Home Video Hovel: Howling III, by Alexander Miller
There’s a varying degree of enthusiasm regarding famous horror franchises like the Halloween, Nightmare on Elm Street and The Exorcist movies. All start from a first film by reputable director followed by a series of misfires, oddities, cash grabs and occasional flickers of brilliance but, for the most part, these movies have their fans and the subsequent Roman numerals and “:____” are on a sliding scale as to whether they belong to the “so bad they’re good” or “overlooked classic” camp. Every so often, a specific title from a series, despite poor critical acclaim and diminishing financial returns, skirts cult status but is resurrected as a newly appraised classic. The Howling series, like Halloween, The Exorcist, and Nightmare on Elm Street, was initiated by a standalone effort from a great director of the genre, Joe Dante, and was then followed by a plethora of sequels that vary in quality but don’t ebb in energy or sheer profanity. Horror fans and gorehounds alike sing the praises for all the stalk and slashers, possessed children and haunted houses but no one seems to clamor for The Howling series with the same degree of enthusiasm. Well, given the level of unrestrained, incomparable slapdash and whacked-out antics that populate the first two Howling sequels, I’m honestly shocked that these films aren’t some of the most talked about cult items in horror history. Howling II: …Your Sister is a Werewolf (or Howling II: Stirba – Werewolf Bitch) is tangentially a sequel. Due to budgetary constraints, Australian director Philippe Mora (who helmed the second and third Howling features) reshaped both movies to fit the financing and, in doing so, created anarchic works that pass for werewolf movies and triumph as lovably dumb ventures into all things bizarre: Christopher Lee’s Wellesian intro, the Transylvanian subplot, Stirba the werewolf queen, a modicum of editing wipes. But that’s just scratching the service. While Howling II throws everything at the wall, Howling III goes a little bit further. Director Mora takes the tracks laid down in II and expands on the scope, taking us from Transylvania to the his native land of Australia, and steers the thematic horror from werewolf (inspired) to a hybrid of transformative marsupial body horror with ecological overtones buttressed by Soviet-era intrigue and some meta, inspired film references to boot. Yes, there’s all that and more in Howling III and, while it’s mostly a mess, Mora’s confident and surreal direction competently guides us through a film that plays like a caustic grab bag of all things bizarre. Sure, characters come and go. And those who stay barely have a purpose beyond some necessary exposition. And the multiple narratives collide into one another. But Mora’s script marks some curious and occasionally clever ambition.
Howling III steers into some intentional and unintentional comedic areas. Some jokes work, others not so much. But our female protagonist, Jerboa (Imogen Annesley), sojourns into the film industry, conveniently acting in B-horror werewolf movies, of course. There’s a handful of Hitchcock references, most obvious being the portly director Jack Citron (played by Frank Thring), who is clearly modeled after the ol’ master of suspense and the hamminess is played with good humor. In a film within a film (entitled It Came From Uranus, no less) they obviously poke at John Landis’ An American Werewolf in London, specifically through Rick Baker’s effects work, almost as if to say, “We don’t have your money but we can still make a werewolf movie, dammit!” The in-jokes are a fun diversion and play into the culminating nuttiness that is Howling III. The film’s self-conscious construction is what holds what would otherwise be a disharmonious assortment of nonsense together. Mora and the cast and crew are having fun with the material and giving themselves as much distance as possible from self-seriousness and pretensions of grandeur. Howling III is a stupid movie that is a relentlessly fun continuation of a series that established itself as a breed apart from the genre it’s associated with.
Shout!/Scream Factory’s endless slew of restored cult items has brought back into the light and given second life to films such as the Silent Night, Deadly Night series, Sonny Boy, The Return of the Living Dead and its sequel while distributing newcomers like Masaaki Yuasa with his last two movies Night Is Short, Walk on Girl, and Lu over the Wall. Bonus features on Howling III, aside from a 1080p, 4K scan, high-definition restoration, include new and vintage interviews with Mora.