and hired as a contract actor at Universal. Reb comes across as a delightful man, more football coach than Hollywood actor, and offers up some insightful stories regarding his career and the making of Howling II.
- Queen of the Werewolves: An Interview with Actress Sybil Danning- This 17 minute interview has the still gorgeous Sybil Danning sharing her behind-the-scenes stories regarding the making of Howling II. Sybil is honest and forthright about her career, starting out as a model in Germany and making her way to Hollywood to star in films. Hearing Sybil discuss being a tomboy as a child and utilizing her imagination to “become” various characters growing up was especially enjoyable. Sybil’s stories about having dinner with Christopher Lee while being watched by the KGB is also a highlight! Great stuff!
- A Monkey Phase: Interviews with Special Make-Up Effects Artists Steve Johnson and Scott Wheeler- This featurette runs 15 ½ minutes and features fantastic interviews with the makeup guys behind the film. Both artists discuss the beginnings in the industry and films they worked on before joining the team behind Howling II, the unique special effects and challenges for their team behind the scenes, and much more.
- Alternate Opening-The alternate opening for the film runs 10 ½ minutes and features just a few alternate takes on specific scenes mostly consisting of some trimming of Christopher Lee and company talking after the funeral. There is really not too much of a difference here as I was straining to figure out exactly what had been cut or edited between the two.
- Alternate Ending- The alternate ending runs roughly 9 ½ minutes, and much like the aforementioned alternate opening, doesn’t offer very much as far as unique differences. A few shots are extended or trimmed compared to the theatrical cut. Both versions luckily still feature Sybil Danning tearing off her clothes.
- Behind the Scenes- This behind-the-scenes montage offers up some fun outtakes with the special effects crew and Director Philippe Mora work and runs nearly 4 minutes.
- Theatrical Trailer- The original theatrical trailer for the film lasts just over a minute in length and gives viewers a good general idea of the B-movie mayhem they’re in for with Howling II.
- Still Gallery- Just over 8 minutes of behind-the-scenes photos and production stills that play along to the rockin’ 80’s theme from the film.
This Blu-Ray edition from Scream Factory features the original theatrical poster design for the film on its cover, which is one of my personal favorite 80’s posters. You definitely get the feeling of the silliness of the film (red lipstick and sunglasses) with the art included here. On the reverse of the case you’ll find a plot synopsis, a listing of special features, technical specifications, and select production stills from the film. Inside the case is the disc as well as some nice reversible artwork that fans can choose to display instead of the poster art.
Few would argue with the fact that Howling II: Your Sister is a Werewolf is the very definition of a bad movie. One could also argue that this is the very reason why it’s so incredibly enjoyable. It’s one of those rainy day B movies that bad film aficionados can appreciate on so many levels, but also requires repeated viewings to fully appreciate its awkwardness and charm. The Blu-Ray presentation from Scream Factory is fantastic, with great video and audio that makes for a well-rounded presentation in High Definition. But it’s in the bonus features where Scream Factory will truly delight fans, with plenty of great interviews and featurettes with the cast and crew. Though disappointed with my first viewing as a young man, Sybil Danning kept bringing me back for repeat viewings. I’ve since been able to appreciate the film on that “next level”, savoring every moment of pure ridiculousness. With that being said, Howling II on Blu-Ray from Scream Factory comes highly recommended.
Blu-Ray Review- Dracula Untold
Distributor: Universal Studios Home Entertainment
Street Date: February 3rd 2015
Technical Specifications: 1080P Video, Color, 2.40:1 Aspect Ratio, 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio
Runtime: 93 Minutes
Ever since my father introduced me to Universal’s 1931 Dracula (starring the legendary Bela Lugosi), I have been enthralled by the undead romanticism of Bram Stoker’s iconic vampire. There is an eternal enchantment the original film leaves with the viewer, begging to be watched time and time again. Other iterations of the source material have proved successful and enjoyable as well, such as Hammer Films’ series starring the commanding Christopher Lee, as well as Universal’s 1979 reboot starring Frank Langella. In addition, Francis Ford Coppola’s 1992 screen version of the novel exhibited wonderful special effects, fine performances, and beautifully gothic set design.
As you may be able to discern, in my eyes, Dracula has had a pretty good track record on the big screen. It was with that mindset that I walked into Universal’s latest reboot Dracula Untold with an open mind. Unfortunately, this film has to be one of the most ridiculously awful adaptations of the character that one will ever witness.
In Dracula Untold, Luke Evans portrays Vlad the Impaler (Vlad III Tepes), the reigning Prince of Transylvania who once was a child slave and subsequent legendary warrior of the Turkish Empire. Vlad now enjoys a relatively simple life with his beautiful wife Mirena (Sarah Gadon) and kindhearted son Ingeras (Art Parkinson), but worries that the Turks may someday call upon him to fight again. Soon Mehmed II (Dominic Cooper), his once childhood friend and current ruler of the Turks, orders 1,000 Transylvanian boys to fight alongside his armies. Vlad’s dedication to his people, knowledge of the life of enslavement, and love for his son moves him enough to refuse Mehmed’s orders, beginning a war where Vlad’s people are far outnumbered. Fearing for his people and the safety of his family, Vlad ventures onto a nearby mountain to seek out the Master Vampire (Game of Thrones’ Charles Dance), the only man who can give him the power of 1,000 men and the curse of eternal life.
