Horror films are one of my two film based jams, the other being martial arts movies. When it comes to horror I’ve noticed that the werewolf genre is not as well populated as it’s brother genre of Vampires. I do love werewolf films though, especially lesser known ones or terrible ones like Dog Soldiers, which is so bad it’s good.
Howl, which did the “claustrophobic, train-based monster horror” a whole year before Train To Busan, is a British werewolf movie which follows a small cast of people who, on an overnight train, find themselves hunted by a pack of hungry werewolves.
The story starts with the introduction of Joe, an everyday guy who is kind of trampled on by most of the cast in the beginning. If you’ve ever worked in retail or with the general public you’ll know what it feels like when you’re blamed by people having a bad day, even when they don’t mean it. Joe is denied a promotion and the complete dickbag who got the promotion in his place tells him he’ll be working the Red Eye train that evening, despite it being the end of Joe’s shift.
Aboard the train, Joe goes about his job of checking people’s tickets, which is a good plot way of introducing the cast who’ll we’ll be meeting and mourning later. Among them are an old couple, a quiet “hoody-type” youth, a rude teenager, an overweight drunk, a young business woman, a dickbag (but not the one from earlier), A student who is quiet and nervous and Joe’s co-worker who is pretty and Joe clearly likes her.
The ticket checking makes me feel so bad for Joe as people repeatedly treat him badly, getting angry at him for doing his job, ignoring him to chat on their phones etc. The one thing this movie likes to do though is occasionally subvert stereotypes, for example the “hoody-type youth” is actually a respectful, likable guy. Joe eventually gets all the tickets checked and goes for a wee nap. Which is rudely interrupted by the train coming to a screeching halt. When Joe goes to check on all the passengers guess what happens? Yup. They treat Joe like crap again, somehow finding it to be his fault that the train stopped.
The train driver is outside assessing the train when WHAM! A growly camera flies at him from the surrounding woods and leaves a lovely splatter on the window behind the business lady, who fails to notice. Tensions rise on the train as almost all the passengers (the hoody-youth who I will now call Billy, since it’s his name, remains quiet) begin to yell at Joe about getting refunds or getting the train moving. When Joe reveals to the group that they haven’t heard from the driver, as he’s not in his cabin, the rich dickbag calls for a “let’s all leave the train and walk” much to Joe’s protests of his imminent job loss should they all get out and walk. They don’t care about Joe or his job though and persuade him to open the doors. They walk along the track with their usual amount of un-likability, seemingly only having one personality trait between them, which can be described as a disgusted sigh.
Along the track, Joe and Ellen, the love interest and co-worker, stumble across the mutilated body of Sean Pertwee (the train driver) and rather hurriedly run everyone back to the train. The old lady is bitten by the unseen hunter outside (it’s a werewolf, spoilers) and the film gets to show off one of it’s strongest points, the gore in this film is WICKED. The wound on the old lady’s leg is really gross and as her infection sets in it only gets worse.
Things go from bad to worse as the cast subvert another genre trope, in horror films it sometimes feels like the characters have never seen a horror film before, being totally clueless on mythology and the like, but this cast quickly deduce that the hybrid man-dog-wolf thing they all pieced together is in fact A WEREWOLF! The “the phones are all dead or out of signal” trope is broken by the annoying, always on the phone, calls Joe a pervert for no reason and is generally rude girl but the pressure of having to talk in public is thankfully averted by a muscly, fur covered arm grabbing her through the window and she’s eaten atop the train.
More character development sees Joe begin to take charge and a rumbling from the next car along brings back the overweight drunk, who got locked inside a broken toilet and he gets to inject some comedy for the moment. Sadly though, he gets stuck again later and is promptly poked to death by many a werewolf claw. This is all a set-up to allow us our first full look at the werewolf, and honestly it’s pretty great. It’s huge, not fully fur covered and the mouth and face are a weird mix between man and dog. Luckily everyone on the train is smart and beat the living crap out of the werewolf, ending with the shy kid mashing it’s chest with an axe. It lightens the mood a little watching him go ham on the wolf but it’s not fully dead until Joe deletes it’s whole face with a lot of fire extinguisher hits.
