It is hard to find fault with the British horror film “Howl.” It delivers some delicious terror courtesy of British Rail, or its imaginary equivalent, and it has some familiar faces and names from the world of horror.
(The company logo appears to be an “A” and the only rail service that start with that letter is Arriva in Wales. As not one passenger speaks with a Welsh accent and since there is no Eastborough in Wales, the company must be imaginary.)
Written by Mark Huckerby and Nick Ostler (both better known, somewhat amazingly, for children’s telly) and directed by Paul Hyett “Howl” hits all the right notes. This was Hyett’s second film as director, the first being “The Seasoning House” which starred Rosie Day and Sean Pertwee.
Hyett’s directorial debut was a brilliant thriller where Pertwee was a baddy and Day won Best Actress for her role. This second feature from the director does not disappoint as it takes the myth of the werewolf, or a hybrid of the creature, and places it in the English countryside.
The plot deals with one of those tiny rail lines with about five cars that empties out the closer the train gets to its final destination. The vehicle hits a deer and stalls out. The driver (Pertwee) gets out to check and dies; ripped to shreds by a werewolf.
Joe (Ed Speleers) has been passed over for promotion and is bullied into doing a double shift for the Eastborough line. When the driver (Pertwee) goes missing Joe is in charge of the reduced number of passengers and he tries to save everyone.
Another actor from Hyett’s past also appears in “Howl;” the splendid Shauna Macdonald who was the main protagonist in both “The Descent” and The Descent 2. Paul was the makeup supervisor on both films.
The film switches from a claustrophobic setting to a more open one and back again. The characters range from the snooty young teen who calls Joe a perv to the smarmy financial expert with a house in the country and a flat in the city. The successful businessman is a snot and calls one young man on the train “ASBO boy.”
“Howl” is atmospheric and very English in its delivery. There are no guns to fight the monsters who are attacking the train. Weapons include a huge spanner (wrench) a fire axe and a crowbar. There is a bit of the “stiff upper lip old chap” attitude combined with a sort of “MacGyver” (or even the “Dawn of the Dead” remake) ingenuity.
The creatures look very convincing and quite scary. They also appear to be practical mixed with a bit of CG and they work very well.
There are a few things that do not ring true. The carriages are far too clean both inside and out. Another issue is the PA system, it is far too clear and concise with an adequate decibel level and no static. In other words everyone can hear each announcement clearly. Anyone who has ridden the rail system in England will know that reality is much different than what is shown here.
(At the risk of being really picayune, the “guard” did not punch a hole in the tickets either. Just saying.)
Small complaints aside, “Howl” works brilliantly. This is what English directors do best. Make horror films that entertain and give a nod and a wink to the genre. Sean Pertwee appearing, and then dying before the film’s midway point, is almost horror tradition. The only film, to date, that Pertwee’s character survives in is the 2010 horror film “Devil’s Playground.”
(A small bit of trivia: This is Pertwee’s second werewolf film. The first being “Dog Soldiers” where he is also attacked by the creatures. Arguably Pertwee’s character could also count as having survived.)
“Howl” is a cracking good film with enough gore and edge of the seat viewing to entertain the pickiest horror film fan. A solid 4.5 star film (it loses a half star for those clean carriages and for killing off Pertwee far too quickly) that is streaming on Hulu and Amazon at the moment. Check it out and see if you too fall in love with this film.