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John’s Horror Corner: Howl (2015), an excellent British werewolf movie that follows the zombie movie playbook.

August 22, 2020

MY CALL: I thought this was an absolute blast! Great unnerving tension, monstrous and abundantly gory effects, the characters are rich and well-performed, and there’s more flesh to this film than I had anticipated. MOVIES LIKE Howl: If it’s quality “train horror” you want, I’d suggest Terror Train (1980), Midnight Meat Train (2008) or Train to Busan (2016). You might even cross genres and reach out to Snowpiercer (2013).

MORE WEREWOLF MOVIES: The best werewolf movies would have to be An American Werewolf in London (1981; semi-humorous), Ginger Snaps (2000; metaphoric), Dog Soldiers (2002; unconventional) and The Howling (1981; serious). If you want another utterly ridiculous werewolf movie, then move on to Howling II: Your Sister is a Werewolf (1985) and Howling 3: The Marsupials (1987). However, I’d advise you skip Red Riding Hood (2011), Ginger Snaps Back: The Beginning (2004), Howling IV: The Original Nightmare (1988), Howling V: The Rebirth (1989), Howling VI: The Freaks (1991) and The Howling: Reborn (2011) unless you are a werewolf movie/franchise completist. And for more stylish werewolf movies The Company of Wolves (1984), Meridian (1990), Cursed (2005; cliché-loaded and contemporary), Ginger Snaps 2: Unleashed (2004), Wolf (1994), Wer (2013), The Wolfman (2010), Wolfcop (2014), An American Werewolf in Paris (1997), Late Phases (2014), Good Manners (2017; aka, As Boas Maneiras) and the Underworld movies (2003, 2006, 2009, 2012) are also worth a watch. We could consider that Waxwork (1988), Trick ‘r Treat (2007), Van Helsing (2004), Monster Squad (1987) and many others also feature werewolves, but not to such centerpiece extent that I’d call them “werewolf movies.”

Often when “the next” werewolf (or zombie or whatever) movie is released, we wonder what new angle, style or perspective will keep it fresh. Ginger Snaps (2000) was a metaphor for a girl’s coming of age, Late Phases (2014) gave us a blind protagonist, Wolfcop (2014) was just gory hilarious insanity, and Good Manners (2017; aka, As Boas Maneiras) was an emotionally delicate film with musical numbers. But seems Howl is nothing of the sort. At first, Howl appears to simply be “another” werewolf movie with a very basic siege premise (e.g., Dog Soldiers). But guess what? I thought it was an absolute blast anyway! The tension worked well, I enjoyed the monstrous and gory effects, the characters are rich and well-performed, and there’s more flesh to this film than I had anticipated…

In Howl an underappreciated, soft spoken train guard Joe (Ed Speleers; Outlander, The House That Jack Built) is called to pull a double shift on a red eye train heading outside the city. Luckily, his co-worker and crush Ellen (Holly Weston; Sacracide) has been likewise assigned, and pleasantries are awkwardly exchanged. The direction early in this movie is occasionally quite charming. For example, when Joe asks Ellen on a date, the exchange is curiously observed by a sloppy eating drunk whose eyes and expressions dart back and forth between them as they chat.

But the calm evening ride through the woodsy barrens is abruptly interrupted when the train strikes something and screeches to a halt, which the train conductor (Sean Pertwee; Event Horizon, Dog Soldiers) deboards to investigate. Impatient with the delays, the passengers band together to try to get home however they can. And then they are attacked!

Among the passengers are Kate (Shauna Macdonald; The Descent), a first-class businessman (Elliot Cowan), an elderly couple and a stand-offish teenage girl. At first, they just seem to deliberately diversify the passengers, but each have their moments of humanity much as we observe in zombie movies (i.e., the sociological aspect of zombie films). And perhaps that is, in fact, where Howl separates itself from the pack of werewolf movies. Normally our characters work together to solve or hunt or cure werewolves, or they themselves are the werewolves. But here, this werewolf film has adopted the zombie model. Our characters simply need to survive and their personal flaws, fears and interpersonal issues prove just as dangerous to each other as their lupine assailants.

The werewolf attacks are well-placed and well-timed, packing good intensity and relative circumstantial credibility. The cast overall fares very well, both during the attacks and socially. Not just convincingly well-acted for horror, but I mean I enjoyed their character interactions and line readings a lot in general.

Close up, our werewolves are largely practical. But those skulking in the darkness are mostly CGI. Even so, the gangly skulkers movements look jarring, predatory and sleek. They move like over-sized lumbering goblins, erratic and adroit yet belabored by their size.

There is some hulking Resident Evil-Nemesis-looking monstrous werewolf that is utterly demonic-looking with unevenly snaggled teeth and a menacing frame. The effects team revels in their fleshy effects, buckets of blood, and skull-splintering head smashes. The bloody lacerated wound work is awesome. But what we don’t get is what we all always want to see in a werewolf movie: a major transformation scene. I guess that would’ve pushed the budget over the top. Director Paul Hyett (The Convent, Peripheral, The Seasoning House) made up for it with thrilling fun and, let’s be honest, some great effects work.

This movie is pretty dang good! Like, from the effects to the tension to the actual writing and characters; this is across the board a good horror film albeit a very basic premise. I can’t believe it took me so long to finally see this. Don’t make the same mistake. If you enjoy a fun gory effects-driven popcorn horror movie, this is it!

2 Comments leave one →
  1. August 31, 2020 7:41 am

    I’ve seen this one and saying it was a blast is exactly right. It took werewolves and gave them a zombie like existence, and then the fun begins.

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