You might be thinking to yourself “Hey Blake, there’s still a bit of review to go but the werewolf is dead? What gives?” Well, dear reader, there’s MORE WEREWOLVES IN THE FOREST! The film goes downhill as Billy realises that he can get the train running again but it will involve leaving the train and getting under it, he gives the team instructions but sadly Matthew, the shy student, wanders off alone into the forest to die, leaving Billy alone under the train. The old lady eventually turns, eats her husband then is killed. Billy does patch the leak and in her panic Ellen starts the train moving which gives us a tense “Don’t let Billy, the most likeable character in the whole film die such a crap death” moment. Dickbag pulls a dickbag move and kicks the business lady off the train into the arms of a werewolf and when the train stops due to Billy pulling the tape off the patch the dickbag locks everyone in the train so he can run off.
The final moments of the film see Joe and Ellen about to be eaten by the other three werewolves until Billy saves them all with some fire, then Billy gets dragged back on the train before he can escape and dies. Joe runs Ellen into the woods and sacrifices himself to the pack so she can get away. The film ends with her making it back safely with his badge while the dickbag comes across Joe, mid-transformation, and hopefully he gets violently torn apart for his actions.
I know that was a lot of plot but I tried to keep enough out that the character development is still new for anyone who goes to watch this, there’s a lot of things I didn’t want to add so that if you do decide to sit down with this film, you can be like “Ohhhh, THAT’S how this event happened” kind of thing, you know? I’ll tell you who dies, but not why they’re only ever referred to as Dickbag.
Me and my girlfriend sat down to watch Howl thinking it would be a terrible film we could enjoy by making light fun of it but honestly I was blown away by it, it’s not a big budget movie but the practical effects and the monsters and blood are all really surprising. You’ll find yourself really liking some of the characters and hating others which all comes down to how well they were written and acted and the plot, while not meaty and worth a 15 hour introspective look in to, is good enough that you begin to feel a little hopeless along with the cast.
All in all I’d say Howl is a strong contender for a top 10 spot in werewolf movies. If you like gory horror it’s got you covered, if you like hating people you’re in luck! If you like rooting for the monster for like 90% of the movie then this is the film for you. I showed the film to a group of friends, one of whom was Stu, and they all reacted well to it, we had a laugh at some parts and there was a general feeling of sadness when Billy was captured.
All in all, I’d say this film isn’t perfect but it’s more enjoyable than most werewolf movies without being campy.
Unlike Blake, horror movies are not usually my bag. I find them entertaining to watch in a group (like I did with Howl) but I have very little horror knowledge to compare this to. That being said, I enjoyed Howl and for what it set out to do with an obvious low budget I think it did a good job.
The setting – a broken down train in the middle of the foggy woods – allows the film to build tension whether it’s in or out of the train. When in the train it becomes quite claustrophobic and when the old woman is bitten by the werewolf the audience knows that it’s a ticking time bomb waiting for the right moment to transform and eat everyone on the train. When they venture outside, it’s dark, gloomy and foggy but it’s quickly established that there is a group of werewolves out there.
The practical effects for the gore is impressive – the director Paul Hyett is more commonly a makeup and prosthetics designer on movies so this makes sense – and the werewolves look surprisingly decent for it being such a low-budget film. It’s not Hollywood standard or anything but it adds to the B-Movie charm that this film exudes.
Like any horror movie where most of the cast will end up dead, characters range from being likable, humorous and just the worst people alive. Shout out to the best character: overweight kebab-eating football fan who twice gets trapped in the out of order toilet missing his stop on the first time and then being turned into a blood puddle the second time. Classic.
Honestly, I don’t feel educated enough to say “yes, this is a good horror film” because I’ve not seen enough films to compare it to but in terms of giving you my pure thoughts on it – I enjoyed my time watching Howl. I thought it was entertaining, the practical effects were cool and I guess I just never expected to enjoy a low-budget British horror movie. It’s not a film I’ll ever go out of my way to watch but as an entertaining B-movie esque film, it does its job just fine. If you’ve got Amazon Prime and you want to watch a werewolf movie I’m sure you could do A LOT worse than this one.
STU’S SCORE –
XtA SCORE –