I unabashedly love Howling II: Your Sister is a Werewolf and, on July 14, the patron saints of classic cult film- Scream Factory- are resurrecting Philippe Mora’s sequel on Blu-ray. In honor of its release, I was fortunate to be able to speak with Mora about his experiences working on the film, collaborating with both Sybil Danning and the legendary Christopher Lee, and how the latter had quite a lifetime of experiences even before he became one of the greatest actors to grace the silver screen.

Thank you so much for taking the time to speak with me, Philippe- I am a huge fan of Howling II and I even have an original one-sheet hanging in my kitchen.

Philippe Mora: Oh, thank you so much! Let me tell you how that image came about. One day we were filming a scene with Sybil who is supposed to be in full-Queen Stirba mode inside her lair. She arrived on set and said she wasn’t sure what to do because she had conjunctivitis and I said, “Here, wear these sunglasses.” She protested, because the scene was indoors, and I told her, “Sybil, you’re Queen of the Werewolves- you can wear whatever you damned well like” (laughs).

And so that look- creatures wearing sunglasses- suddenly became cool and iconic and when I saw her with the sunglasses on, that image just struck me and we knew that was our poster.

Let’s talk about the production of the Howling II as I’ve heard that you guys didn’t exactly have the easiest shoot, especially when it came to the creature effects.

Philippe Mora: Yes, we had to make do a lot on the Howling II. The werewolves in particular became a huge issue for us; I remember we were two weeks into production and the suits hadn’t arrived yet. I called one of the producers and he assured me they were on their way. So a few days later, two crates from 20th Century Fox arrive and when we open them, we realize that what they sent us were the monkey suits from Planet of the Apes.  Not a werewolf costume in sight.

I was shocked- I wasn’t sure what was going on so I called our producer again and all he said to me was, “Philippe, you’re a talented director, you figure it out” and then hung up. So that was something (laughs). But then, Christopher- who had been sitting in my room while I took the call- asked me what happened and I explained everything to him. He stopped for a moment and then said to me, “This is what we’re going to do, Philippe. We’re going to shoot a scene where we simply explain that werewolves go through three phases- a human phase, a monkey phase and then a werewolf phase- and that will solve everything.

So that’s what we did and I think it helped. In fact, the critic from Variety, who didn’t love the movie, but he had said that the one interesting thing that I did- the thing that made my film stand out from other werewolf movies- was that line about the monkey phase.  So I think that adversity ended up adding to the film’s legacy as a whole, which was fortunate for us.

I love the fact that you went over to Czechoslovakia to film Howling II, just because it clearly would have been easier to just shoot this on some studio backlot. The location, and the people, really adds such a nice kind of authenticity to the film that I’ve always appreciated. It almost feels like a modernized Hammer movie.

Philippe Mora: Thank you for saying that because that’s precisely what I had in mind when I was making it. The Howling II was my tribute to Hammer Movies as I was a fan; plus, when you’re shooting in a location like that and making a film with Christopher, how could you not pay tribute?

And I really had no idea what I was getting myself into by filming over there. We had no copiers so that was a huge consideration for us to keep in mind throughout production. We also didn’t have walkie talkies on set so we had to communicate with each other via guys on bicycles riding back and forth.  That being said, filming over there gave The Howling II something of a funky authenticity which is something you could never get if you had filmed this on a back lot here in the States. What you see is authentic and I love that the setting gives the film this sort of rough edge.

Something else that always struck me about the Howling II was how those punk club scenes felt very much like a juxtaposition against the rest of the film which has this sort of ‘old world’ feeling to it.

Philippe Mora: Let me tell you about that. Undoubtedly, the most dramatic thing we had to deal with during production was when we shot the scene of the punks in the club. All those people you see in that scene were real punks we had found in Prague and apparently, to gather hundreds together- the way we did- was illegal so we had to deal with soldiers and police showing up, who were concerned that something bad was going to happen.

So I had to tell this General through the use of translators that we were recreating a punk club scene in LA and that it was for a movie about werewolves and he just burst out laughing when he put it all together. They gave us like half an hour and then after, the kids all had to leave three at a time, in 10 minute intervals.  When we finally finished shooting that day, I got back to the hotel and all the punks were gathered there and they gave me this hero’s welcome- no one had ever done anything like that for them before and they loved it (laughs).

