If you’re the sort of person who hates coming in on the middle of something, don’t worry if you missed The Howling or Howling II. The third part of the trilogy, inevitably titled Howling III, has nothing whatsoever to do with the first two parts.
Except, of course, that it’s about werewolves. Now, the first Howling, directed by the fiendishly clever Joe Dante, was a vigorous infusion of healthy new blood into the werewolf genre. It was funny, spooky, and boasted remarkable special effects.
Howling III tries to be amusing, isn’t really scary, and features the same special effects, except they look familiar and cheap now. It’s so weird and fast-moving, however, that it at least stands slightly above the average horror movie.
For one thing, there’s some exoticism in the location. It’s an Australian film, and proposes the theory that a race of werewolves evolved in the outback after humans mated with the now-extinct Tasmanian wolf. One nubile descendant of the tribe (Imogen Annesley) arrives in Sydney, meets a guy (Leigh Biolos), and is recruited for a role in a horror film. They conceive a child, a wee wolf-baby, which, as we see in graphic detail, is born and then carried around in her stomach pouch. She’s a marsupial werewolf, a cross between a platypus and Lon Chaney, Jr.
But that’s not the half of it. A professor (Barry Otto) receives word of strange doings in Ozland, and arrives to track down the werewolves. He ends up trying to save them from extinction at the hands of the military, who are acting on the orders of, believe it or not, the Pope.
The movie is just crazy enough to keep you occupied. There are a lot of screwy little touches, such as the obscenely corpulent movie director (Frank Thring, doing a Hitchcock imitation), the U.S. president who considers whether the werewolves might be a Soviet plot, and the defecting Russian ballerina (Dasha Blahova) who sprouts a wolf’s head in mid-pirouette.
Also, when the wolf people were doing their chanting in the small outback town of Flow (spell it backwards), I thought I detected them moaning the words “Holy moly” over and over.
The writer-director, Philippe Mora, also directed Howling II, but he now disowns that movie. This, apparently, is his true statement, and it certainly shows that he has a sense of humor, at the very least.
One fortunate casting stroke holds the movie tenuously together, aside from the sexy Imogen Annesley. Barry Otto gives some foundation to the film, which is to be expected from the actor who gave such a complex performance in another strange, but much superior, recent Australian film, Bliss. When he’s around, the film doesn’t even need its latex snouts.
First published in the Herald, November 1987
I recall not thinking much of the movie at the time, but darned if it isn’t memorable—the weird science involved, the ballerina, the Aussie setting; every time I hear about the Tasmanian wolf (which, granted, is not as often as one would like), I think of this movie. Otto is a wonderful actor with a long career, and he’ll turn up later this year in Baz Luhrmann’s fling at The Great Gatsby; Frank Thring is in the history books for his roles as Pilate in Ben-Hur and Herod in King of Kings.