Review: Howling III (1987)

Crimson Quill’s Appraisal #688

Also known as The Marsupials: The Howling III
Number of Views: Two
Release Date: November 13, 1987
Sub-Genre: Werewolf
Country of Origin: Australia
Budget: $1,000,000
Running Time: 94 minutes
Director: Philippe Mora
Producers: Philippe Mora, Charles Waterstreet
Screenplay: Gary Brandner, Philippe Mora
Based on The Howling III: Echoes by Gary Brandner
Special Effects: Bob McCarron
Visual Effects: Roger Cowland
Cinematography: Louis Irving
Score: Allan Zavod
Editing: Lee Smith
Studio: Bancannia Holdings Pty. Ltd.
Distributor: Screen Media Films
Stars: Barry Otto, Imogen Annesley, Max Fairchild, Ralph Cotterill, Leigh Biolos, Frank Thring, Michael Pate, Carole Skinner, Brian Adams, Christopher Pate, Dagmar Bláhová, Burnham Burnham, Steve Shaw, Bob Barrett, Fred Welsh, John Ewing, Barry Humphries

Suggested Audio Jukebox ♫

[1] Duran Duran “Hungry Like A Wolf”

[2] Men At Work “Down Under”

[3] I’m Talking “Holy Word”

[4] Vitamin Z “Wipe The Tears”

The eighties were a pretty decent time to be a werewolf. Among the hairy palms brigade were Rod Daniel’s Teen Wolf, Larry Cohen’s Full Moon High, Michael Wadleigh’s Wolfen, Neil Jordan’s The Company of Wolves, John Landis’ An American Werewolf in London, and of course, Joe Dante’s The Howling; with the lattermost trio in particular really helping to put these furry hell raisers firmly on our radars. However, something went decidedly wrong as the decade prepared to draw to a close and genre fans were required to wait until John Fawcett’s Ginger Snaps in 2000 for a bona fide reason to howl at the moon once more. So where did it go wrong then? Well it certainly didn’t help that horror was in a state of rapid free fall at the time, but if you’re looking to point the slender finger of shame, then a certain Phillipe Mora would be the most likely recipient.

You see, Mora took over the reins from Dante in 1985 for the widely ridiculed Howling II and effectively undone all of the good work that preceded it. At the time it was considered inexcusable and it’s tough to argue against that logic, although for its catalogue of faults, there’s rather a lot of guilty pleasure to be had at its expense.

Nestling comfortably into the so-bad-it’s-good category, Mora’s misfiring sequel is a film you simply have to see to believe and perhaps the greatest shock is that he managed to procure the likes of Christopher Lee and Sybil Danning to assist him in dismantling a legacy. Having recently revisited that film (and enjoying it rather shamelessly I hasten to add), it felt like the ideal time to venture once more into the fray and examine another hot mess of a movie from this perpetually cursed franchise. Heaven help me.

Mora (who also brought us the pleasing 1982 midnight movie The Beast Within) was initially dismissive of Howling II and blamed the studio’s meddling for interfering with his original vision. Interestingly, the French filmmaker’s stance has since softened, likely because of the minor cult following it has amassed but Howling III represented his one chance to put things right and showcase his talent as a director.

Based loosely on Gary Brandner’s novel, The Howling III: Echoes, it actually has precious little in common with the source fiction, most abundant being the fact that the werewolves in question are viewed sympathetically and experimented upon against their will. Mora opted to shoot entirely on location in Australia, and to offer some kind of clue as to how well it was received in its native country, it failed to secure even a minor theatrical release. Perhaps the most interesting fact is that Nicole Kidman was actually considered for the leading role after the unexpected success of Brian Trenchard-Smith’s BMX Bandits four years prior. I’m guessing she lost few winks of sleep over not landing this particular role.

For Howling III, Mora decided to focus on his werewolves more as marsupials than anything else and the Australian strain have evolved in a completely different way to their rest of the world counterparts. Keen anthropologist, Harry Beckmeyer (Barry Otto), has unearthed footage linking them to the Aborigines and it appears that the breed came about after humans mated with the now-extinct Tasmanian wolf at the turn of the century. With all manner of strange occurrences playing out in Oz, Harry jets off down under to investigate further and soon finds himself fighting to save them from extinction.

