Color, 1987, 98 mins. 11 secs.
Directed by Philippe Mora
Starring Barry Otto, Max Fairchild, Imogen Annesley, Dasha Blahova, Leigh Biolos, Ralph Cotterill, Barry Humphries
Scream Factory (Blu-ray) (US RA HD), Umbrella (DVD) (Australia R0 PAL), Elite Entertainment (DVD) (US R0 NTSC) / WS (1.85:1) (16:9)

After Howling IIIcatching every horror Howling IIIfan on the planet off guard with his certifiably nutty satire Howling II: Your Sister Is a Werewolf, French-born Australian director Philippe Mora decided to throw an even bigger curve ball with this third installment, also known under its very appropriate on-screen title, The Marsupials: Howling III. The first (and only) entry to earn a PG-13 rating, this one actually earned a surprising number of positive reviews from horror-hating critics at the time thanks to its oddball humor and wide surrealist streak, both of which have earned it a minor but enduring fan following today.

Ostensibly based on the book The Howling III by Gary Brandner (but not really), our tale begins in "Cape York, Australia, 1905" where a tribe has just sacrificed a wolf-like creature that walks upright. Then in modern-day Siberia, a werewolf sighting sets off alarms at U.S. national security. Meanwhile in the outback, Jerboa (Annesley) hops on a bus and tells the priest sitting next to her she's heading to Sydney because "My stepfather tried to rape me, and he's a werewolf." She ends sleeping on a park bench and sprouts fangs when two guys approach her, but she isn't exactly a wolf; instead she has a pouch, the result of a separate race of Australian marsupial wolf-people (kangawolves?). On top of that, Dr. Howling IIIHowling IIIBeckmeyer (Strictly Ballroom's Otto) is an expert on werewolves and their variants determined to prove they aren't a menace to society, and a young man named Donny (Biolos) recruits her to appear in a local movie production called Shape Shifters Part 8. After catching her first horror movie (It Came from Uranus), she ends up having ridiculously sweaty sex with Donny (under a poster for Mora's The Beast Within) who afterwards discovers the furry pouch on her tummy. Next thing you know she's freaking out the wrap party and gestating a baby at an alarming rate, a trio of werewolf nuns from her hometown is in hot pursuit, and a defecting werewolf ballerina is trying to mate with the locals . Then it gets crazy.

Complete with a final hour cameo by Barry "Dame Edna" Humphries (at the looniest faux Academy Awards this side of The Lonely Lady), very '80s pop music, horror movie in-jokes, and daffy latex effects that wouldn't have Rob Bottin losing any sleep at night, Howling III is an acquired taste to be sure but certainly isn't dull. Anyone expecting a traditional horror film will get some monsters, of course, but there's also a love story, ribbing at the film industry, commentary on conformity and governmental control, and plenty of other quirks you certainly wouldn't expect to find in your average '80s werewolf film.

Howling IIIReleased on VHS in 1988 from Vista Home Video (who also released tapes of Season of the Witch and The Crazies), Howling III was Howling IIIfirst issued on DVD from Elite Entertainment in 2001. The anamorphic transfer looked fine, and it was a pretty solid stab at the time complete with a VHS promo trailer, a TV spot, a still gallery, and an okay solo audio commentary by Mora that points out lots of little in-jokes and takes a self-deprecating approach to the whole thing. A terrible transfer was later put out as a standalone from Timeless and then in 2010 from the same company on one of the very worst, most disappointing Blu-rays of all time, a cruddy triple header of this title, Howling V: The Rebirth, and Howling VI: The Freaks, all taken from shoddy VHS masters.

In early 2019, Scream Factory brought the film to Blu-ray with what's promoted as a new digital transfer sponsored by The National Film and Sound Archive of Australia. The fact that this film is being embraced as a part of Australian cinematic culture can't help warming the heart a little bit, and it looks great with more natural colors compared to the greenish cast of the older transfer. The DTS-HD MA English 2.0 stereo audio (which features lots of aggressive channel separation effects as intended) also sounds pristine, and optional English SDH subtitles are provided. The film can also be played with a new audio commentary with Mora and Urban Legend director Jamie Blanks, which is quite a bit more energetic than the older track as they chat extensively about the state of genre filmmaking in Australia then and now, the genre-mixing intentions of the Howling IIIproject, various cast and crew possibilities along the way (Nicole Kidman!), the attitudes of crew members to horror films, and plenty more. Howling III

A new video interview with Mora (27m23s) offers a more general overview of how the film came about on the heels of the video success of Howling II (about which he also shares a very funny wolf costume anecdote), the inspiration provided by the way Kubrick made Dr. Strangelove, the decision to go "uber-Australiana," Brandner's adoration of Sybil Danning, and his pride in kicking off a string of sequels that have nothing to do with each other. A selection of raw interview footage from Mark Hartley's Not Quite Hollywood: The Wild, Untold Story of Ozploitation! (18m56s) features a much darker-haired Mora repeats some of the same info at the beginning but gets a bit more analytical as he explores how he wanted Australia to use Hollywood instead of vice versa. He also explains how multiple mice, one of them tragically fated, played a role in one of the film's weirdest moments. The segment also features about five minutes with special make-up effects artist Bob McCarron, who chats about being attracted by the fun nature of the monster effects and being in close physical contact with Annesley during a few oddball moments. The usual VHS promo trailer is also included.


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Reviewed on January 19, 2019.