HOWLING III: THE MARSUPIALS (1987)
(Written and Directed by Philippe Mora)
(Starring Imogen Annesley, Barry Otto and Lee Biolos)
Plot: Jerboa (Imogen Annesley) is a young marsupial werewolf (!!!), who falls in love with Donnie (Lee Biolos) and they run away together while various Government Agents and hunters chase them…Also known as “The Marsupials: Howling III“.
Um….er….Yeah….That shit was weird.
The second sequel in the “Howling” franchise was actually released as “The Marsupials“, with “Howling” being demoted to a subtitle, probably because “Howling II: Stirba- Werewolf Bitch” failed with everyone and reduced the marketability of its namesake. But these days, it’s more commonly referred to as “Howling III“, because why else would anyone seek out a movie called “The Marsupials“? Director Philippe Mora apparently felt like he had been creatively stifled during production on “Howling 2“, so tried to make amends by purchasing the rights to the name and bringing the Howling to his native country of Australia. This actually makes sense, because the previous entry was filmed in Czechoslovakia (even though it was an American product) and he was obviously out of his element, not helped by the bizarre mandates of the Soviet Union. Mora helped develop the phase that would be known as Ozsploitation with “Mad Dog Morgan“, so why not fight the artistic battle on his own turf? But the end result baffled fans, as “Howling 3” does not really feel like a Howling movie…In fact, it’s almost as if he wrote an original script and shoehorned the werewolf terminology during the final draft. Even though they are called werewolves, they are really weretasmanian tigers, although I’m not entirely sure if that (real life) extinct animal had pouches to carry their young in. Furthermore, the “werewolves” were portrayed much more sympathetically, with the humans being the antagonists. Depending on who you ask, these changes damned the movie as a sequel, depriving the fans of what they desired out of a Howling movie, or was a nice change of pace from a formula that had already grown stale. Ignoring the fact that calling these creatures werewolves makes little sense, I actually don’t mind Mora’s attempts to experiment with the Howling formula. At the absolute least, I respect him for providing something completely different and even if you don’t like the , at least it will burrow itself in your memory…for better or worse…On a technical level, “Howling 3” is a noticeable step up from its predecessor, even containing some legitimate good stuff. My problem is that even the filmmakers don’t seem to know what kind of movie they wanted to make. A comedy? Horror? Arthouse? Environmentalist propaganda? Environmentalist propaganda? It’s too much of all of these genres to satisfy as any one of them!
“Howling 3” doesn’t have much of an overarching plot or any sense of direction. The first act focuses on the sudden romance between werewolf Jerboa (Imogen Annesley) and human Donnie (Leigh Biolos), which is hard to swallow considering he’s declaring his love after knowing her for like two days and when asked how he knew, he said something along the lines of “I just saw her and was in love“. That’s lust, buddy, although I suppose that’s easier to accept than the professors’ apparent werewolf fetish. But she’s promptly abducted by her former wolf clan members, so is that the overarching plot? No, it’s resolved when the Government gets involved and then the focus shifts to our couple running away in the wilderness. But more time is dedicated to a bunch of random hunters stalking them, while the Government eventually sends only two short-lived agents…and that is the extent of the conflict. That’s not very exciting…The villains don’t seem to have a lot emotional investment in their diabolical plans as they give up relatively easily, lessening the stakes! The sexual deviant Stepfather Thylo (Max Fairchild) is introduced as the potential antagonist, but he actually ends up being presented as a sympathetic (!!!) character by the end of the story, even though the first scene of him is an attempted rape! WHAT!? You could argue that the ‘story’ is just about the trials and tribulations of inter-species love (ugh), but the narrative diverts attention away from them onto Prof. Harry Beckmeyer (Barry Otto), whose experiments only explain things we already know from other conversations. He ends up rescuing sympathetic rapist stepfather Thylo and another female werewolf named Olga (Dagmar Bláhová)- who ends up being his own love interest. Their relationship is a little less shallow than our primary couple, although the circumstances felt very abrupt. But these characters are boring and their personalities change in nonsensical ways. Olga is introduced as eccentric, animalistic and weird, but becomes progressively…eh…normal? Bland? Her characterization is eventually reduced to being a sexy reward to the professor for being so heroic. Thylo is the rapist bastard stepfather who becomes noble and selfless for absolutely no reason. It’s not character development when they jump from ‘A’ to ‘Z’ without anything in between! But then again, does anyone in this movie react to anything like normal human beings would? Donnie has sex with the werelady and he only notices her extensive amount of body hair afterwards? I don’t know about you, but if I saw my girlfriend carrying a creature in her stomach pouch for the first time, I’d react with more…revulsion? Shock? I would not certainly react like it’s a normal f@cking baby being cared for in a normal f@cking way, even if I subsequently composed myself and accepted the responsibility of being a Father. So if this is some sort of character driven story, then they failed at giving them character arcs, personalities, intelligence and reasons for us- the audience- to care. So I couldn’t give a damn about their plights and the narrative crawls to nowhere very slowly, with seemingly 60% of the runningtime qualifying as filler. So I spent a lot of this viewing experience battling sleep.