Meanwhile, a young homegrown lycanthrope named Jerboa (Imogen Annesley) has fled the rest of her pack for Sydney, with her abusive step-father Thylo (Max Fairchild) and entire family making it impossible to remain amongst her own kind. Here she happens across American, Donny Martin (Leigh Biolos), and he considers her perfect for a film he is currently involved in, Shape Shifters Part VIII. However, this is more than a casting call as Donny finds himself inexplicably drawn to Jerboa and the pair soon find themselves bumping and grinding beneath the light of the full moon. Not perturbed by the downy white fur spread across her lower abdomen, he donates his seed for gestation and it’s time for the pitter-patter of tiny paws to approach.

With a government task force in hot pursuit and acting under implicit orders from the Pope himself to destroy any werewolves on sight, the couple scurry off into the Outback and her pack’s secret werewolf commune, Flow (wolf spelled backwards) to save her race from extinction. If the storyline sounds reasonably simple to follow at this point then let me assure you that you don’t know the half of it. Howling III attempts to cram in enough plot points for an entire trilogy and somehow still manages to make precious little sense. Undecided on whether to play things off as horror or satire, Mora paints with some fairly broad strokes and veers perilously close to out-and-out comedy as he struggles to nail any kind of tone whatsoever.

From heavyset movie director Jack Citron (Frank Thring attempting his very best Hitchcock impersonation), to paranoid U.S. President (Michael Pate), who is convinced that the whole sorry debacle is a Soviet plot, and defecting prima ballerina Olga Gorki (Dagmar Bláhová) who inherits the snout of a wolf in mid-pirouette; the entire cast appear to be having an outrageous amount of fun. Regrettably, this doesn’t extend to the audience and Howling III is as dull as a kangaroo with shin splints. To be fair, there’s a nominal degree of guilty pleasure to be had at just how insipid this movie actually is, and in a last-ditch attempt to win us over, Mora recruits himself a national treasure for a final scene so utterly out of left-field that we may suspect him to have surrendered his final few marbles entirely.

Alas, even Dame Edna Everage (Barry Humphries), can’t distract us from just how appalling this movie actually is. Mora got away with it once and at least Howling II attempted to follow on from Dante’s hallowed original, albeit tentatively. Here there is no connection whatsoever to the folklore, and admittedly exotic location aside, precious little reason to endure 94-minutes other than out of some morbid curiosity. I shit you not, when a toupée with a mind of its own does enough to warrant itself a credit, you know things are headed for the dunny, and don’t even get me started on the transformations as seeing doesn’t necessarily translate to believing in this case.

Howling III is a positively wretched movie and an insult even to the film that preceded it. If Mora wanted one more bite of the cherry, then he can have few complaints second time out, as no amount of crying wolf over studio tampering could have saved this cinematic monstrosity from the fate that duly awaited it. The series has since gone on to spawn a number of further sequels and a lackluster 2011 reboot, none of which managed to restore any great degree of dignity to the ailing franchise.

However, for as deeply uninspired as these offerings have been, this stands head and shoulders above them in the firing line. Being the good Samaritan that I am, I shall award an additional mark to the overall score purely because there is no other film in existence quite like it. But I would suggest you take from that what you will.

Crimson Quill’s Judgement: 4/10

Grue Factor: 1/5

For the Grue-Guzzlers & Pelt-Nuzzlers: If Mora was searching for saving graces, then a few squirts of grue would have helped his cause tremendously. Regrettably, this is PG-13 fodder from the ground up and I’ve seen heavier bleeds from menstrual wallabies. The effects are more crude than an inappropriate uncle at a family barbecue and the sole bright side is a smidgen of crowd-pleasing nudity shoehorned in for effect. To be brutally honest, I prefer my women a little less bipedal, but beggars can’t be choosers I suppose, and there is something bizarrely alluring about all over fur.

Read The Howling Appraisal
Read Howling II Appraisal
Read An American Werewolf in London Appraisal
Read The Beast Within Appraisal

Richard Charles Stevens

Keeper of The Crimson Quill

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