The Howling II might be the only sequel that references (Joe) Dante’s original and yet, is still very much its own story. Was that a difficult line to walk?

Philippe Mora: Whenever you’re a director and you’re offered a sequel, you are pretty much damned either way.  You’re either expected to copy the original or do something completely different but you know that whatever approach you go, someone isn’t going to be happy. So I just did my best to use elements from the first Howling and then take the story in another direction from there.  I intentionally did the same thing with Marsupials too- in fact, it’s rather interesting to me that all eight Howling movies turned out so very different from each other.

One thing I thought was really cool was that you involved Gary Brandner, who had done the original Howling novel, in writing the screenplay for Part II.

Philippe Mora: Thank you, Gary and I spent a lot of time together and so I was very sad when he passed away. We were going to make this film called Nighthunters with Sybil too but never had the opportunity unfortunately. Gary wasn’t involved in a lot of the day-to-day activities while we were making Howling II and III but he was always very much involved with the story from beginning to end. He was a fantastic partner to work with on these two films and a great friend.

I do want to work with Sybil again one day- and maybe we’ll get to do Nighthunters one of these days. She’s such a wonderful, gentle soul and she is so passionate about her work that I feel very lucky to have worked with her on Howling II and to also be able to call her a friend.

Going back to the punk club scene in the Howling II for a moment; I want to take a moment and thank you for putting Christopher in those sunglasses because for as much as I love the movie, that moment is absolutely awesome.

Philippe Mora: The great thing about Christopher is that he enjoyed sending himself up. The first thing we worked on together was this film called The Return of Captain Invincible which was also Alan Arkin’s first musical film, I believe. But in that movie, he sends himself up with this great song where almost every word he says is the name of an alcoholic beverage- it’s really great and Christopher always said it was one of his favorite songs he’s ever done. He had that great sense of humor about himself, and his career, and if you really look closely at his body of work, you can see that often times, he would approach roles with a bit of a wink in his eye because he knew his legacy in the industry. He absolutely relished being able to have some fun with who he was- or who fans thought he was.

Undoubtedly, he was one of the greatest onscreen presences we’ve ever seen and yet, it’s amazing how much fun he always seemed to have with everything he did.

Philippe Mora: Let me share something about Christopher with you. Most people don’t know that Christopher was a war hero in Czechoslovakia. It wasn’t something he was allowed to talk about but during World War II, he was part of an Intelligence Agency and so when we showed up to film the Howling II in Czechoslovakia, he was greeted with a hero’s welcome at the airport when we arrived. That’s when I first found out about his past- how he had been involved with killing one of the top Nazi officials, Reinhard Heydrich, and everything. I couldn’t believe it.

One day, he took me to Prague to visit a church. I just remember him saying, “Dear boy, please come with me and let me tell you about what I’ve seen” and he then took me inside to the basement and proceeded to tell me a story about how this was a place where people had been trapped by the Nazi’s and some very terrible things occurred there.  It was such a profound moment for me because I realized just where Christopher’s gravitas came from- he’d seen true horror first-hand in his lifetime and he used that in his performances.

He was also a Nazi hunter for a couple of years after WWII also- Christopher lived such an intriguing and complicated life, and most people don’t have any idea of who we was beyond being this iconic actor.

  • Heather Wixson
    About the Author - Heather Wixson

    Heather A. Wixson was born and raised in the Chicago suburbs, until she followed her dreams and moved to Los Angeles in 2009. A 14-year veteran in the world of horror entertainment journalism, Wixson fell in love with genre films at a very early age, and has spent more than a decade as a writer and supporter of preserving the history of horror and science fiction cinema. Throughout her career, Wixson has contributed to several notable websites, including Fangoria, Dread Central, Terror Tube, and FEARnet, and she currently serves as the Managing Editor for Daily Dead, which has been her home since 2013. She's also written for both Fangoria Magazine & ReMind Magazine, and her latest book project, Monsters, Makeup & Effects: Volume One will be released on October 20, 2021.