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The Howling III: The Marsupials

tn_howlingI always liked THE HOWLING but since the sequels are made by different people and have a reputation for poor quality I never thought to watch them. Then I watched NOT QUITE HOLLYWOOD, that documentary about Australian exploitation movies, and saw the clips from THE HOWLING III: THE MARSUPIALS by Australian director Phillipe Mora. It looked like a crazy fever dream full of low-budget-but-really-cool werewolf transformations, some of them looking straight-up cartoonish. Plus they showed how the werewolves have pouches in this one, and gave away the most memorable scene – I’ll get to that later. I figured just from what I saw there was no way this wasn’t worth watching. And I figured right.

mp_howlingiiiThose clips are misleading though. The tone is not quite as crazy as they make it seem. Some of the more outrageous clips are from a movie-within-the-movie, SHAPESHIFTERS 8, so the werewolf effects deliberately look more ridiculous than the ones in the other scenes.

Unconnected to previous HOWLINGs (which is good because part 2, also by Mora, was checked out at the video store), this is the story of Jerboa (Imogen Annesley), a girl who runs away from her small tribe of Australian werewolves. A guy working on SHAPESHIFTERS 8 sees her in the park, convinces her to be in the movie, and falls in love with her. Meanwhile, an expert on unexplained phenomena is working with the US government trying to prove the existence of werewolves in order to know if some intercepted messages from the Russians are literally talking about werewolves or speaking in code. This (somehow) brings him to Sydney and to a touring Russian ballerina who happens to be a werewolf.

The ballerina has a great scene where she transforms mid-rehearsal, but she’s a traditional wolf-werewolf. It’s their Australian cousins who give the movie its subtitle. Jerboa gets pregnant and gives birth in a classic, one-of-a-kind scene. You see this little thing come out of her extra-hairy pubic area and crawl up into her pouch, and on her face you see the sweaty, exhausted bliss of motherhood. It’s such an outrageous idea and the creature effects are goofy (a mouse in a costume, but it just looks like a rubber doll on a string) and allegedly it was meant to be funny. But fuck it, I think it’s brilliant and I’m taking it seriously.

See, in THE HOWLING the werewolves were evil. Here they’re an oppressed minority, a feared other, an endangered species related to the extinct Thylacine or Tasmanian tiger. But they’re not glamorous like you tend to get with movie vampires, or like some of the wereweloves in UNDERWORLD. These werewolves aren’t cool rebels, they’re just weirdos. When we see her pouch it’s gross but in a kind of awkwardly human way I think, like seeing somebody naked for the first time and they’re a little embarrassed about their imperfections. And when her boyfriend finds out she’s a marsupial it turns out it’s not a dealbreaker. It’s like, “Okay, I didn’t expect a pouch, but I love you, so it doesn’t matter. I can get used to a pouch.” Eventually he’s gonna think pouches are beautiful. If they broke up he’d probaly mainly date marsupials. He might start looking at pouch porn.

Now, you might think okay, he still loves her, but he’s gonna come to regret it. You can’t keep her monster side in check, she’s gonna end up killing him or turning him or he’s gonna realize this has gone too far and have to figure out how to kill her or something. Wrong! She’s a nice lady. They’re in love. They’re gonna raise the kid together. There’s no down side to this. Stop being so cynical.

That’s what I love about it. It’s so crazy – pretty sure I’ve never seen another movie with a human pouch birth. And it’s shocking. But usually a shock scene like that is showing something monstrous, something that threatens the protagonists. This one isn’t. It’s just a baby. Maybe you’re conditioned to think it’s gonna be a killer, but it’s not. This is nature.

That’s part of the Australia-ness of this movie, I think. It’s like DARK AGE, where the last part of the movie is all about protecting the giant crocodile even though it ate people. Some people want to kill the werewolves, but they’re wrong, they’re assholes. You don’t try to defeat nature.

This also has DARK AGE’s aboriginal actor Burnham Burnham. I didn’t understand he was a werewolf until they showed his burnt werewolf corpse (SPOILER) which then got up and attacked somebody (DOUBLE SPOILER). That’s the other thing that’s great about this movie, it’s full of unexpected gags and weird imagery (I can’t even remember the context of that werewolf nuns shot above). It’s not lazy, it keeps trying to entertain you.

