Howling III: The Marsupials

Director: Philippe Mora
Screenplay:Philippe Mora (based on the novel Howling III by Gary Brandner)
Stars: Imogen Annesley (Jerboa), Leigh Biolos (Donny Martin), Barry Otto (Professor Harry Beckmeyer), Dagmar Bláhová (Olga Gorki), Max Fairchild (Thylo), Michael Pate (President), Ralph Cotterill (Professor Sharp), Frank Thring (Jack Citron)
MPAA Rating:PG-13
Year of Release: 1987
Country: Australia
Howling III DVD Cover

Philippe Mora's Howling III: The Marsupials is a silly, semi-spoof of werewolf movies that has nothing to do with the first two entries in The Howling series aside from the title (not that The Howling and Howling II had much to do with each other, either). Set in Australia, it imagines a clan of marsupial werewolves living isolated and in relative peace in the far reaches of the Outback until their presence becomes known and the Australian military is sent in to eliminate them. Goofy as it is, Howling III actually has a message about peace and tolerance, arguing, essentially, that lycanthropes are people, too.

In general, this is a weird movie, constantly verging on the edge of sheer absurdity, and it's hard to tell if Mora was ever completely in control of his material. The "message" about tolerance is a good example because, however well intentioned, it is confused and uneven throughout. For instance, if we are meant to have sympathy for the marsupial werewolf clan, then why are we introduced to them through the heroine, a teenager named Jeroba (Imogen Annesley), having to fight off an incestuous rape attempt by Thylo (Max Fairchild), her stepfather and clan leader? Of course, this leads to a great joke, as Jeroba is asked by a Catholic priest on a bus why she ran away from home, to which she deadpans without missing a beat, "Because my stepfather tried to rape me and he's a werewolf."

Once in Sydney, Jeroba's beauty immediately lands her a bit role in a horror movie titled Shape Shifters Part 8. She falls in love with the assistant director who discovered her, an energetic young man with the bland name of Donny Martin (Leigh Biolos). This leads to a number of horror movie in-jokes, including the fact that Shape Shifters is being directed by a man named Jack Citron, who looks and acts like Alfred Hitchcock as filtered through Rod Steiger (Citron is played by Frank Thring, who, like many of the older actors in Howling III, is a decades-old veteran of playing bit roles in big movies). Mora also squeezes in some goofy humor in the form of a movie Donny and Jeroba see called It Came From Uranus (get it?), which features a moronic Southern-friend nurse and some hilariously awful werewolf special effects.

A second plotline follows Professor Harry Beckmeyer (Barry Otto), an expert on unexplained phenomena who wants to study the marsupial werewolves. He discovers that they are descended from a long-extinct wolf known as the "Tasmanian Tiger," which is one of the only canines known to have raised its young in a pouch like kangaroos. Mora sets up Beckmeyer as the film's liberal conscience, set in stark opposition to the politicians and military men who simply want to wipe out the werewolves. Just to illustrate how odd Howling III is, I can tell you that Beckmeyer ends up falling love with a female werewolf named Olga (Dagmar Bláhová), who is, of all things, a professional ballerina who recently defected from the Soviet Union (the scene in which Olga transforms into her wolf self in the middle of ballet practice is one the movie's most hysterical moments).

The special effects and production values in Howling III are generally on par with the purposefully bad effects in the parodic It Came From Uranus. The limited budget is really noticeable when Mora tries to stage large-scale sequences, such as a military raid on the werewolf clan that involves about 10 soldiers, or a major movie awards show that was obviously filmed in a small room against a curtain backdrop. The werewolf make-up effects are cheesy and unconvincing throughout, with the exception of one well-done effects sequence that depicts Jeroba giving birth in true marsupial fashion.

Some will argue that this is part of the movie's humor--after all, would it be very funny if the special effects were convincing enough to be frightening? Perhaps, but it is also undeniable that they were primarily the result of what was obviously a miniscule budget, the kind that forces Mora to always cut away from any elaborate effects shots. He tries to get in a few human-to-wolf transformations, which constitute the "money shot" of the werewolf genre, but all his attempts are undermined by the ridiculously rubbery nature of Bob McCarron's prosthetic special effects. Mostly, Mora is content to simply suggest the transformations through quick editing and a lot of blurry camerawork.

Mora, an Australian native who had directed a few other horror movies, including two other shape-shifting thrillers, The Beast Within (1982) and the (un)intentionally hilarious Howling II: Your Sister is a Werewolf (1983), does everything he can with the meager resources at his disposal. His screenplay, which is credited as being based on a novel by Gary Brandner (who also wrote the novel on which the first Howling was based) although it actually has no connection beyond the title, is amusing enough to maintain interest, even though his satiric barbs are thrown at targets as wide as the proverbial side of a barn. Howling III is certainly a fun waste of 95 minutes, but expect to spend a lot more time chuckling that cringing.

Howling III: The Marsupials DVD

Aspect Ratio1.85:1
AudioDolby Digital 5.1 Surround
SupplementsAudio commentary by writer/director Philippe Mora
Still photo gallery
Promotional trailer
TV spot
DistributorElite Entertainment

Elite Entertainment has given Howling III a new, remastered anamorphic transfer in the film's original 1.85:1 aspect ratio, the first time it has appeared in widescreen on home video. The transfer, which was approved by director Philippe Mora, is excellent throughout, with a clean, sharp image and well-saturated colors that look especially vivid because the majority of the movie was shot in the bright Australian sun. Detail level is high and black levels remain relatively stable throughout, with only minor appearances of grain.

The soundtrack has been remixed in Dolby Digital 5.1 surround with very good results. The music is given a much wider expanse, especially the opening credits sequences that features the haunting reverberations of an aboriginal didgeridoo. There isn't a great deal of low end to be found, but imaging and directionality are nicely utilized, as are ambient sound effects in the surround channels.

Writer/director Philippe Mora contributes an amusingly deadpan screen-specific audio commentary in which he discusses the movie's origins, its production history, and what he was trying to accomplish in making it. He starts off in proper parodic fashion, claiming that Howling III is "one of the greatest films ever made . . . in 1986." He does have some interesting insights into the movie and how it fits into and parodies the werewolf horror genre. He also tells a few special effects secrets, the most interesting of which involves the use of a mouse in a prosthetic costume when a tiny puppet wouldn't work for the birth sequence. Mora's Australian accent is a bit thick at times, as in one instance where he was discussing the importance of "pop art" and his background as a pop art illustrator, and I thought he was saying "Popeye."

Also included is a gallery of about 50 color production photos. There is no original theatrical trailer, but there is a two-minute promotional trailer that looks like it was put together for video marketers and retailers, as well as a blink-and-you-miss-it 12-second TV spot.

Copyright ©2001 James Kendrick

Overall Rating: (2.5)

James Kendrick

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