Find five genuinely positive elements in a film generally regarded as “terrible”.
For my sins, I’m jumping straight into the deep end. Our first subject is 1987’s Howling III: The Marsupials. Written and directed by Philippe Mora (who also directed previous sequel Howling II: Your Sister Is A Werewolf), the film stars only one actor of note, who I will mention later on. But first, a little background.
Howling III is one of six sequels to the 1981 Joe Dante classic The Howling, a series notable amongst critics and fans alike for having the most consistently bad franchise entries around, which is impressive in general but is something to behold in a genre like werewolf movies,where we’re used to constantly having to lower our expectations because of movies like Project Metalbeast. The original film was vaguely based on a decent horror novel by Gary Brandner and was a hit because it combined great scares, good humour, and brilliant make-up effects with excellent direction by Joe Dante and a fantastic John Sayles script. This was followed in 1985 by Mora’s Howling II, with the franchise continuing post-III with 1988’s Howling IV: The Original Nightmare, 1989’s Howling V: The Rebirth, 1991’s Howling VI: The Freaks, and 1995’s Howling VII: New Moon Rising.
These films are generally regarded, (with the exception of The Howling), as absolute tosh. Bad acting, bad directing, poor effects, lack of werewolves, these movies get criticised a lot, and for good reason. But I thought I’d go with the weirdest entry. And be assured, Howling III is certainly weird, although whether or not that’s a good thing, we’ll find out later.
As you may have ascertained from the sub-title, Howling III is mainly set in Australia, with occasional stopovers in Washington DC and Siberia. For those of you wondering, there is no connection in any way to past or future instalments of the series, although the film is allegedly based on Gary Brandner’s The Howling III: Echoes, which I read as a youth, although have carelessly allowed to let the chapter about a defecting Russian ballerina hiding from authorities in the Aussie outback slip my mind. The film follows the path of top boffin Dr. Beckmeyer (Barry Otto), who is essentially Australia’s equivalent of Fox Mulder, as he investigates reports of Siberian lycanthropes. He ends up finding one (the aforementioned ballerina), and subequently marrying her. I am not joking.
Meanwhile, we are introduced to the wonderful little ragtag village of “Flow” (if you guessed the hidden meaning without holding your computer up to a mirror, congratulations, you can make a film like Howling III), which young filly Jerboa is trying to escape from – mainly to escape the filthy intentions of her Peter Boyle-esque stepfather. She escapes to Sydney (you can tell because it shows the opera house) where she meets Donny, who just happens to be part of the crew of Shape Shifters, Part 8 which is filming nearby. He thinks she’d be great in the film, and the Hitchcock impersonating director agrees.
But of course, she’s a werewolf, and after being found in the city by people from her village (werewolf nuns no less), she and Donny go into hiding, bumping into Beckmeyer and his Russian bride along the way. She patches up her differences with her stepfather because they’re being hunted by American special forces. Again, I’m not joking. There’s also one other problem: she’s preggers.
And without spoiling it too much, everything pretty much ends up hunky-dory. But what do we take away from a film like Howling III? Personally, I learned that nuns are untrustworthy, Australians often attempt to procure sexual services by offering electrical goods, and Philippe Mora probably shouldn’t go near a movie set ever again. But no, I came here to be positive, and positive I shall be.
Positive #1: Use of Genre Parody
Film buffs (or at least genre horror buffs) will know that 1983’s underwater opus Jaws 3-D was originally to be a parody of the previous two movies, to be called Jaws 3, People 0. This was written by John Hughes (of Ferris Bueller’s Day Off fame) and was to be directed by Joe Dante and overseen by National Lampoon’s Matty Simmons, as well as previous Jaws producers David Brown and Richard Zanuck. Fortunately or unfortunately – probably depending on your point of view and opinion of Jaws 3-D – the film was supposedly nixed by Spielberg himself, who was unhappy that the film would be making fun of the hell he went through while making Jaws, and that the director character was a thinly-veiled version of him. He apparently threatened to walk away from Universal if the film was made, so in hindsight this was probably for the best, as he would soon go on to make E.T. for the studio.
The point I’m trying to make is that this movie should have probably been called Howling III, People 0, as it attempts to be all meta with its film-within-a-film story, and also the copious references to the previous movies and the genre in general. To sum up, the film begins with a take-off on the MGM logo, only with a growling Thylacine in the place of the lion. This is not a good omen, as this is something I would expect to see in front of the Wayan Brothers’ Werewolf Movie.
But there are better examples. Jerboa and Donny go to the cinema to watch a horror film, and the resulting flick seems to be a mix of Neighbours and the original The Howling, as a bad Australian actress pretends to be a bad American nurse whose patient promptly turns into a werewolf. The nods to not only The Howling but also An American Werewolf In London are plain to see, as the man’s face quickly erupts through the use of bladders (very much like Rob Bottin’s amazing make-up in the original film) and his snout grows comically long to the point where it looks like the crocodile from Punch and Judy (again, parodying Rick Baker’s make-up for the John Landis film). It’s very much on the nose, but it works.
