After the blatant sexploitation of The Howling II, it’s time for new producers and a new direction: Ozploitation! The same director though, as Philippe Mora managed to buy the rights to make this one and is now the writer and the producer. So we now have an idea of what would have happened previously if Hemdale Film hadn’t decided to repeat Babel and Sybil Danning’s boobs to the point of absurdity. It would have been different, to say the least…
The first obvious change is that the budget has been shrunk massively, to the point that the footage itself looks cheaper. The sets, the costumes, even the lighting, and the effects are all lower grade than the first two, giving the whole affair a much more “b-movie” feel from the go. The second, rapidly apparent change is that the plots of films one and two are pretty much ignored, with the story focused on werethylacines; a dog-like marsupial that went extinct around the 1930s. None of this is necessarily a bad thing, at it frees the viewer from the expectations and gothy-aesthetics of its predecessors.
A more subtle change is that this film is absolutely willing to get weird at the drop of a hat, and is more interested in trying to shove its gallon of ideas it’s 94-minute pint-glass of a run time. Things move blindingly fast and it assumes you have the intelligence to keep up and work some bits out for yourself, so don’t expect this to be a casual watch. It’s also very willing to take the piss out of werewolf movies as a whole, including The Howling series, which is a bold move. How sensible a choice that was is up to you as a viewer, especially as it’s movie-in-a-movie parody cinema-werewolf make-up isn’t that much of a step down from the special effects the actual werewolves have on display.
This is also a very Australian movie of the 80s, complete with all the cultural appropriation issues that entails. Burnum Burnum turns up, giving it some credibility on that front, along with another aboriginal actor that I can’t find the name of, and he gets to be the key character in one of the best werewolf attack sequences I’ve seen in cinema. However, they both play incredibly typecast roles, the were tribe is heavily aboriginal coded whilst being played exclusively by whites, and there are a number of whites playing aboriginals in a cliché ceremony. So, beyond a couple of cultural references and the odd bit of lingo going over some heads, there’s also a lot of sighing and going “well, I guess it tried its best for the time”.
Away from that, what we have here is an actually really good werewolf movie (even if it doesn’t have many werewolves in it). The two main story strands are anthropologist Harry Beckmeyer (Barry Otto) trying to uncover the existence of werewolves and Jerboa (Imogen Annesley) running away from her werewolf tribe (who live in a village called Flow… oh, fuck off!) and then meeting human love of her life Donny (Leigh Biolos). The rest of the story is too complicated to go into, and even the film itself skips over lots of it.
The important, very important thing is that the weres act like half-human, half-animals, and like absolute people. Whilst bits of the story makes no sense, the characters consistently do and you can totally believe the were world is an actual thing. You can also, unfortunately, understand the human reaction to finding out that they are an actual thing and mistreating them horribly. Yes, the werewolves are the sympathetic characters in this one, which is a lovely twist, but they are also presented as dangerous and often not-great people. That really sells the reality to the viewer, even whilst the film is flying around in occasional dream-like sequences.
Jerboa is an especially interesting character, being both initially naive of the particulars of the human world but not a bloody idiot. She also gets some of the most interesting creature moments, as we see her give birth to offspring and then watch it make its way into her pouch. This is kind of presented as body horror, but also given a ton of sympathy because she’s now a mother in a dangerous environment and her sprog is just the cutest human/marsupial hybrid thing out there. On top of that she gets to fall out with Donny about him being stupid but they get to stay a couple because that’s what couples do.
As said above, Burnum Burnum gets to do an incredible turn as a chompy-death-monster, but he isn’t the only fun bit of fur and claws. Whilst low budget, the werewolf attack sequences are effective and entertaining, leaning more on the action than on the horror side of things. There are some very frightening, and surprisingly effectively acted, weird-science moments as well, and the whole thing is generally very satisfying on that front (other than one very-obviously-a-dummy getting thrown out of a window).
If there is any actually bad part to this movie it’s in the final 15 minutes, when the story just didn’t know when to stop. Three perfectly good endings come and go, with the movie doggedly carrying on to its final choice, which it could neither afford to do well nor gave itself time to really develop. Quite why that is I have no clue, but it drags things down unnecessarily and leaves you willing for it to stop as it’s outstayed its welcome. But it didn’t, and so we get to find out that the Pope forgave all the werewolves on the planet. Which is nice, and not the strangest bit of this film because it just revels in that kind of “what the hell…” conceptual moments and throw-away lines.
Once it’s all said and done, what we have here is one of the best, most stupidly fun, werewolf movies going. It’s brash, it’s dumb, it’s got a skeleton half-biting a man to death, and it’s just so much fun. By having the focus on the weres from the start, rather than mucking around with them as possibilities or some sinister, oversexed enemy, it lets you get really under the skin of them and throws around ideas of what it could actually mean for them and for humans. Were this film given the budget it would have gone down as a classic, instead it’s simply very good in most places and wears its shortcomings with pride..
Curiously though, it is that good a fit in The Howling Series. It’s too radical a break from the previous ones to feel part of a sequence, and a year later of Howling IV: The Original Nightmare reset things to a more faithful vision of Gary Brandner’s original books. Still, it does mean you can watch it by itself, which I thoroughly encourage you to do.