It really doesn’t feel like a complete year of watching horror films if there aren’t a few werewolf flicks to kick around, does it? And doesn’t it seem like all us fans of full moon cinema simply live to compare EVERY werewolf film ever released to both An American Werewolf In London and The Howling (both 1981)? While there isn’t anything wrong with all of those comparisons that we make, maybe it’s time for all of us lovers of lupine cinema to start watching these films without an eye to films released 34 years ago, and start critiquing them for what they are right now huh? Whaddaya say we start right here with a little film from England called Howl?
Ed Speleers plays Joe, a ticket checker on a train somewhere in London who has just learned that he’s been passed over for a promotion he was hoping he’d get. Making matters worse, he’s told that he has to pick up an extra shift on the last train out of Waterloo, a train filled with just the type of people you’d expect to find on a late night train excursion. As a former subway conductor myself, I immediately knew exactly how Joe felt as he glumly walked through the train, asking customers for their ticket. But Joe goes about his business the best way he can, dealing with wise ass teens, late night workaholics, overweight slobs who always seem to be eating something, and the like. But the trip is suddenly halted after the train hits something, and loses power. The train operator (Sean Pertwee) goes down to the tracks to check on what caused the sudden stoppage of service, only to get slaughtered by something that’s really hungry…
Joe and his assistant Ellen (Holly Weston), do their best to keep the few riders they have on the train calm, but after awhile a few of them start to demand to be let off the train so they can walk the remaining few miles left to their stop. Oddly enough, none of them seem to mind that it’s pitch dark outside, and none of them seem to give a hoot about the missing train operator. But both Joe and Ellen eventually relent, and accompany the passengers to the track to search for the missing train operator. Once they find his partially consumed corpse, the group suddenly decides that it might not be the best of ideas to stay on the tracks, and hastily beat a path back to the relative safety of the train. But something is indeed out there in the woods, and that something has no plans on letting anyone get to their final destination.
OK, so we’ve pretty much established that Howl isn’t going to win many points for originality. As it trudges forward, it pretty much steps on nearly every trope of the werewolf film that it can. But I can’t say that I was bored by the overall sameness of the script (by Mark Huckerby & Nick Ostler). If nothing else, Howl doesn’t waste too much time getting to the heart of the issue. The roles of the cast, rote though they may be, are both convincing and even a bit emotional at times, so that’s not the biggest issue I have with Howl. But I did have a problem with the selling point of the film, that being those darned werewolves!
Although I don’t recall anyone referring to the creatures as werewolves in the film, that’s what these beasties are supposed to be (It ain’t called Howl for nothing). But they don’t really look like any werewolves I’m familiar with – save for one. That one would be Eddie Quist, the man who made contact with reporter Karen White (Dee Wallace) in Joe Dante’s classic werewolf yarn, the aforementioned The Howling. Only problem is, they look like Mr. Quist (played brilliantly by Robert Picardo) in mid transformation, and not completely wolfed out. So while they appear in the dead of night, when the moon is full – they don’t really look like werewolves. They’re really big and muscular, but oddly there isn’t much hair covering their nude bodies. Their faces are angry enough, and they sport some pretty awesome fangs, but they don’t really look too much like any werewolf you might be expecting. While kudos are apropos for going with a different look to its werewolves, Howl falters mightily in the scare department because these guys just aren’t very scary. They’re big, loud and nasty for sure, but I live in New York City, where I can walk ten feet in any direction and walk into someone who’s big, loud and nasty. So these guys just didn’t do it for me.
Director Paul Hyett’s last film, The Seasoning House (2012) made my ten best list when it was released, and Howl shares some of that film’s sensibilities. It creates a plausible sense of claustrophobia and dread in a depressingly dull area, and the characters in the film make the most of that environment. But once the creatures are revealed, Howl seems content to go through the motions, and not aspire to much more than being a mild diversion. You can almost check off the order in which the characters die almost as soon as they’re introduced, there are absolutely no surprises to be found here. The ending is also telegraphed about midway through, and like most of the film, it’s dull and uninspired.
If you’re really in the need for a werewolf film to get you through the holiday season, Howl is pretty much the only new one out there for you to get your jollies with right now. It won’t knock you over (It might knock you into unconsciousness), but you’ve seen worse. Visually, it’s on the dry side and some of the mattes are reminiscent of a Corman film from the 70’s, but it’s certainly watchable. But if you really wanna see a good werewolf flick, then go back to the classics and you’ll be far more entertained. Personally, my favorite werewolf flick is Bad Moon (1996), and I returned to it immediately after I watched Howl.
And it was just as good as I remembered it to be.
Howl: (2 / 5)