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  Howling III: The Marsupials Dingoes ate my baby
Year: 1987
Director: Philippe Mora
Stars: Barry Otto, Imogen Annesley, Deby Wightman, Lee Biolos, Christopher Pate, Max Fairchild, Jerome Patillo, Dagmar Bláhová, Ralph Cotterill, Michael Pate, Carol Skinner, Frank Thring, Barry Humphries, Jenny Vuletic, Glenda Linscott
Genre: Horror, Comedy, Trash, WeirdoBuy from Amazon
Rating:  5 (from 3 votes)
Review: Having helmed one of the most reviled horror sequels of all time withHowling II: Stirba - Werewolf Bitch (1985), Australian director Philippe Mora somehow got another crack at the werewolf franchise, now relocated to his native land with The Marsupials: Howling III, a title sensibly switched around for its DVD release. Yup, this time the lycanthropes are packing pouches! A confusing prologue opens in 1904 where Aboriginal warriors dance around a dying werewolf tied to a tree, then jumps forward to present day Siberia as a hunter shrieks at the sight of an off-screen monster. Screening the footage for his American students, Professor Harry Beckmeyer (Barry Otto) then tries to convince the President (Michael Pate) to back his werewolf research programme.

Meanwhile in Oz, willowy werewolf babe Jerboa (Imogen Annesley - in a role intended for Nicole Kidman!) escapes from an outback community of feral lycanthropes led by her hulking, sexually abusive stepfather Thylo (Max Fairchild) and arrives in sunny Sydney, where she is spotted by geeky assistant director Donny Martin (Lee Biolos), who hires her for the lead in his new horror movie "Shape Shifters." Despite never having seen a movie before, Jerboa wows its pompous, Hitchcock-like director (the great Frank Thring). She and Donny share a heated romance, unaware they are being stalked by werewolf nuns (!) from Jerboa's home town.

Elsewhere, Professor Beckmeyer joins his colleague Sharp (Ralph Cotterill) in time to witness Russian werewolf ballerina (!) Olga (Dagmar Blahova) go wolf onstage at the Sydney Opera House and maul her fellow dancers. Jerboa goes similarly wild on the set and winds up at the same secure hospital as Olga, where Beckmeyer discovers she is pregnant with the world's first human/lycanthrope hybrid. Having unearthed centuries-old records outlining the werewolf threat, the American military are eager to wipe the monsters out once and for all, but Beckmeyer sympathises with the creatures and offers his help.

If nothing else, The Marsupials anticipates the camp direction Australian cinema was set to take in a few years after Strictly Ballroom (1992), which coincidentally also stars Barry Otto. Philippe Mora recycles several ideas from the original Howling (1980) (the werewolf commune, the pseudo-scientific rationale, the climax wherein the heroine transforms on live television) and edges its knowing playfulness into broader realms. His film is a scattershot satire taking aim at Eighties materialism (characters repeatedly offer Jerboa trendy electronic goods in return for sex), the Cold War, American imperialism, Hollywood high concept filmmaking, and its own Australian identity. But Mora is the kind of satirist who screams his lungs out till the joke falls flat. Early on, Donny takes Jerboa to see a supposedly trashy horror movie called "It Came From Uranus" (that's the level of wit, we are dealing with here), but Mora styles his own film in the same manner. The plot runs on fast-forward, made even more incoherent by Mora's crazed editing, rampant fisheye lenses, performances pitched either at maximum hysteria or stilted beyond belief, and torturous time-outs for ridiculous sex or cheesy Eighties pop. The arch dialogue also grates from Jerboa's response to the priest who asks why she fled from home ("Because my stepfather tried to rape me and he's a werewolf") to the doctor's response to her unusual pregnancy ("She might be an alien"), and the filmmakers lengthy spiel on the vagaries of art ("In the Sixties, Andy Warhol showed us how pop culture can be high art. Now everything is art. In this scene you will be gang raped by werewolves"). Also, if you ever wanted to see Frank Thring disco dancing, this is the film for you.

The Marsupials themselves are an intriguingly sick concept, if ineptly characterised as either lager louts or pretentious ferals. Adopting the extinct Tasmanian tiger or Thylacine as an allegorical figure (scene snarling in the film's opening spoof of the MGM logo with a faux Latin inscription that translates: "Don't let the bastards grind you down"), Mora draws parallels between the treatment of lycanthropes and Australia's indigenous aborigines. Sadly these good intentions falter since not only are the Aboriginal characters cast as clowns, but the werewolves are impossible to empathise with as persecuted victims given they slaughter so many innocent people and sexually abuse their own kind.

Bob McCarron's stretchy latex lycanthropes have a cartoonish quality, but the scene where Jerboa graphically births a tiny baby marsupial that crawls into her slimy pouch is intriguingly icky. Surprisingly, if pleasingly, Donny does not recoil from his mutant offspring but happily embraces this new family. The film's latter third is unexpectedly poignant and exhibits an unspoken yearning for the simplicity of rural life as Olga and Beckmeyer, Donny and Jerboa settle into a rural idyll and raise children. The latter return to the city, hoping to integrate peacefully with mankind.

Fifteen years later, Beckmeyer is delighted to discover their son among his students, but the pathos is undone once we see Jerboa and Donny have become a bitter, cynical Hollywood power couple. It ends with Jerboa receiving an Oscar from none other than Dame Edna Everage (Barry Humphries - sadly not transforming into a camp, purple-haired lycanthrope) and going wolf in the middle of her acceptance speech. On the one hand the ensuing hysteria makes no sense given we have just learned both the Pope and the US President granted werewolves equal rights, but it underlines just what a larky, noncommittal enterprise the whole thing is.


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Reviewer: Andrew Pragasam

 

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