Saturday, April 17, 2010
IMDb Bottom 100 Countdown:
#100 - Howling III (1987)
As this is the first time I have done one of these Bottom 100 video reviews, I thought I should lay out a quick something-something of what to expect. I will try to start each post with an introduction, then a short(?) plot synopsis, my thoughts on the movie, and my favorite line or lines. Pretty straight forward, lets take the plunge!
For the inaugural entry of the IMDb Bottom 100 Countdown, I decided to treat Karla to what I thought would be a fairly standard crappy horror movie on a Saturday evening. After all, what is more romantic than marsupials, especially anthropomorphic ones?
However, life is never that simple, and I quickly realized that this movie was going to be a wild ride. My first suspicion came when I saw that Howling III was almost two hours long and I was certain as soon as I was treated to the first three scenes, all of which had nothing to do with the others. I would really love to concisely describe what the plot of this movie entailed, but it was so long and jumpy, that I have to be rather long winded to have anything make even the remotest sense.
Let me preface this section by sharing the Plot Summary of Howling III, as found on Wikipedia:
"Howling III: The Marsupials is about a scientist involved with a cult of Australian werewolves via his love interest. The plot line is based on the premise of Australian werewolves descended from the now extinct Thylacine, or Tasmanian Tiger, a marsupial carnivore which was hunted to extinction by Australian farmers to protect their sheep."
The movie begins with black and white footage of Aborigines from Australia poking a tied up werewolf to death. The camera zooms out and we find that this movie is being played in Professor Harry Beckmeyer's Anthropology classroom at a university in California, as he talks about his grandfather filming this scene in the early 1900's, never being heard from since.
Quickly the scene changes to some compound in the Australian Outback as some dishhevled woman named Jerboa is told by some other rough looking woman that she must pay homage to some guy. Yeah this part was all pretty vague and I had no idea what was going on until later in the movie, but I'll explain that as it comes. The man she has to pay homage to licks her neck, leading him to receiving a knee in the huevos and Jerboa running away.
After many transitional scenes, Jerboa is sleeping in a park in Sydney, where she is chased by some suave looking 20-something named Donny. Donny chases her down and tells her that he is a casting director on some horror movie (Shape Shifter Part 8, to be exact). To make a long (100 minutes, really?) story short, she acts a little for the movie, hints that she is a were-something, has the sweatiest sex ever with Donny, he notices she is a little hairier than your average 20-something hottie, she goes to the cast party, changes into a were-something, gets studied at a hospital, and is abducted and taken back to the Outback by some of her were-something sisters dressed as nuns.
Now, I realize that is a lot to take in, and the whole time you are watching you are being thrown into new plot elements without having any idea who people are, what their motivations are, or why they are so sweaty. The story so far sounds like it could be an entire movie, doesn't it? Well, that was just the first 20 minutes or so.
Ok, let's see if I can make this as simple as possible. A Russian ballerina defects to Australia, she's a werewolf, she's searching for that guy with the bruised cahones, whose name is apparently Thylo. It turns out he is the leader of a clan of Lycanthropes, although technically they are were-Tasmanian wolves, and the Russian ballerina is a standard run-of-the-mill werewolf. She's looking to do it like they do on the Discovery Channel with Thylo, because all were-people can do it with all other were-people, whether they are wolves or tigers or lions, all of which are mentioned in the movie. Oh, and these were-people change when they think about it, or are angry, or are bombarded by flashing lights. Eventually all the were-people, after being studied by some scientists, including Proffessor Beckmeyer and his sidekick Professor Sharp, escape back to the Outback. They are hunted by the military, who see them as a threat, while Professor Beckmeyer tries to convince them it is better for science if they are studied. Professor Sharp seems confused, as he sometimes says that the were-people should be killed, and sometimes is the voice of reason and humanity towards them.