Now “Howling 2” also padded out its runningtime with unnecessary scenes and even stock footage, yet that movie kept me entertained because of its abundance of excellent badness. I couldn’t go 30 seconds without something amusingly terrible gripping my attention. Does this sequel satisfy on that level? Not really, even though there are moments of hilarity. The problem…ironically…is that “Howling 3” showcases a lot more skill and inspiration than “Howling 2” in nearly every aspect of filmmaking, but the improvements are not enough to escape ‘bad movie’ territory. The cinematography is adequate, making solid use of the Outback scenery, although there isn’t enough diversity in the landscapes for eye popping visuals. The lighting is good, the camerawork is fluid and there is a lot more artistry within the direction. In complete contrast to his ‘let’s get this over with’ style from “Howling 2“, you can really tell that Mora is putting a lot more work in framing ‘symbolic’ imagery, developing a surreal atmosphere and building nail biting suspense. He’s only sporadically successful and is still struggling against minimal production values, but I appreciate the effort. Sometimes he fails to create any excitement or tension, even when we’re watching a super-powered werewolf maul a group of hunters- which probably was a victim of the PG-13 rating. Every camera angle and edit should be amplifying the terror, but instead they are designed to hide the violence, declawing the intensity in the process. But I thought the Government Agents being confronted by ‘The Big One’ was pretty freaky, although that might be because the scene scared the unholy crap out of me as a kid. There is also one transformation that is somewhat suspenseful, although the questionable effects keep the scene from reaching its full potential. Mora still either struggles with eroticism or is aiming towards a fetishist crowd, because the body hair and human pouches really take away from the sexiness (for me). The birthing scene is nightmarish, although based on the music, I think it was supposed to be beautiful. It is possible that these elements were intentional though (maybe the director wanted to make us uncomfortable this way?) and probably do contribute to this films’ identity (those human pouches are unique). I did feel that the editing was a little too rough, as scenes would abruptly cut to something else, making it difficult for the mind to process what just occurred. One moment a group of characters are discussing genocide and the next shot is of the grotesque werewolf infant. There is some evidence that this was a stylistic choice, as the filmmaker is constantly splicing in footage of the baby during violent scenarios, but it was more distracting than meaningful. The special effects are a major improvement over “Howling 2“, even if they’re still very hokey. The ‘body hair’ makeup was reasonably convincing and the aforementioned werewolf baby is hauntingly disgusting, but the transformations and werewolf forms left me with mixed feelings. They don’t look menacing or realistic, but at least they’re elaborate and ambitious. I’d take these rubbery monstrosities over dudes in gorilla suits any day, although I’d rather just stick with the convincing and terrifying werewolf effects from “The Howling“. The acting is bad, but still consistently better than “Howling 2“. But is this a positive thing? None of the actors are as good as Sir Christopher Lee, nor are they as good at being bad as Reb Brown. So to me, the performances were just terrible and not in a fun way. There are a few shining exceptions though, such as the priest who has the infamous “Why are you running away“/”Because my Stepfather tried to rape me. And he’s a werewolf” exchange with Jerboa. He delivers his lines like he’s reading from cue cards and considering he’s looking forward instead of at her, that’s probably what he was doing. Burnham Burnham (Kendi) was also pretty damn funny as the mystical Aborigine, who also shares a magical moment with with Jerboa.
Jerboa- “You’re going to be a rainbow and then a mountain“.
Kendi- “No way, I’m just going to die“.
