Last of the Monster Kids

Last of the Monster Kids
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Wednesday, April 17, 2019

RECENT WATCHES: Howling III (1987)

According to Philippe Mora, “Howling II” was taken away from him during post-production and re-edited by producers. That would certainly explain some things about “Your Sister is a Werewolf.” Mora hoped to make up for the first sequel's mistakes. So he personally purchased the rights to the name from original author Gary Brandner and raised the money on his own for a third installment. “Howling III” – which sometimes has the subtitle, “The Marsupials,” before or after its name – would be even more disconnected from the original film and Brandner's novel than part two. Much to the disappointment of my childhood friends and I, the film also isn't about a horde of killer were-kangaroos.

Here's what “Howling III” is about. Harry Beckmeyer is an Australian anthropologist who discovers seventy year old footage of Aboriginals seemingly torturing a female werewolf to death. This theory is confirmed when Beckmeyer discovers Jerboa. Raised in a community of were-thylacine, Jerboa fled her family due to her abusive stepfather. She soon met up with Donny, a casting agent for a low budget horror film. The two fell in love and had sex, Jerboa becoming pregnant. Soon, a baby were-thylacine wiggles its way into her pouch. After the Australian government becomes aware of the creatures, they decide to exterminate them. Jerboa, Donny, Harry and the Russian ballet dancer/werewolf he's fallen in love with flee into the outback with a few of the other were-marsupials.

You can't deny that Philippe Mora wasn't ambitious. Within its opening minutes, “Howling III” states that werewolf reports are funneling out of Russia. Both the Soviet and American governments are covering up. The film then goes on to introduce a community of were-marsupials living in the Australian outback, focusing on a young female that flees into human civilization. The movie then goes even further, explaining that these were-thylacines are spiritual beings brought into existence by the extinction of regular thylacines. These creatures have their own rules, their culture steeped in Aboriginal mysticism, their transformations triggered by flashing lights. In its second half, the sequel is built around these few surviving were-creatures fighting the government armies sent to exterminate them. This is enough ideas for about four different films but “Howling III” awkwardly shoves them all into one.

Shortly after “Howling III,” Mora would direct the exceedingly bizarre “Communion.” The director's approach to this material is similarly off-center. There are some genuinely kind of cool ideas in “Howling III.” Like the sight of a ballerina transforming into a werewolf before a confused crowd. Or a mildly effective scene devoted to a werewolf fighting a group of mercenaries. Yet the film also takes a comedic approach to its horror story sometimes, like during a farcical costume party or the random appearance of Dame Edna. Yet other times, the film throws images at the viewer that aren't scary so much as they are surreal. You see a gaggle of nuns with stretchy werewolf faces, a female werewolf with several rows of teets, or a were-fetus wiggling into Jerboa's pouch. Mora frequently throws in some seasick-inducing first person POVs or careening dolly shots. Added all together, it creates a very off-putting viewing experience.

Two things truly spell “Howling III”s” downfall. First off, the film's special effects are atrocious. Jerboa and Donny's first date has him taking her to a werewolf movie, where we see an exaggerated and cartoonish transformation scene that seems to parody the first “Howling” and Mora's own “The Beast Within.” Yet all the other werewolf transformations in the sequel are of a similar quality. An especially laughable sequence involves a giant werewolf head, that looks like its made with paper mache, being exploded with a bazooka. Secondly, the movie's pacing is slow and only grows slower as it goes on. Combined with some pretty choppy acting – almost all the performances in the film are sleepy or blank – and the “Howling III” strikes one as a cheap and unsteady production.

“The Marsupials” does deserves points for being a truly unique take on the werewolf legend. There have been no other were-thylacine movies made before or after this one. That sheer novelty factor has won the movie a small fanbase over the years, bolstered by frequent television airings. (This being the only PG-13 “Howling” movie, it can easily be shown on TV with little editing.) Ultimately though, the standalone sequel's high weirdness factor and ambitious ideas can only take it so far. It's probably a better written movie than “Your Sister is a Werewolf” but it's clear which of Mora's whacked-out werewolf sequels is more entertaining. [5/10]

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