As is the case with many of the big horror franchises, The Howling films get progressively worse with each subsequent entry. Although, to be quite honest, I enjoy each and every film in the long-running lycanthropic franchise. I do, however, have an immense love for werewolf flicks, which means I'm a bit more forgiving than most.
Director Philippe Mora (Mad Dog Morgan, The Beast Within) created two of the franchise's most unique films with The Howling II... Your Sister Is A Werewolf and The Howling III: The Marsupials, and today I'll be talking about the latter of the two, which just received a glorious new Blu-ray release from Umbrella Entertainment.
The bizarrely creative film kicks things off in "Cape York, Australia, 1905" where we're treated to some footage of an aboriginal tribe sacrificing a wolf-like creature. Jump to modern-day Siberia, a man is attacked and killed by a werewolf, setting off alarms at U.S. national security. We then jump to the Australian outback (there's a lot of jumping around at the start of the film) where we meet Jerboa (Imogen Annesley), who's on a bus headed to Sydney because her stepfather, who happens to be a werewolf, tried to rape her. Upon her arrival in Sydney, Jerboa ends up sleeping on a park bench, where she's discovered by a young filmmaker named Donny (Leigh Biolos), who offers her a part in his latest production called Shape Shifters Part 8. Of course, Donny doesn’t realize she’s a werewolf marsupial hybrid, they end up having extremely sweaty sex and before you know it, Jerboa's knocked up, gestating a baby at an alarming rate, and giving birth to said baby, complete with were-marsupial pouch action and all!
Meanwhile, a scientist named Harry Beckmeyer (Barry Otto), who's somewhat of an "expert" on lycanthropes and their variants, hopes to capture a werewolf in order to prove that they aren't a threat to society. A Russian werewolf ballerina named Olga (Dagmar Bláhová) shows up and attempts to mate with the locals. Eventually, Beckmeyer attempts to hypnotize a few "kanga-wolves" in order to conduct interviews, with little success might I add, because they’re soon running around killing folks. There's a trio of werewolf nuns, the Australian army gets involved, and this is all but a taste of the insanity you'll be subjected to during your viewing of The Howling III!
After catching the horror world off guard with Your Sister Is A Werewolf, Mora threw fans an even bigger curveball with the franchise's third entry, both films taking the franchise in a completely different direction in comparison to Joe Dante's original picture. Surprisingly, The Howling III received a unpredicted amount of positive reviews upon release due to its obscure sense of humor and surrealist tendencies. Though, the vast majority of horror fans despised the film for its lack of scares, tension and violence (The Howling III is the first and only film to receive a PG-13 rating).
Personally, I admire Mora for attempting something new by taking traditional werewolf lore and mixing it with some distinctly Australian elements (even clichés). The film is certainly an acquired taste, with its '80s pop soundtrack, horror movie in-jokes, and hokey special effects, but it definitely isn't a dull experience! If you prefer your monster movies with a side of love story and commentary on governmental control, you'll find a lot to enjoy in this unusual '80s werewolf flick.
In terms of technical aspects, Umbrella has outdone themselves with their release of The Howling III: The Marsupials on Blu-ray! The AVC encoded 1080p high definition presentation is framed at 1.85.1 and taken from "a new digital transfer sponsored by the National Film and Sound Archive of Australia". The transfer looks absolutely phenomenal, with strong detail, color balancing and black levels throughout. There are some instances were scenes look a little too soft, but this is probably due to the original photography and intended look. There are no noticeable issues in regards to noise reduction, edge enhancement, or filtering. All in all, this is the best looking version of the film on the market.
The only audio option offered on the disc is an English language DTS-HD 5.1 Surround Sound track with optional English subtitles. Honestly, this is probably a better audio track than the film deserves! Dialogue is crystal clear from start to finish, the score sounds pristine, and there aren't any instances of distortion or hiss. There's also a rather aggressive channel separation here that offers further immersion.
As with most Umbrella releases, special effects are plentiful, with the first being a commentary track with director Philippe Mora moderated by Jamie Blanks (Urban Legend, Long Weekend), a very pleasurable track from start to finish. Mora shares some engaging stories about working with the cast and crew (which nearly included Nicole Kidman!), writing the script, the locations and effects featured in the film, the state of genre filmmaking in Australia then and now, and quite a bit more. Umbrella has also include the commentary track from Elite Entertainment's DVD release from 2001. The track features a solo Mora and some crossover material, but both tracks are wonderful companions to the film.
There's a fifteen-minute interview with Mora titled "Colonial Lycanthropy" wherein he shares a very funny wolf costume anecdote, inspiration provided by the way Stanley Kubrick made Dr. Strangelove, and how he became involved with the project. Once again, there's some crossover between the commentary tracks, but this is still a fun feature. A nineteen-minute collection of vintage interviews from Mark Hartley’s Not Quite Hollywood: The Wild, Untold Story of Ozploitation! documentary are also included. It features some of the same material from Mora and effects artist Bob McCarron, but does get a little more analytical and there are some truly amusing on and off set stories told. A theatrical trailer, a few VHS trailers, a TV spot, and a still gallery round out the special features included on the disc.
In closing, The Howling III is an extraordinarily strange film, but in a wonderfully cheesy kind of way. It's not a scary or intense film by any means, but it does offer an absurd take on the whole werewolf mythology. As expected, Umbrella Entertainment's Blu-ray looks and sounds magnificent, and both commentary tracks and interviews offer an in-depth look at this unorthodox piece of cinema. Obviously, I can only recommend this release to fans of the film, as newcomers will probably be put off by the film's odd premise and lack of blood and nudity, but if you consider yourself a fan, this is a must-buy!