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Tasmanian Mark

Mark McLaughlin's fiction, nonfiction and poetry have appeared in hundreds of magazines, anthologies, and websites, including The Living Dead 2, Cemetery Dance, Dark Arts, Midnight Premiere, Fangoria, Horror Garage, FilmFax, Shroud Magazine, ChiZine.com, Galaxy, The Best of All Flesh, and two volumes each of The Best of the Rest, The Best of HorrorFind, and The Year's Best Horror Stories (DAW Books). Collections of his fiction include Partners in Slime (with co-author Michael McCarty), Death Creeps In On Velvet Paws, Twisted Tales For Sick Puppies, Raising Demons For Fun and Profit, Slime After Slime, Pickman's Motel, Motivational Shrieker, and At the Foothills of Frenzy (with co-authors Shane Ryan Staley and Brian Knight). He is the co-author, with Rain Graves and David Niall Wilson, of The Gossamer Eye, which won a Bram Stoker Award for Poetry. His collaborative novel with Michael McCarty, Monster Behind the Wheel, was a Bram Stoker Award Finalist for Best First Novel, and will be reissued by Medallion Press in 2011. His latest project is Professor LaGungo's Classroom of Horrors, a chapbook co-written by Michael McCarty. Mark's works can be found at www.MerchantsKeep.com, www.Horror-Mall.com, and the Anthologies Section of www.GenreMall.com. Visit Mark on the web at www.facebook.com/MarkMcLaughlinMedia, www.myspace.com/monsterbook, and www.youtube.com/mcmonsterbook.

Horror Has Found a New Place to Keep Its Keys

Welcome again to my online hidey-hole of horrors, my niche of nightmares, my putrescent pouch of perils...

Pouch. Now there's a funny word. As we all know, a pouch is a sack-like container and it usually hangs from something. More often than not, it hangs from a living thing. A scout may walk around with a pouch filled with granola, but a robot probably wouldn't wheel around with a pouch filled with diodes.

In nature, females of the animal group known as marsupials have abdominal pouches in which to carry their developing babies. As soon as their young are born, each one creeps into a nice warm pouch where they latch onto a waiting teat. It's a sort of external uterus and many Australian mammals have them.

Tasmanian Tiger

In other countries, the prevalent pouch-sporting mammal is the opossum, which gives off a really creepy rat/cat vibe. It's the size of a cat but has a ratlike face and tail.

Most people think of the jolly, lovable, hippity-hopping kangaroo when they think of Australian marsupials. Kangaroos are pretty darned cute, but the rest of that continent's pouched wonders aren't necessarily as adorable. Certainly the least adorable would be the now-extinct marsupial wolf, often called the Tasmanian tiger.

The Tasmanian tiger was a striped, dog-like creature with a mouth like a bear trap, and no one mourned its extinction. In fact, the creatures were hunted to death because they were so savage.

But in laboratories, presumably in Australia, exists viable tissue from those pouchy predators. Sheep have been cloned so it is perfectly possible to clone fresh Tasmanian tigers -- if anyone should ever scrape together enough money and enthusiasm to do so. And if Tasmanian tigers were to return, you can bet Marsupiophobia -- fear of creatures with pouches -- would become common wherever such beasts roamed.

It is easy to see why some people might be afraid of disturbing critters with hairy pouches filled with puny pink pups. And if those critters had huge, snapping jaws -- that would add even greater strangeness to the beasts.

It is with that potential phobia in mind that I pen this column. I always try to find movies that address the phobia of the column du jour, and in this case, the field is narrowed down to one. Yes, there exists a single horror movie that explores the sinister world of pocket-packing predators -- and that movie is Howling III: The Marsupials (1987).

Ah, already I can tell you are shivering with dread at the very thought of a monster with an abdominal sack for raising and nourishing its hideous spawn... And who knows what else it might hold in that sack? Perhaps some grisly morsel to snack on, later?

In the first movie in the series, The Howling, we were made aware of the werewolf race, living in humanity's shadows. We learned more about that race in Howling II: Your Sister Is A Werewolf, but we didn't learn everything. It was in Part III that we learned that Australian female werewolves do the pouch thing, baby-wise. Even among monsters, these Down-Under fiends are especially bizarre.

Howling III: The Marsupials

Yet this movie presents the plight of these creatures with a surprising degree of sympathy. They can experience strong human emotions -- even love. One especially interesting character is a Russian werewolf ballerina. She only performs when she is in human form... except for one rehearsal that goes wildly awry, in which we are treated to the delirious sight of a she-werewolf in a tutu spinning out of control.

The Russian werewolf falls in love with the huge, bald, feral leader of an Australian werewolf tribe living in the Outback town of Flow (spell it backwards and you'll be amused). International governments and the militia soon catch wind of the existence of the werewolves and before you can say "Little Red Riding Hood," the hunt is on.

After the big, bald wolf sacrifices himself to save his friends, the ballerina falls in love with a human scientist who has been especially kind to her. The ballerina isn't the only werewolf in the movie who falls in love with a human. The main storyline of the movie concerns a beautiful young werewolf lass who escapes from Flow and falls in love with a nice fellow who returns her love and is remarkably tolerant of her increasingly bizarre behavior.

When you get right down to it, Howling III: The Marsupials is a love story. It might even be considered a romantic comedy, albeit one with a dark streak running through it from beginning to end.

My favorite scene is when a trio of marsupial she-wolves disguised as nuns crash a movie-industry party. They've transformed into werewolves but that's okay, because everyone at the party is dressed as a monster. The host thinks their costumes are to-die-for... and, he's right!

Don't let the movie's comedic scenes lull you into a false sense of security! If real-life scientists ever manage to bring back Tasmanian tigers -- and that somehow leads to an outbreak of marsupial werewolves -- let us all hope they can be controlled, for a monster with a pouch is a truly formidable opponent. With that built-in pocket, they'll never lose their keys! And let us not forget those huge, fang-rimmed bear-trap jaws...