So, yeah, don't let that Roman numeral in the title lull you into a false sense of security; Howling III: The Marsupials is anything but more of the same.
For starters, its werewolves aren't monsters, exactly. Hunted to near-extinction, what few of these creatures remain in Australia have been living in seclusion. They don't look at the rest of us like Happy Meals on legs; they just want us to leave 'em the hell alone. Still, there's living off the grid, and then there's this. It's all a little too The Hills Have Eyes for Jerboa (Imogen Annesley) – not that she's seen that film nor any movie at all, come to think of it. Farewell, whatever weird, primitive, rape-y ritual she was in the middle of being subjected to. Hello, Sydney!
Forget the usual fish-out-of-water routine; Jerboa finds her footing in the big city just about immediately. Romance! Gainful employment (in a werewolf-movie-within-a-werewolf-movie, natch)! Alas, her past is catching up with her, as a few of Jerboa's kinfolk are hot on her trail, aiming to protect their clan's long-guarded secret. Little do they know that their past is threatening to catch up with them as well, with obsessed anthropologist Harry Beckmeyer (Barry Otto) setting out to prove his theory – based on an 80 year old reel of film – that werewolves are real. It's probably worth mentioning that werewolves aren't uniquely Australian. There's been a rash of attacks in Siberia, and Beckmeyer can't shake the suspicion that one of those Russian lycanthropes might have decamped down under. As if all that weren't enough, someone might need to break it to Donny (Leigh Biolos) that his girlfriend is carrying his baby son in her pouch. Oh, and by the way, Jerboa has a pouch.
Howling III is about as polarizing a movie as they come. It's a star-crossed romance that, sure, just happens to swirl around marsupial werewolves. It's a monster movie without a villain, exactly. The werewolves aren't ravenously slaughtering everyone in sight – though they are quick to kill to protect their own. Once the government catches wind of these seemingly alien creatures, soldiers are dispatched to round 'em up for scientific study, which...I mean, the movie doesn't treat that as a good thing, but neither is it portrayed with all that much malice on the grunts' part or embodied in a cold, cruel military leader or whatever. The central nemesis is society's compulsion to fear and control what they don't understand, and that applies to both the Australian government and the werewolves of Flow (get it?) alike. This is as Australian a movie as you're likely to come across, with a didgeridoo-inflected score and all the shots of the Sydney Opera House you'd expect, plus even a "shrimp on the bah-bie!" quip for good measure. And it's all realized with bug-eyed comedy and unapologetically over-the-top visual flair.
There's nothing else like this out there, so you might make it to the end credits in Howling III and wonder what the hell it is you just watched. I'll confess that I can't write anything close to an unbiased review, as this was such a transformative movie for me growing up. One of the greatest summers of my life – somewhere around 1989, back when HBO had, like, 6 movies in rotation – revolved around me watching a triple feature of Howling III, Killer Klowns from Outer Space, and Ghoulies II. For weeks on end, ten-year-old me would munch on Chicken McNugget Happy Meals and cheerfully watch the same three flicks back-to-back every single day. I haven't been the same since.
Thirty years later, Howling III still holds up for me. So much of that is thanks to the impossible balance that Philippe Mora strikes. As entrancingly strange a movie as this so frequently is, its surreal stretches don't diminish the impact of character relationships or the film's societal commentary. I appreciate its disinterest in reducing anyone to heroes or villains. A low budget doesn't get in the way of Howling III unleashing all sorts of ambitious, gonzo effects. It screams ahead at a manic pace, bouncing between a slew of different storylines that inevitably collide. Up until some cringingly dreadful acting in its closing moments, the performances are exactly what they ought to be. It's fun and bizarre and hysterical and sweet and surprising and...yeah, I know how commas work, but I'm trying to do something here. Howling III is a longtime favorite that I'm rediscovering after entirely too many years away, and I'm thrilled to report that I love it as much now as I ever did. Your mileage may and probably will vary, but this is my review, and I say Highly Recommended.
One of the stories that Philippe Mora tells throughout the disc's extras is how the Australian Film Commission refused to finance Howling III. Flash forward thirty years and change, and the National Film and Sound Archive of Australia has spearheaded a 4K restoration from the original camera negative. Funny how things work out.
I can't quickly track down my copy of the DVD that Elite Entertainment released way back in 2001, and I never bothered to pick up Timeless Media's universally reviled Blu-ray release that wasn't even in high-def. I don't need to do a side-by-side comparison to tell you that Scream Factory's release is in an altogether different league. While not the most dazzling 4K remaster I've come across, definition is more than respectable and the image very nicely detailed, benefitting from robust contrast and, when called for, a startlingly vivid palette. There are quite a few times I found myself struck by how gorgeous Howling III can look, from the hypersaturated hues of the movie-within-a-movie It Came from Uranus to the aching beauty of the ballet rehearsal in Sydney's iconic Opera House. Mora rightfully awes at the restoration in his audio commentary, and accordingly, there's no wear, damage or other anomalies to report. The AVC encode doesn't break up under the strain of the strobing that winds up being a significant plot point. My biggest gripe is that in one early scene, the filmic texture is less distinct than it ought to be, and the image overall looks kind of smeary for a bit. The effect is more pronounced in motion, but:
That's brief, however, and doesn't drag down the score for what is otherwise such a strong presentation.
Lightly letterboxed to preserve its theatrical aspect ratio of 1.85:1, Howling III wriggles its way into the loving warmth of a dual-layer Blu-ray disc.
This 24-bit DTS-HD Master Audio stereo track sounds phenomenal. Every element in the mix is clean, clear, and distinct, with dialogue in particular sounding so marvelous as to belie the film's age. Also impressive is the separation across these two channels, whether it's a frenzied dash through an arcade or something as understated as the clatter of a dot matrix printer on the right in the hospital. Bass response is less than thunderous but still hits the marks I'd hope to hear. Again, I'm left without any concerns – no intrusive background noise, dropouts, clipping, or the like. Very nicely done.
Howling III's audio commentary gets the lossless treatment as well. Rounding out the audio options is a set of English (SDH) subtitles.
Howling III hasn't been lavished with some of the familiar Scream Factory bells and whistles – no reversible art, no slipcover, no DVD – but none of that's missed, exactly.
The Final Word
Howling III: The Marsupials is hardly just another werewolf flick. Those aching for full moons, silver bullets, and buckets of viscera would probably be better off looking elsewhere. On the other hand, if you have a taste for the offbeat – and all the better if you're an Australophile – you'll hopefully find the demented majesty of Howling III as irresistible as I do. Scream Factory has done this longtime favorite of mine justice. As this is a deeply polarizing movie, I wouldn't blame the uninitiated for maybe streaming it first, but certainly for those of us who long ago fell under Howling III's spell, this special edition comes Highly Recommended.