Howl Movie Review
Written by Joel Harley
Released by Metrodome Distribution
Directed by Paul Hyett
Written by Mark Huckerby and Nick Ostler
2015, 95 minutes, Rated 18 (UK)
DVD released on 26th October 2015
Ed Speleers as Joe
Holly Weston as Ellen
Elliot Cowan as Adrian
Amit Shah as Matthew
Sam Gittins as Billy
Shauna Macdonald as Kate
Given the nightmare that is working with the general public and riding with them on public transport, it's something of a miracle that there aren't more horror movies about both. Werewolves too – underused in a genre that often doesn't seem sure of how to make them work. The three meet in Howl, a British comedy horror about a disillusioned train guard under attack from idiots and werewolves on a red eye service through the English countryside.
Poor Joe is the unfortunate train drone in question, called into action and needed to save his passengers' lives when driver Sean Pertwee derails the train deep in werewolf territory. It's just a glorified cameo from Pertwee, setting the tone for a mood and atmosphere many will recognise from his Dog Soldiers. The Neil Marshall similarities don't end there either – Shauna MacDonald (of The Descent fame) is well-cast as one of Joe's bickering passengers, while director Paul Hyett is best known for his special effects work on Doomsday, The Descent and Centurion. There's The Seasoning House too, which he also directed, but that one is a bit gross, so perhaps best forgotten.
Like Dog Soldiers, this is more action flick and black comedy than it is straight horror, although it does get shockingly gory at times. The train is well packed with a fun cast of horror movie and public transport archetypes alike, from the slobby drunk to the Carter Burke-like asshole prepared to throw everyone else under the bus (or train) to ensure his own survival. The lively cast and sharp writing make almost everyone seem likeable and sympathetic, allowing us to care whenever one of them is knocked off or ripped up. And oh, what ripping! There's a fantastic level of splatter to the violence, particularly during one climactic encounter with a beast and its terrified would-be victims. Perhaps the dearth of decent werewolf movies is due to the difficulty in getting them to look good on screen; and while Howl doesn't entirely sidestep this, its monsters do look better than most. Wisely, they're usually kept in the dark, letting the tension and horror build before Hyett gets confident enough to unleash his lycanthropes upon the audience properly.
Sadly, the weakest link is its leading man, who winds up being the least interesting chap on the train. He seems to get lost among the big group scenes and lacks the underdog charisma to pull off his zero-to-hero transformation. His love interest fares even worse, feeling more like a reward for Joe's emergent masculinity than a character in her own right. If Joe gets lost then poor Holly Weston feels completely forgotten – a shivering irrelevance who's only there for Joe to protect and thus prove his worth. Thankfully, the action and character work is so good elsewhere that we can largely overlook this and just enjoy what's going on everywhere else. And there's a lot, thankfully.
Howl is up there with Tower Block, Grabbers and, yes, Dog Soldiers, in an ever-growing subgenre of homegrown horror films about people being trapped in cramped spaces by nasty bastards. It may have its issues, but it's far less dog eared than most.