The problems with the film are numerous, and it’s a shame, because with a different script entirely, Luke Evans would have made a fabulous Dracula. In fact, his portrayal given the material is quite good. The problem lies within the execution of the film entirely, and makes one wonder why the filmmaker’s thought that Dracula’s backstory was the most interesting aspect of the iconic literary figure. The medieval European setting serves as a backdrop for numerous epic clashes between Dracula and the Turks, echoing Lord of the Rings or Excalibur more than anything associated with Bram Stoker’s creation.
With that being said, the first half of the film is somewhat watchable, but I kept waiting for the filmmakers to jump forward a few hundred years to Carfax Abby. Sadly that moment never happens. Instead the remaining time is filled with cringe-inducing dialogue, utterly predictable plot turns, and battles that offer little to wow the viewer. Dracula Untold is the definition of miscalculation, a film that shows little respect to the source material and assumes that the audience cared to see a feature length origin story of a character that is far more interesting in a more modern setting.
Though I obviously didn’t care for the film itself, this Blu-Ray edition from Universal Pictures features outstanding video quality with deep black levels, plenty of impressive clarity and fine object detail, and a stylized color scheme that looks gorgeous in High Definition.
Same goes for the 5.1 DTS-HD audio track, which regularly balances dialogue, the clang and clash of swordplay, and the score from with precision and power, making for a wonderful home audio experience.
Universal Studios Home Entertainment has provided fans of Dracula Untold with a nice array of bonus features to accompany this Blu-Ray release. Here’s a breakdown of what’s included:
- Commentary- Director Gary Shore and Production Designer Francois Audouy sit down to discuss the film in depth. I appreciate their dedication to various aspects of the film (costumes, design, etc.), but would have loved to hear more of the “why” behind their decision involving the origins of this character.
- Luke Evans: Creating a Legend- This nearly 20 minute featurette has Luke Evans discussing various scenes from the film. As I stated in my review above, I thought Mr. Evans’ portrayal of Dracula was fine, but would have been better served with a different storyline in tow. Hopefully any potential sequel will allow him to sink his fangs into a more traditional version of Stoker’s tale.
- Alternate Opening- A romantic alternate opening to the film, which would have provided slightly more insight into the love between Vlad and Mirena.
- Deleted Scenes- Roughly 13 minutes worth of deleted scenes from the film. I’m not sure their inclusion would have made it any better, but fans of the film may find these interesting.
- Day in the Life: Luke Evans- Nearly ten minutes of Luke Evan’s days on set, from the actor prepping in the early morning to discussing various aspects of the story on set.
- Dracula Retold- Some insight into the history behind the film.
- Slaying 1,000- A roughly 5-minute behind-the-scenes look at the first battle of the film, where Luke Evans takes on the army of Turks storming Castle Dracula.
- The Land of Dracula- An interactive map that includes various short featurettes on specific locations utilized in the film.
As you can see from the “Unboxing” pictures below, this Blu-Ray edition from Universal Studios Home Entertainment features a nice glossy finish, embossed title, and the theatrical poster art featuring Evans’ Dracula in battle mode. On the reverse of the packaging you’ll find a brief plot synopsis, a list of bonus features, technical specifications, and details regarding the Blu-Ray exclusives featured on this release. On the interior of the packaging are two fairly plain discs for the Blu-Ray and DVD as well as the Ultraviolet Digital Copy Code insert. Collectors may want to note that Walmart will be selling a Steelbook exclusive edition with some fancier artwork.
Dracula Untold is a ridiculous venture into the origin story of Bram Stoker’s iconic character that pays little respect to the source material, offering up cringe-inducing dialogue, tired and bloated battle scenes, and predictable plot turns that do little to aid this gross miscalculation. The good news here is that the Blu-Ray from Universal Studios Home Entertainment features a very solid video and audio presentation along with some decent special features. If you somehow enjoy this unnecessary and cheap exploration of a character that is much more interesting in modern times, the technical specifications and features will be a bonus to your purchase. Personally, I need a Lugosi and Lee marathon to rid my mouth of the awful taste that Dracula Untold left me with. Skip this one, at all costs.
Blu-Ray Review- Countess Dracula
Distributor: Synapse Films
Street Date: May 6th 2014
Technical Specifications: 1080P Video, DTS-HD Master Audio Mono, Color, 1.66:1 Aspect Ratio
Runtime: 93 Minutes
In 1971, Hammer Films took a chance on producing Countess Dracula, their fictional take on the very real story of Elizabeth Bathory (Elizabeth Nadasdy in the film), who is often referred to as the most prolific female serial killer in history. Born into a noble Hungarian family, the real Elizabeth was said to use her power and deception to lure innocent villagers into the castle, torture them for days, and eventually kill and dispose of their bodies. Depending on what story you read, the number of Bathory’s victims range anywhere from 30-600 women, as a precise number was never established. What is more than likely the truth of the matter is that the legends of Elizabeth Bathory (such as bathing in her victims blood to stay young) far outweigh the facts. It makes for a fascinating Horror story, a fact that Hammer Films knew well enough to produce Countess Dracula, a different kind of macabre tale for them after many repetitive outings featuring Frankenstein, The Mummy, and the Count himself.