In fact, the transformations themselves are very much a parody, mainly consisting of a lot of growling, snarling and cracking noises. It seems that the film is generally only interested in being a parody, but there are some moments that seem in the middle, not over the top enough to be obvious, but still dodgy enough to make you wonder if they’re serious. Then again, there are some of the moments where the fourth-wall is utterly demolished, most of these being with the Reaganesque President of the United States of America, who is my favourite character in the film.
In his first scene he has a meeting with Beckmeyer in his gym of all places, and they’re just talking when suddenly the scientist looks at the screen. The President follows suit, and explains that there are cameras everywhere that are just filming everything “for future generations”. This is both brilliant and ludicrous, especially when it becomes obvious that it’s just a setup for the President to stare at the cameraand shout ‘Werewolves!?!’ at us. He’d probably change his tune if he saw the lycanthropic nuns.
Postive #2: Gratuitous Use of Cheesy Dialogue
If you look into the cult of bad movies, you’ll notice pretty quickly that a lot of it revolves around how bad – and thusly how good – dialogue generally is in these movies. A film can be absolutely terrible in almost every way, but if it has some deliciously terrible dialogue, it may become a classic. For example, Empire Magazine film critic Kim Newman, who runs the video dungeon, tweets snippets of bad dialogue daily, and doesn’t seem to be in danger of ever running out. Howling III has its own unique brand of terrible lines, and like some of the parody, you’re not always sure if it’s supposed to be bad or not. Check out these corkers:
GOVERNMENT GUY #1: I’ve got a weird feeling.
GOVERNMENT GUY#2: Indigestion?
GOVERNMENT GUY#1: No. Fear.
THE PRESIDENT: The shroud of Turin – is it a goddamned Polaroid of Jesus Christ or what?
PRIEST: You should not run away from home.
JERBOA: I don’t like home.
PRIEST: Why, child?
JERBOA: Because my stepfather tried to rape me, and he’s a werewolf.
Postive #3: The Birth Scene
Anyone who has witnessed Howling III at any time in their life will know exactly what I mean by “The Birth Scene”. It’s another example of how mental this film is, and I’ve put it as a positive because it is slightly poignant, but mainly because it’s just barmy. Remember how I told you Jerboa was pregnant? Well, we see the result of that up close and personal, and it’s pretty yucky. I mean, obviously birth is yucky anyway, but this is – well. it’s yucky. Anyway, Jerboa goes into a barn and strips off her dress. This is not a bad thing in itself as she’s not bad to look at, however she does have a hairy (and stripey) back, which is due to the theory that the Australian werewolves are descendants of the Thylacine.
So, she lies on her back and, well, gives birth. Seemingly werewolf birth is a lot less painful than normal human birth, as it just kind of crawls out, with no need for an epidural or anything. This little thing, looking a bit like a cross between a hamster and a chestburster, crawls out of her, well, crawlspace and slithers up her belly, where – no word of a lie – she then opens her pouch for it to crawl inside. Yep, this is why the film is called The Marsupials. And this is the bit that’s yucky – if you’ve ever seen the episode of The Simpsons when they go to Australia, there’s a bit where Bart and Homer try to get away from a bunch of angry Aussies by jumping into the pouches of a pair of kangaroos, only to find that it’s all mucusy inside and that it’s ‘not like in cartoons’. That’s what this scene is like. In a way, it’s kind of sweet, at least in a mother and child way. But then you think of the mucus, and it all goes away. But kudos for Mora to put this kind of scene in here – it’s whacked out, but it’s certainly something to remember the film by.
Positive #4: Unwavering Loyalty to Australia
One thing is for certain about Howling III: this movie loves Australia. Hell, its first image is a bunch of Aborigines posing for the camera (which turns out to be part of a lost film shown by Beckmeyer later in the film), and throughout the film you’ll spot several members of the cast of Crocodile Dundee, as well as a virtual travel tour through the country’s beauty spots. But the love really comes out at the end, where Jerboa (now a famous actress) wins a big award, which is presented to her by – get this – Dame Edna Everage. Cue flashing lights and we get a rerun of the final scene of The Howling intercut with scenes of Dame Edna screaming for her life. The only bad thing about this is that the film’s opening titles include the credit ‘and Barry Humphries’, which kind of spoils it all really.
So, let’s sum up:
Obligatory Semi-Famous Person Cameo: Barry Humphries aka Dame Edna Everage.
References to other werewolf movies: Several pertaining to The Howling and An American Werewolf In London.
Attempts at comedy horror: More than you can shake a didgeridoo at.
Appearances by genre actors: None, disappointingly.
Level of gore: Very little, it was a PG-13 in the US (and misleadingly an 18 in the UK).
Level of sex and nudity: Bits and pieces, but nothing gratuitous apart from the birthing scene.
Would it be better if it was directed by Michael Bay? It would probably be a lot more po-faced, so no.
So, unfortunately, I failed, or rather Howling III failed me. I was unable to come up with five positive aspects about this film, and to be fair a couple of the ones I did manage were double-edged swords. For a film so whacked out it’s really boring at times, and it’s either way over the top or attempting to be serious (which it fails miserably at). Still, Australia seems like a really nice country. But the only thing really more mental than the crazy bits of Howling III is the cold hard fact that it had four more sequels after it, and none of them had any significant increase in quality. Who knows, maybe Philippe Mora is a trendsetter after all.