Looking Back at The Howling III and the Franchise as a Whole
Could things have gone more wrong with the The Howling series? What started out as a promising and well-executed franchise in 1981 with the first film quickly jumped into the deep end of trash heap as one installment after another was released. Few really hit as horribly as the third, though. The biggest reason is that the guy behind the film, Philippe Mora, seemed hellbent on taking the narrative to a new level and location, though he didn’t really know how to pull it off. To be fair, his work on the second Howling film, subtitled Your Sister Is A Werewolf, isn’t exactly a thing of beauty, but at least it had a more reasonable storyline—the protagonist aims to take down the monsters who killed his sister/turned her into a beast.
The Howling III took such a strange left turn that it ended up having a number of different names. Some people recognize it as Marsupials: The Howling III while others know it as The Howling III or, even still, The Howling III: The Marsupials. Yeah, it’s safe to say that this one wasn’t really properly promoted, but it’s hard to blame anyone for that. Why? Because the premise is absolutely foolish, though it’s also endearingly so. Mora’s vision is one that takes The Howling down under to, yes, Australia, where professor Harry Beckmeyer (our protagonist) is trying to find a rare breed of werewolf that’s half werewolf/half marsupial (some call it a “wereroo”). Sound absurd? It is, but it also kind of works. Well, depending on who you ask.
Despite its awful aggregated score of 20/100 at Rotten Tomatoes, the third Howling has its fans. One writer noted that the film completely removes itself from the series by not being the least bit series and instead looking inward to find comedy in the first two films. Now, anyone who has seen the first two movies knows that there is plenty of unintentional hilarity, though that’s mostly in the second. This movie, however, isn’t afraid to be goofy. That’s not to say there aren’t attempts at seriousness, but those bits are just made all the more humorous when you realize that much of it is a clear satire of the original Howling.
The unintentional comedy of The Marsupials doesn’t end there, though. If you do any kind of research, you’ll surely stumble across the fact that Mare credits the third Howling book, subtitled Echoes, as the basis for the film. However, all you need to do is read about the novel to know that there is pretty much no connection between the two. For one, the book takes place in the U.S. (and not Australia); there’s no weird hybrid beast like in the film; and there’s no sub/side-plot about an actress trying to make her way to the big time. In other words: Yeah, no connection aside from the whole werewolf-centric narrative.
What I found most interesting looking back at The Howling III is how werewolves have come back into the limelight in the past decade or so. Prior to ten years ago, it’s safe to say that most people saw them as a joke or corny out-of-date character replaced by more horrifying beings. That was, of course, until the Underworld series—and to a more teenie-bopper extent Twilight—thrust the hairy beasts back into the public eye. This continued with the under-appreciated 2010 film The Wolfman and, sure enough, another entry in the Howling series the following year. Like so many Howling films, the eighth (also known as The Howling: Reborn, couldn’t capture the power of the original. It also went straight to video.
So why not, then, reboot the damn franchise? And why not try doing so in a different time?
That’s my opinion, at least, because this series would fare much better in a darker, late 1800s/early 1900s setting. And that much is clear not just because of films like 2000’s fantastic Shadow of the Vampire, which brilliant flipped the story of Nosferatu on its head. You see, other media outlets are also finding success in embracing an older-looking werewolf narrative. Betfair, an online gaming hub that’s home to a range of online casino games, has accomplished just this with its Full Moon Fortune game. As you’ll see from the animation work and imagery, it is very much in line with what made Shadow of the Vampire and even the aforementioned Wolfman work so well. It takes the classic werewolf tale and embraces it, rather than trying to make it current or modern. The same can be said for 2006 Nintendo game The
Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess, which also utilized werewolf graphics in an older, medieval-like setting with strong results.
How would this work for The Howling reboot, you ask? Easy—find a middle ground between the original narrative, the colonial look of Full Moon Fortune, and the gritty Wolfman. Take the setting back a few hundred years and tweak the storyline ever so slightly. Given that this would be the 1800s (or earlier), it could feature an early newspaper journalist making her way to a remote village to find out exactly what’s causing all the sudden deaths. She’d then run into the reason (aka the werewolf) and there you have it.
I know I’ve covered a lot of ground in this look back at The Howling III, but there’s a strong reason for it: I love this franchise. I also think that it deserves far more love than it ever received, and I believe it could regain some respect with a properly done reboot. Do you agree/disagree? Let me know in the comments.