The line is funny itself within the context, but his robotic delivery reminded me a lot of Richard Ayoade‘s (Or should I say Dean Lerner?) Thornton Reed from “Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace” and that is wonderful. The writing occasionally embraces the absurd and awful, but not with the same consistency as “Howling 2“, so it could not keep my attention for very long. When the professor and his colleague happen to stumble upon the film set where Jerboa happened to be working at the time, I thought that was coincidental, especially as they were discussing werewolves. He never interacts with them, making the contrivance pointless, but shortly afterwards he happens to be attending a dancing show and he witnesses another werewolf transform. Those are some amazing odds…Donnie declares that he and his mate are going to start new lives in the city, changing their identities to hide from the Government, so naturally pursue a career in show business…Obviously the best way of laying low is to be in the center of the media spotlight. Also, if you werewolves want to blend in with humanity, maybe you should not name your village ‘Flow’, although even the Professor needed to see its reflection in a mirror before he made the connection…Maybe “Howling 3” takes place in the same world as “Troll 2” and Nilbog is right next door? But as laughable as these moments are, they are merely moments drifting in a sea of nothingness. But believe it or not, these issues barely scratch the surface of the problems lurking deep within “Howling 3“. There is one flaw in particular that arguably poisons the whole experience.
“Howling 2” felt like it was originally written as a serious thriller, only for the filmmakers to realize how bad their movie was half way through production, so decided to embrace high camp in order to make their film watchable. “Howling 3” had a similar journey, except it came from the complete opposite direction! It begins as a farce, with some broad (and often funny) gags, intentionally terrible acting and even a certain amount of self awareness. Sometimes it’s too on the nose to be clever and sometimes the jokes bomb, but I liked the parody of “An American Werewolf in London” and the Alfred Hitchcock expy. At this point, the badness within the acting, writing and special effects can be excused because we’re supposed to be laughing at them. However, it’s as if Mora began taking himself too seriously, as the comedy seems to dissipate and heartfelt drama takes its place. The movie starts trying its hardest to be very thought provoking and has a green thumb message about preserving nearly extinct species- because one day, you might fall in love with one and impregnate it with freakish babies. The direction becomes significantly artsier, for better or worse, and the pacing slows down as if we are supposed to appreciate the beauty of nature. The funny thing is, I really don’t hate the movie for going in this direction, as you can tell it’s genuine in its attempts to be more than just a cornball horror flick. You can argue that it adds to the films’ eccentricities. But what I DID hate was that during the final 15-20 minutes, “Howling 3” reverts to its original cheesiness, while being strangely cynical…and totally pointless. Maybe having our lead couple realize that their relationship wasn’t as strong as they thought is part of the self awareness? As if the filmmakers understood that their romance had a weak foundation? I’d applaud that, except its execution felt sad and mean spirited, which just didn’t feel right with the rest of the movie. “The Howling” built up to its ending rather effectively, so even though it concludes on a downer note (albeit in a darkly satirical kind of way), it was the right conclusion for that story. If you like this films style of comedy, then you will be turned off by its sudden desire to be dramatic. But if you make any positive attachment to the characters and care about their dilemma, you will be turned off by its sudden goofiness. The already slow pacing became agonizing by this point, as the remaining act lacked any conflict and too much was left off-screeen, making the finale seem unnecessary. “Howling 3” occasionally did move me, so it wasn’t a complete failure in its attempts to be dramatic, so I couldn’t bring myself to laugh during the ending, making the entire experience less fulfilling than the technically inferior “Howling 2“.
This was a weird experience for me, because the films’ bizarre content did often intrigue me, as misguided as it was. “Howling 3” is definitely an imaginative movie and contains some stuff that you’ve probably never seen before or will ever see again…or get out of your memory… It only tries to be scary a handful of times and the PG-13 rating restricts what could be shown…although admittedly, it also is very risque for the rating…It’s just a bit too boring for me to like. I was considering giving it a 2-star rating and might’ve even gone with that if it wasn’t for the final 15 minutes, which just made me angry. But even though I appreciated a lot about this film and “Howling 3” is a step up from its predecessor in overall quality, I just didn’t enjoy myself enough to give it a passing grade. It was an interesting experiment which stands out, but suffers from a lack of focus. Yet depending on what I feel about some of the other sequels, I might still increase the rating, because I really am torn between 1.5/4 and 2/4. I respect effort and strangeness too much to be completely dismissive.
Violence: PG-13, although it can be gruesome considering the rating.
Nudity: Nothing explicit, but you can see certain bodyparts underneath that fur and the film is very sexual.
Overall: “Howling III: The Marsupials” is worth watching if it sounds intriguing or if you wish to continue the franchise, but it’s still a pretty bad movie- albeit with delusions of grandeur.