Perhaps the most unusual instance of lycanthropic storytelling, "Howling III: The Marsupials" is neither a comedy nor a horror film. This second of six sequels to Joe Dante's original "The Howling" is not an easy to swallow foray into werewolves, but it is a new approach to the genre. Instead of resorting to gore and the horrific aspects of werewolf society, writer / director Philippe Mora takes a sociological look at interracial "marriages" between man and werewolf, particularly a new breed of werewolf that has the Australian trait of being a marsupial.
Apart from a few moments of bloodshedding and one or two scattered werewolf attacks, most of the content in "Howling III" could be considered a drama, romantic comedy or cheeseball B-Movie with effects bad enough to make Gumby look godlike in comparison. From the introductory credits to the waning moments of the film, "Howling III" misses every opportunity to provide a scare and sees nearly every joke in the film fall flat. Granted, Mora's purpose was to produce something fresh and different; something that would be totally different than the previous two "Howling" films. However, the end product is a boring and silly affair that is a far howl from the originals style and effective effects. It's PG-13 rating also lacks the nude nubile women that offered some visual entertainment in the second "Howling" film.
If you would take "The Howling" and then show "Howling III" to an audience, you would have an incredibly difficult time of persuading them into believing the second film was a sequel. On one hand you would have a classic werewolf tale that was twisted, yet entertaining, a film with great special effects for its time and a few suspenseful moments. On the other hand, you would have a schlocky parody of a werewolf film that tried so very hard to have the audience believe a young man would fall instantly in love with an attractive, yet furry women, who also happens to have a pouch. One classic film, one campy film, but only linked by title.
For the uninformed (I imagine this is most of the population), "Howling III" is about a new uprising of werewolf who appears solely in Siberia and Australia. A scientist that specializes in werewolfs and works for the United States Government is sent to Australia to investigate. It is the Cold War, and they can't just ask the Russians about the Siberian variety, and apparently, werewolves are of great importance to the dueling superpowers. While looking for these werewolves, one of them, Jerboa (Imogen Annesley) escapes from her secluded town in the Outback to the concrete jungles of Sidney. There, a young assistant director quickly discovers her and they fall in love and have sex. Oh yeah, one of the Russian varieties of werewolves decides to defect from the Russian ballet and go to Australia as well.
Eventually, it is discovered that Jerboa is pregnant to a man and she is taken back to the town of Flow (wolF). The Russian werewolf is taken into captivity by the werewolf scientist and by a few odd twists of fate, they fall in love and join Jerboa and family in the outback. At this point, the film takes a look at how the two families survive and shows that werewolves and humans can have perfectly successful and happy lives together, as a family.
As far as "USA Up All Nite" films go, "Howling III: The Marsupials" fits in perfectly. It feels like a Troma throwaway that is just waiting for an audience. It is also the kind of film that captures a cult audience because of its peculiar content and connection to the original film. Any film series that is currently comprised of seven films has to have some sort of following, does it not? Originality does give the film some merit, and there are a couple scenes that come across as entertainment. Actual footage of the long extinct Tasmanian tiger is featured in the film, and that was nifty enough, but only after getting the history lesson during the director's commentary.
Elite Entertainment has given "Howling III" the royal treatment when it comes to visual presentation. The film is formatted in anamorphic 1.85:1 widescreen. Previous video versions, including the LaserDisc were all cropped (or open matted) to 1.33:1 fullscreen. This should be very good news to the cult following this film has developed. The picture quality is very good as well. The picture is nicely detailed and presents some beautifully saturated and rich colors. Black levels are deep and exhibit excellent shadow detail. The picture is clean and only a few little nicks and pieces of dirt pop up to offer a scare as powerful as anything the werewolves are capable of in this film. Some film grain is present, but other than that and the bad werewolf effects, this film looks great. There is some rather nice photography of the Sidney Opera House, some Australian mountains and the Outback and they look great.
Not only is the picture remastered in glorious anamorphic widescreen, but the sound is remastered too. The audio masters were taken and converted into Dolby Digital 5.1 surround sound. Through most of the picture, the sound is centered to the center channel, where dialog sounds natural and clear. A few effects come across loud and clear in the rear surrounds, but sound as if they were specially mastered just to have the viewer realize they are listening to a 5.1 sound mix. Stereo effects that travel across the front channels are present, but most of the non-dialog sound that inhabits the left and right channels is music related. The soundtrack is very clean and was another pleasant surprise. Elite put a lot of heart into this DVD, and I almost feel guilty that I did not like the film.
"Howling III" was a film with an incredibly low budget. There were no stars attached to the film and no real lavish production took place. The effects will quickly reinforce the fact of the miniscule budget. More than likely, not much effort was put into chronicling the production of the film and not many supplements were available for the DVD release. Elite has done some wonderful special editions in the past on LaserDisc and DVD. They have also released some completely bare DVDs. Some materials were gathered for "Howling III." The very basic supplements include a very quick television spot and theatrical trailer. Both of these attempted to market the film as a horror picture. I can understand disappointed audiences. There is also a still photo gallery of behind-the-scenes and publicity photos.
The real gem of the disc is the commentary by the writer / director Philippe Mora. Mora is very impassioned by his film and delivers a top-notch discussion on his romantic horror film. Mora gives a lot of insight into decisions made to make the film the way it was done and explains it was never meant to be a full-fledged horror film. He gives nice tidbits about Australia and it's marsupial population. The most interesting of these bonus bits is information on the Tasmanian tiger, a marsupial that could open its jaw nearly 180 degrees. His commentary is genuine and entertaining. The second viewing of this picture was enjoyable just because of the commentary.
When it comes a recommendation on "Howling III," I have to make two separate recommendations. For the majority of the populace, who are not fans of the series, I will simply quote Monty Python and tell you to "Run away." You won't like it, and you will only ever watch it once. If you are curious, rent first. Now, for all of those people out there who spend many a late night watching the "Howling" septology, go grab this one now. It is a very good transfer and the director's commentary is exceptionally good.