Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Howling III (1987)

... aka: Aullidos: El regreso (Howling: The Return)
... aka: Grito de Horror 3: A Nova Raça (Horror Scream 3: The New Breed)
... aka: Howling III: Os Lobisomens (Howling III: The Werewolves)
... aka: Howling III: The Marsupials
... aka: Marsupials: Howling III, The
... aka: Wolfmen

Directed by:
Philippe Mora

Having no relation whatsoever to The Howling (1981) or HOWLING II: YOUR SISTER IS A WEREWOLF (1985), this is pretty much a standalone film... and what a strange film it is! Director Philippe Mora had previously made the critically-panned second entry and supposedly wasn't very happy with the finished film. Since he'd purchased the rights to the "Howling" brand name from the original author, he decided to take a second stab at making a comic werewolf flick. Though the opening credits claim this is based on Gary Brandner's third book in the series, it in fact has nothing at all to do with the book and is based on an original idea by the director himself. Aside from the abysmal Howling: New Moon Rising (1995), it's currently the lowest-rated "Howling" title on IMDb, which I find utterly perplexing. While this one's extremely bizarre and sometimes off-putting in its weirdness, it's also frequently hilarious, often very clever, more sophisticated and intelligent than one would expect and filled with interesting ideas. Instead of being the 2nd lowest rated film in this series, I actually think it deserves to be the 2nd highest rated, behind only the original.

Silent film footage from 1905 depicting Australian natives tying a werewolf to a tree and killing it as well as current reports of werewolf killings in the village of Leovich in Siberia send anthropology professor Dr. Harry Beckmeyer (Barry Otto) - later joined by colleague Professor Sharp (Ralph Cotterill) - on a quest to prove the creatures actually do exist. Meanwhile, in the small village of Flow, Australia, Jerboa (beautiful Imogen Annesley) is getting fed up dealing with her abusive stepfather Thylo (Max Fairchild) and flees her tribe. After a bus ride, she ends up in Sydney and is immediately discovered by Donny Martin (Lee Biolos), assistant director on a horror movie called "Shape Shifters Part 8." He takes her to meet director Jack Citron (Frank Thring, doing his best Hitchcock impersonation), who immediately casts her in his film. Well, if she doesn't mind "being gang-raped by four monsters." And she doesn't. After he takes her to the theater to see "It Came from Uranus," Donny and Jerboa end up falling in love, but what he doesn't realize is that she's actually a werewolf... and a marsupial one at that! Things really take off into the realm of the odd once the scientists get hold of a pregnant Jerboa and her tribe sends three female tribeswomen decked out as nuns to get her back.

Howling III is literally all over the place with its tone. It begins as a campy horror-comedy with a quirky sense of humor and then, in the second half, begins aiming more for poignancy. It doesn't always work, but it's a unique and consistently interesting film and one of the most original werewolf films ever conceived. Mora deserves more credit than he has gotten for trying something completely different here. The plot makes room for an odd werewolf birthing scene (it's a cute little thing that lives in the protagonist's belly pouch), a posse of hunters sent to eradicate the werewolves with machine guns and bazookas (!) and a Russian werewolf ballerina (Dagmar Bláhová) who flees her homeland to meet up with the Aussie tribe and ends up transforming mid-performance. Hell, even the President of the United States (played by Michael Pate) gets involved at one point!

The werewolves themselves are handled completely differently than in any other film of this type. These are not monsters who kill for pleasure or even food, and they are not cursed humans, they are depicted as a misunderstood separate species who resort to violence only when they have to as a means of survival. The film draws a fascinating parallel between the werewolves and the thylacine, which were striped marsupials commonly called "Tasmanian Tigers" that lived in Australia and Tasmania until the mid-1930s are were driven to extinction by man. Like the werewolves here, the thylacine had patterned stripes along their backs and were misunderstood and feared by humans, who wrongfully blamed them for killing their sheep and livestock when that wasn't actually the case. The few surviving thylacine in zoos were apparently mishandled and poorly treated until they existed no more. The film includes rare film footage of the now-extinct animal taken at a London zoo.

R.I.P. Thylacinus cynocephalus, dog-headed pouched one.

The expected lycanthrope mythology is also refreshingly thrown right out of the window. Full moons and silver bullets don't factor in at all and the transformations of man to wolf can be willed by the werewolves or caused by fear, stress or flashing lights. Mora also includes both nods to his previous films (a poster for The Beast Within [1982] hangs above a bed) and some amusing references to the first "Howling" film, including a mock Oscar ceremony with a cameo appearance by Dame Edna (Barry Humphries) that directly references the the original film's ending.

Easy to find on a multitude of labels on both DVD and VHS, this is worth watching even if you end up hating it (many apparently do) simply because you'll see things here that you won't see anywhere else. With the possible exception of Howling VI: The Freaks (1991), none of the other sequels - Howling IV: The Original Nightmare (1988), Howling V: The Rebirth (1989), Howling: New Moon Rising or The Howling: Reborn (2011) - did anything remotely interesting or out of the ordinary with the werewolf theme.



spookyx3 said...

i'm pretty much in line with your take. wow! coming from the same director as HOWLING II, i didn't expect to like this at all, but, mora really did his own thing and thought outside the box, here. unfortunately, it's the kind of "sequel" people _say_ they want, then knock for not being "more like the original". at the time, when it "mattered", reception woulda been much kinder without the HOWLING (sub)title.

there are good things in some of the other sequels: 5 has smart, quippy dialogue confined to a promising setup; 4 at least _felt_ like brandner to me. at the time i thought THE FREAKS was a good little film.

now for NEW MOON RISING? 1995, blecch.

The Bloody Pit of Horror said...

I was very pleasantly surprised by this one and have no clue why it has such a bad reputation. If I redid my 20 Best 80s Horror Sequels list I'm sure this would make the cut. Like you said, it does its own thing and isn't slavish toward either typical werewolf formula OR the original film. In short, it's ORIGINAL. Probably not for all tastes still but nice to see at least some appreciation for this one.

The Freaks is also a hair underrated I think. 5 was passable. New Moon Rising makes 2 and 4 look like masterpieces.

spookyx3 said...

now i've watched III, it's easier to see mora's stamp on II, and what he was going for. doubt anything would have worked on a nightmare production/shoot like that.

spookyx3 said...

you weren't kidding about NEW MOON RISING. it's as though clive turner figured out how to do another sequel while shooting some cheapo docufiction lark with his non-actor country-music pals. embarrassing.

The Bloody Pit of Horror said...

Turner must have had a decent chunk of money tucked away. He also backed the Lawnmower Man films.

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