Howl (2016)

The werewolves of London stalk a group of stranded commuters on a broken down passenger train in the middle of the English forest in this new British chiller!

Just released in the States on 01/12/16 on Blu-ray and DVD, “Howl” is a new British creature feature that was a modesty buzzed about hit in jolly old England. Our friends across the pond enjoy a distinguished reputation in werewolf movie history. From the first werewolf movie ever released, “The Werewolf of London” (1935) to the Hammer Horror classic, “Curse of the Werewolf” (1961), to John Landis’ masterpiece, “An American Werewolf in London” (1981), to one of the best modern werewolf films, “Dog Soldiers” (2002), those crazy Brits love their lycanthropes.

Directed by established makeup and special effects artist, Paul Hyett, who did creature effects work on such films as “The Descent” (2005), “Attack the Block” (2011) and “The Woman in Black” (2012), Hyett brings his monster making A-game to the werewolves of “Howl.” At first mostly seen as dark shapes with glowing eyes lurking in the misty darkness, when Hyett’s practical beasts finally make their ferocious appearance on screen, they do not disappoint. Blood and splatter flow freely in the second half of the film.

The wolf creatures in “Howl” are fairly original designs. They’re wiry, lanky humanoid creatures with contorted muscular structures and jagged fangs. Hyett has purposefully removed the standard coat of hairy fur that covers most screen werewolves in favor of creatures that have much greater physically detailed bodies. Computer generated effects are mostly used to complete the effect of animalistic legs.

Ed Speleers (“Downton Abbey”) plays Joe, a milquetoast train guard and ticket taker who has just finished his shift when he finds a rejection letter in his work locker informing him that he has been passed over for a promotion that has been given to his workplace rival, who immediately shows up and demands that Joe work a double shift on a dreary, rainy night.

Reluctantly, Joe heads back to the outbound train and to his depressingly dead-end job where his attempts at flirting with the pretty train attendant, who is working her way through school on double shift duty herself, fall miserably flat.

Yes, Joe is something of a loser. He’s certainly not the hero this ill-fated train ride needs.

When an accident stops the train in the middle of the English forest two hours from nowhere in either direction, all communication with civilization is lost, and the passengers plans to wait for help are thwarted by a siege of inhuman creatures from the dark and misty forest that surrounds the train on both sides.

“Howl” is both a fairly standard creature feature and claustrophobic siege thriller with a motley crew of characters forced to work together, and sometimes against each other, to survive in the tight confines of the train car with monsters attacking from the outside. I can’t really say it lives up to the hype that I had read about when it was playing the film festival circuit.

The acting is average, the pace somewhat stilted until the movie’s werewolves show up, and the cinematography is far too dark during most of the central action. On the plus side, the evolution of Joe from passive aggressive loser to alpha male killer is a clever and fun roller coaster of character development with a nifty twist ending.

If you’re a werewolf film fanatic and completist, you’ll probably find plenty to enjoy about “Howl,” as it certainly rises above the glut of SyFy Channel junk that’s dumped to Blu-ray and DVD on a weekly basis. Indeed, it is the best werewolf flick to come around in some time, but it’s hardly a new watershed in the history of lycanthrope cinema.

The Phantom of The Ville

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