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By Joshua Smith

The Marsupials' Moonlit Masquerade
Author: Joshua Smith
Published on: December 30, 1998

The government-initiated 10BA tax concession scheme that led to an unrivalled boom in local production during the 1980s allowed for a significant amount of genre film production to take place on our shores. This was a trend that was widely avoided in Australia previous to this. This system paved the way for inexperienced directors to produce such accomplished genre works as Mad Max (1979), Bliss (1985>, Dead-End Drive-In (1985), Razorback (1984) and this feisty little effort, The Howling III - The Marsupials (1987). The latter two films reveal a self-examining wisdom that has developed from our being bombarded with American genre conventions for years, with few of our own in development.

Both films are witty parodies of their American counterparts, in which the involved filmmakers reveal their extensive knowledge of genre film iconography, paying homage to their American predecessors while simultaneously mocking the same. The humour present in The Howling III - The Marsupials is particularly outrageous, revelling in deliberately poor special effects and a central theme that somehow attempts to convey an AIDS-aware equality issue. (At one point Professor Beckmeyer (Barry Otto) is bitten by a were-thylacine - the film's 'marsupial' protagonists derive their wolf-like spirits from the presumed-extinct Tasmanian Tiger - before calmly remarking, "It takes more than a bite - it's got to be an exchange of body fluids.") Bizarre thematic concerns aside, the film's main strength comes from its meta-cinema concerns.

A veritable collage of film clichés, interwoven with the production of a film-within-the-film, it is obvious that director Philippe Mora (a former film critic) was using the film to voice his own thoughts about the direct-to-video schlock horror market. Presented within the film's production design are references to films as diverse as The Fly (1986), The Beast Within (1982, also directed by Philippe Mora), Mad Max II (1981) and Citizen Kane (1941), while Jerboa's (an enticing Imogen Annesley) dream sequence recalls Alien (1979) and Barry Otto's idyllic retirement suggests a reference to Bliss (1985). Most interesting in this regard is the various pompous monologues presented by Jack Citron (Frank Thring), the director of film-within-the-film Shape Shifters - Part 8, whose persona is clearly modelled after that of Alfred Hitchcock. His notes regarding Psycho (1960) and the manner by which in the '60s Andy Warhol "...showed us how pop [culture] could be [high] art," in conjunction with the presence of well-known Australian film critic and television personality Bill Collins as a doctor who is killed by a werewolf in a subsequent scene, presents a scathing self-reflexivity that defies criticism.

To this end, the film's tacky special effects, its damning condemnation of American cinema's tendency for climactic "overkill," Donny's (Leigh Biolos) reaction to seeing a Lyncanthropic baby ugly enough to rival those of The Fly 2 (1989) and Eraserhead (1977) as "It's really great. Is it a boy or is it a girl?", and the presence of only one truly intense scene (the torturous strobing experiment in hospital) only lends strength to the film. While Mora's second entry into the Howling series may not possess the sharp, though subtle, wit of Joe Dante's original, its freshness and pastiche-parody makes this film a truly enjoyable film to watch, and one gratefully designated to the "$1-a-week" video bin where it resides slyly amidst the films that it so cleverly sends up.

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