Director Moya on the DVD explains how this came about. He did THE HOWLING II: POUCHLESS but had problems with the producers and wasn’t happy with the movie. He wanted to have another shot so he got the rights from the writer of the book and made his Australian version of a werewolf movie. He says it’s a comedy but played straight – okay, the whole marsupial thing is absurd, and there’s some light satire of moviemaking and the government. But I think it works as straight horror. He says horror at the time had simple plots so he made his overly complicated. The result is very effective because it’s a weird story, it doesn’t follow the formulas, so it really stands out from the pouch. I mean pack.

Did you know a baby kangaroo is small enough to fit inside a thimble.

Sometimes the low budget shows. You gotta be a little forgiving when it skips over years and nobody seems much older, or especially the scene with the least convincing Oscar broadcast ever (Dame Edna in front of a curtain with one of those fake statues they sell at costume stores for Oscar parties). But the ideas are there. I mean, who wouldn’t want to see somebody turn into a marsupial werewolf in the middle of an Oscar acceptance speech? I wonder if the band would try to play her off or not? That would definitely become one of those famous Oscar moments that always gets replayed and referenced, like “You like me! You really like me!” or Adrien Brody kissing Halle Berry.

In other parts they stretch their budget well. They got ballet in the Sydney Opera house! That’s not something you would get in a Full Moon video or something. It doesn’t seem as cheap as it actually is. You don’t have to forgive that much.

Man, I really liked this movie. I consider it a good find, even if I always knew it was there. I just never knew what it contained inside. Like the werewolves themselves, THE HOWLING III is unfairly maligned for being strange and unusual. It just wants it and its family to be left alone. It can’t help it if it has a pouch.

VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.

This entry was posted on Saturday, July 11th, 2009 at 12:58 pm and is filed under Horror, Reviews. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

20 Responses to “The Howling III: The Marsupials”

  1. It’s strange that although I’m a huge Werewolf movie fan, I’ve never watched one of the “Howling” sequels. (But I will soon, because of a project that I’m working on.)

  2. Oh man. You had me with the werewolf nuns pic, but now I GOTTA see this!

  3. The second one is pretty fucking crazy, too. It’s full of punk rock werewolf orgies and shit like that, plus Christopher Lee is in it. And then they show Sybil Dannings boobs 17 or 18 times in the end credits. Not exaggerating, they’re the nakedest credits ever.

  4. The Howling is fantastic . It ‘s one of those movies I always bring up when the old “CGI-VS-PUPPETS” argument pops up. I really like how the werewolves of “The Howling” and “An American Werewolf in London” look really cool but different.And the werewolf effects in the first Howling are really fucking scary. I don’t know , maybe when it comes to lycanthropy the special effects guys go nuts , always pushing it to the next level . Even the one in Monster Squad kicks ass! I prefer werewolves to vampires , maybe because vampires always look like effeminate aristocrats or Gothic chicks ( okay Vern … except Blade. ) and werewolves are almost always cool plastic puppets ( even in recent movies like Dog Soldiers and Gingersnaps , in Italy with the awesome title “Licantropia Apocalypse”!!!). See , vampires-special-effects-guys? Try something different next time , maybe , I don’t know ,if one ( man or woman) is bitten , instead of emo-boys , turns into Ron Jeremy with fangs and red eyes . Fucking terrifying, and original!!

  5. The Howling VI:The Freaks is pretty good too(in a low budget kind of way). First time a Vampire shows up in the Howling movies. And Deep Roy is in it.

  6. I was trying to think of a list of best birth scenes, but all I could come up with was the one from Xtro. Maybe because its the first one I thought of and now its all I can think about. If this one gives that baby a run for its money, I’m gonna have to take a look

  7. I love this film, there’s really nothing else like it, unless you can think of another Marsupial Werewolf Horror/Romance Epic. The birth scene is fantastic and I liked that the “cheesy” effects in the SHAPESHIFTERS 8 movie-within-the-movie are only just slightly worse than those in the actual film. Also the special commando strike team, which is just two guys and a bazooka.

    There are a lot of juicy tidbits in this film for Australians. There’s a whole lot of Australian character actors, including the great Frank Thring as the horror movie director (whom Vern may remember as Lazenby’s secretary in THE MAN FROM HONG KONG). One the doctors in the hospital is played by well-known-at-the-time Australian movie critic Bill Collins, which is insane.

    With ratings for the Oscars dropping, I think it won’t be long before it’s reduced to C-grade celebs giving away plastic statues in front of a cheesy curtain. Also you’ll note at the end Dame Edna is giving an award for the 82nd Annual Academy of Laser (the future) Arts and Sciences Awards, which is next year. So in 2010 keep an eye out for werewolf attacks during the presentation ceremonies.