Eventually you find Jerboa is pregnant (were-people and humans can get it on too), and you get see a were-Tasmanian tiger birthing scene, complete with birthing fluids and a small marsupial fetus crawling out of her vagina and into her pouch. Well she finds Donny, who was looking for her, and they run away into the Outback with the help of their Aboriginal friend Kendi, who I think is also a were-something. He dies while killing some hunters, Thylo and Jerboa apparently make up off-screen from whatever fight they were having which required a ball smashing, Thylo dies while hunting the Men in Black or something, Beckmeyer falls in love with the Russian, Beckmeyer/Russian ballerina and Donny/Jerboa live in the Outback for a while and have a few children, and the plot seems to wrap up. Then Jerboa and Donny move to California and change their name, become famous Hollywood bigwigs. 15 years later, Beckmeyer and his Ruskie move out from the Outback, and are watching some futuristic awards show where Jerboa wins an award. As she gives her speech, many flash bulbs off as photographers take her picture, and she turns into a werewolf, scaring everyone in the audience and the award host, who is wearing glasses even Elton John would avoid. Beckmeyer watches his TV in horror as this is happening, and somewhere, in an unknown part of the country, Professor Sharp is watching the same thing unfold, sitting in a dark room and laughing his ass off. Fin.
As you can see, the plot is a little more complex than the big-wigs in Wikipedia's ivory tower would have you believe.
If you are lost, then you feel exactly how I felt for about 90 of the 100 minutes in this film. It wasn't as though the plot was random or made no sense at the end, it was just that you were thrown into the water and asked to swim before you knew even the basics about any of the characters. Now this might work good for one of them new-fangled artsy-fartsy movies, but for a movie that is supposed to be a campy horror flick, even cursory information about the characters and their motivations would have been helpful.
Now overall, I thought that this movie was pretty bad, but not Bottom 100 material (and in fact it longer is on the IMdb list). Sure it was cheesy and a little boring at times, but the plot was cohesive and some of the people in the movie were decent actors. Maybe not Kendi, but then again he was the best part of the entire movie.
There was however one major problem. I had a sense throughout the film that it was self-aware, that it knew that it was a B-list horror film. There are references to crappy horror films everywhere in the movie, from Shape Shifters Part 8, the film Donny is a casting director for, to the cheesy werewolf film Donny takes Jerboa to before he brings her back to his sweatshop. There are also several parts in the movie where the fourth wall is broken, such as when Beckmeyer looks at the camera and asks "What is that?" and is answered "Oh, that's nothing, we are just recording this for watching later." Hur hur, you so funny screenwriters. There is also a scene where Beckmeyer is talking about wanting to talk to a Soviet in order to learn more about Soviet werewolves, and then opens a paper and it says the Soviet ballerina has defected to Australia. As if a ballerina knows anything about werewolves. Anyway, his associate Professor Sharp says "Huh, isn't that convenient, you were just talking about Soviets and then you read this." My sides were literally splitting after this line. Right.
It seems apparent to me that this movie set out from the start to be a campy horror flick. But all of this off-beat self-referential humor just seems out of place in a movie that isn't nearly as B-listy as Marabunta or Abominable. It's as though the writers finished the script and said to themselves 'Oh no, this actually isn't half bad! We have to make sure we let people know this is an awful horror movie by references to the B-horror genre and out-of-place humor!' Maybe they were trying to make it a satire, but forgot to remember Swift's First Rule: Satires are only funny if people are eating babies.
Without the ridiculous Australian humor, and maybe if the scenes and editing were a little more cohesive, the movie could have been a solid 5, but as it stands, Howling III is a solid 4 out of 10. This is higher than the 2.5/10 it currently has on IMDb, but I feel the movie was decent enough to deserve better, and certainly good enough not to be one of the worst 100 movies of all time. Unfortunately, this does little to cure me of my ailment... Meet the Spartans, here I come.
[Kendi, an old Aborigine man, lies obviously wounded on a precipice after having changed back from his were-Tasmanian Wolf form. Jerboa approaches and tries to comfort Kendi.]
Jerboa: You'll turn into a river Kendi, and then a rainbow, and then you'll be a mountain.
Kendi [emotionlessly]: No way. I'm just gonna die.
YouTube link (1:20): http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=D_yb51cJUyg
Posted by Mark Irish at 8:31 PM