Countess Dracula begins with the funeral of Count Nadasdy, who has left little fortune to his wife Elizabeth (Ingrid Pitt) in his will. She is a crude, hateful old woman, who punishes her handmaidens for the slightest perceived misdeed. The funeral has also brought Lieutenant Imre Toth (Sandor Eles) to the family castle, a young friend of the late Count who Elizabeth is instantly taken with. After discovering the youthful effect that young blood has on her appearance, Elizabeth kills a female servant, bathes in her blood, and becomes youthful and beautiful once more. Conspiring with her faithful steward Dobi (Nigel Green), she hides her newly arrived daughter Llona away, fooling everyone into thinking that she is in fact, her own daughter. Elizabeth’s youthful appearance aids her in seducing Lieutenant Toth, but at a price, as more victims have to be sacrificed for Elizabeth to maintain this façade, and the castle historian begins to suspect something sinister is brewing.
Revisiting Countess Dracula was an absolute treat. Ingrid Pitt is as breathtaking as ever, turning in one of her best performances. The gothic production design, polished cinematography, elegant costumes, and eerie music by Harry Robertson (incorrectly credited in the opening credits as Harry Robinson) just adds to the pleasure. This remains one of my personal favorite stand-alone films in the Hammer catalog.
The Blu-Ray presentation for Countess Dracula is about as impressive as it gets. It’s obvious that a lot of time and care went into making sure this High Definition release would impress Horror fans and Blu-Ray aficionados alike. Colors look accurate, scenery looks crisp and gorgeous, the wonderful costume design shows incredible detail and clarity, and the blood…the blood looks crimson red! The film grain has been kept intact and authentic throughout the restoration process, which is always appreciated! There is some slight damage to the print here and there, but these moments are few and far between, save for the occasional speckles. The lengths that Synapse has gone to in order to preserve this film is commendable, and it looks fantastic in High Definition.
The DTS-HD Mono track provided here is surprisingly powerful: regularly balancing dialogue, background sound effects, and Harry Robertson’s eerie score. It’s a bit jolting at first to hear so much power and balance from two channels. This is another standout area on this release.
Synapse Films has provided Horror fans with plenty of great special features to enjoy on this disc. Here’s a breakdown of what’s included:
- Audio Commentary- This commentary features actress Ingrid Pitt, Director Peter Sasdy, Screenwriter Jeremy Paul, and Author Jonathan Sothcott discussing nearly all aspects of production on Countess Dracula. Continuously engaging and fun, this is one of the more enjoyable commentaries I’ve experienced in some time.
- Countess Dracula Still Gallery- Roughly seven minutes of fantastic behind-the-scenes photos and production stills set to the brilliant piano score from the film. There are some really captivating pictures provided here, showcasing the elaborate costume and production design for the film.
- Immortal Countess: The Cinematic Life of Ingrid Pitt– Running nearly eleven minutes, this featurette is extremely well made and showcases the career of the gorgeous and talented Ingrid Pitt. Several film scholars and noteworthy people contribute to telling her life story in brief, from the unimaginable horror she must have experienced spending the first few years of her life in a concentration camp, to her beginning acting career in film. I knew very little about Ingrid going into this, and came out knowing (and wanting to further research) so much more. It’s fascinating that she escaped Berlin by swimming across the river, being pulled out by a United States soldier, whom she would later marry. The featurette further discusses her roles in Where Eagles Dare, The Vampire Lovers, and finally, Countess Dracula. This is absolutely my favorite special feature on the set.
- Archival Audio Interview with Ingrid Pitt- Over eight minutes worth of audio featuring an interview with Ingrid Pitt. The audio is in rough shape, and a little hard to hear at times, but there are some interesting topics discussed including violence in film, her beginnings in Hollywood, and her Horror film roles.
- Theatrical Trailer- The original theatrical trailer for Countess Dracula is a lot of fun, with a great rhyming voiceover, gothic Hammer title cards, and like most older trailers, showcases a bit too much of the final film.
Synapse has crafted a beautiful looking release for Countess Dracula with artwork featuring the original theatrical poster for the film, with the “Hammer Horror Collection” banner at the top. The reverse features a plot synopsis for the film, a list of special features, and technical specifications. Inside you will find some beautiful (and naughty) reversible artwork as well as the Blu-Ray and DVD discs for the film.
Revisiting Countess Dracula was an absolute treat. Ingrid Pitt is as breathtaking as ever, turning in one of her best performances. The gothic production design, polished cinematography, elegant costumes, and eerie music by Harry Robertson just adds to the pleasure. Synapse Films has gone to great lengths to provide viewers with a beautiful restored print, surprisingly great sound quality, and a wealth of bonus material. The Immortal Countess featurette is a particular treat, providing viewers with a look at Ingrid Pitt’s beautiful life and legacy. This Blu-Ray release receives my Highest Recommendation.