  8. Cool review. I second you probably should jump into HOWLING 2 because that’s just insane. AND as someone mentioned HOWLING 6: THE FREAKS was really cool. Actually, in my opinion, a stand out. It was mid 80’s and yet they had a vampire in it and the vampire went head to head with a werewolf. This was preUNDERWORLD/post Universal Films of the 40’s. I remember thinking that was pretty damn awesome even though we see vamps vs werewolves all the time now. That was the first in a long time and I enjoyed the mixing of the 2 monsters kept apart for decades.

  9. I saw this back on Joe Bob Briggs’ old MONSTERVISION program, and how he teased how this was green-lighted and shot before #2 came out and tanked.

    I remember it as being oddly-comical for a “horrorfest” and probably terrible (maybe 13 years ago I watched it), but goddammit I’m with Vern here. We gotta give the director credit for some fascinating ideas and notions to a genre and monster that most people just don’t fucking bother with E, E for effort in the creativity department.

  10. Christian Brimo

    July 12th, 2009 at 10:01 pm

    “That’s part of the Australia-ness of this movie, I think. It’s like DARK AGE, where the last part of the movie is all about protecting the giant crocodile even though it ate people. Some people want to kill the werewolves, but they’re wrong, they’re assholes. You don’t try to defeat nature.”

    This is one of the things that confuses the hell out of me about Australia. You’ll read about somebody who forgives the shark that bit off his arm or a woman who doesn’t want the shark that killed her wife to be killed. As an American expat it makes no sense to me. i’m like, ‘what about the REVENGE?’

  11. Christian: Why would you seek revenge on a shark? They eat people, it’s what they do. By seeking revenge you will just end up in an endless cycle of shark-on-man and man-on-shark violence. Haven’t we learned anything from JAWS 4: THE REVENGE?

  12. Well, to be fair, the shark started that one. The Brodies were just minding their own business, changing careers from movie to movie like true renaissance people, and then Bruce has gotta show up and start shit. They were even like, “You want Amity? Fine, you got it. We’re outta here.” Then the fucking shark followed them to the Bahamas. That’s one squallus who has absolutely got to learn to LET. SHIT. GO.

  13. thanks for the tip. #2 was supposed to be fairly lame, so i never made it this far (presuming they were connected). i have a feeling i’m going to enjoy this.

  14. Christian Brimo

    July 13th, 2009 at 4:36 pm

    “Christian: Why would you seek revenge on a shark? They eat people, it’s what they do. By seeking revenge you will just end up in an endless cycle of shark-on-man and man-on-shark violence. Haven’t we learned anything from JAWS 4: THE REVENGE?”

    Yeah but its pretty surreal to have somebody being like ‘well, this shark killed my husband, but we don’t want to kill it. It was only doing what its instincts told it to. We don’t want this to lead to more killings of sharks. They are beautiful animals’

    The Australian respect for animals and nature continues to confuse me

  15. steven-is-my-name-not-my-tag

    July 13th, 2009 at 5:28 pm

    This movie is excellent i especially like the played over the top director, and the marsupial chick is hot even with a pouch and weird baby things…

  16. I’d definitely recommend Pt 2. It’s not as bizarre as Pt 3, but it makes up for it by being outstandingly bad.
    One scene has Christopher Lee slipping on 1980 style thin punk sunglasses in order to fit in at a rowdy
    werewolf nightclub. And as Mr. Majestyk mentioned, the head werewolf bitch (I think that is technically accurate)
    tears off her clothes at every conceivable opportunity. Being a werewolf must give you really sensitive skin.

  17. I agree with Zeke and Mr. Majestyk, part II is definitely worth checking out, if not only for seeing Sybil Danning in her prime as Stirab, the werewolf bitch. Great stuff!

  18. Hey if any of you folks would like to watch The Howling III for free (we have a few of the others as well), we have it streaming on our website! Well… free with ads, but still free! No subscriptions or anything like that. Here’s the link: http://popcornflix.com/movie-detail.aspx?bctid=783386146001

  19. Mr. Majestyk – yup, it’s hilarious at during the end credits of The Howling 2 they just keep playing that shot of Danning ripping her shirt off over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over

    Phillipe Mora also directed Communion, which is a movie that manages to be both creepy as hell and yet also hilariously cheesy at the same time

    I mean what other movie has Christopher Walken dancing with rubber aliens on a spaceship? Vern has got to review that at some point

  20. once again I find myself in this review and once again I’m begging Vern to watch COMMUNION

    come on Vern, you’ll love it, there needs to be more movies with plastic aliens on strings

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