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HOWL (2015)

Directed by Paul Hyett
Written by Mark Huckerby, Nick Ostler
Starring Ed Speleers, Holly Weston, Shauna Macdonald, Elliot Cowan, Amit Shah, Sam Gittins, Rosie Day, Duncan Preston, Ania Marson, Calvin A. Dean, Brett Goldstein, Sean Pertwee, Ryan Oliva, Robert Nairne, Ross Mullan

How the hell did I miss this one when it came out a few years ago? There are plenty of werewolf films out there, but the number of good werewolf films I can count on one or two hands. Well, let’s add another digit because HOWL is be best werewolf film you’ve never seen. Recently released on Shudder, HOWL is everything one would want in a werewolf film.

Ed Speleers plays Joe, a sheepish (see what I did there) train attendant who is having a bit of trouble getting ahead in life. He’s just been passed up for promotion, he’s too timid to talk with Ellen (Holly Weston) another female attendant and tell her he has feelings for her, and he basically gets pushed around by everyone. On a routine night train through the English countryside (more than likely the same one that David Naughton hiked through in AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON), the train breaks down and Joe, Ellen, and a group of grouchy passengers find themselves sitting ducks as a pack of werewolves descend upon them from the surrounding forest.

It’s mother fuckin’ werewolves on a mother fuckin’ train, mother fuckers!

While the characters are rather clichéd, with the Beta Male Joe who must try to redeem himself in the face of adversity, the story is fantastically simple and linear like the train path they are trapped upon. Group is trapped on a train, group tries to fix the train, werewolves attack, group tries to survive the night. Pretty simple, but it is in this simplicity that HOWL dazzles. I loved the way this film hits the rails and keeps on running, never really stopping with the action and suspense until the credits roll. There is very little time to catch your breath as director Paul Hyett and writers Mark Huckerby and Nick Ostler keep the pace rapid and full of teeth, fangs, blood, and gore. Having only directed a few films (including the twisted THE SEASONING HOUSE), Paul Hyett made his name doing effects for some of Neill Marshall’s better films like DOG SOLDIERS, THE DESCENT, and DOOMSDAY, including scores of other great horror films. He definitely was taking notes because he is able to deliver some astounding thrills and chills with HOWL. This is an absolutely thrilling ride worth taking.

The acting is perfect for this type of film. While the characters are somewhat cliché, all of the players do their roles well. ZOO’s Ed Speleers is great as the timid Joe, giving the character some humanity and us someone to root for. He manages to be likable even though in the first half, he is sort of a jellyfish in the face of adversity. Look closely and you’ll see some other familiar faces on the train like THE DESCENT’s Shauna MacDonald, THE SEASONING HOUSE’s Rosie Day, KRYPTON’s Elliot Cowan, AWAIT FURTHER INSTRUCTIONS’ Sam Gittins, and a blink and you’ll miss it cameo by DOG SOLDIERS’ Sean Pertwee. This makes for some great and volatile back and forthings between passengers trapped inside the train with wolves circling them outside.

What this film does right is keep the pace going and not stalling like many werewolf films often do. There is a little bit of lore being dropped here and there, but the passengers don’t really have time to look up the rules of what a werewolf is. That means they have to learn on the go, so there’s no long dissertations about what a werewolf is and what to expect. There is also no slowing down for people to watch a werewolf transformation. These werewolves are fully formed and attacking, so there is no real shots that slow down the momentum in order to show off the effects budget as with most werewolf films. A huge problem with most werewolf films is the transformation scene. I love the effects, but it makes no sense that the people would sit there wincing and screaming as the person transforms into a hairy monster. Any normal person would be running and that’s what happens here. There is a transformation of sorts, but it occurs while the rest of the action is going on, so it’s not such a momentum drag.

And these werewolves are awesome. HOWL manages to deliver werewolves unlike any I’ve seen in films before. They have to be seen to be believed, but the effects are really great here. Part CG and part practical, Hyett’s experience with effects ring true making this one of the best looking werewolf films in ages. I tell you, these are some gnarly looking werewolves that manage to be scary and savage in every shot.

I can’t recommend HOWL enough. If you’re a fan of werewolf films like I am, you’ve sat through one bad lycanthrope movie after another, hoping for that one in a million good one. HOWL is that one werewolf movie that comes up once in a full moon. This one comes highly recommended.