Howl (2015): Terror Courtesy British Rail (Review)

Poster for Howl

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.

The Seasoning House (2012) Dramatic Directorial Debut

The Seasoning House 2012

In the 2012 film, The Seasoning House, first time director Paul Hyett comes out of his corner swinging with this dramatic directorial debut. The film has been classed as horror, and in most viewers eye it is, but it is more of a tense drama, filled with enough suspense and unease to keep you uncomfortably on the edge of your seat for the duration of the film.

In war-torn Bosnia, a young deaf-mute girl with a strawberry birthmark on her face, sees her only parent brutally shot down by soldiers before she is kidnapped with other girls from her town. She winds up in a brothel run by Victor who, taking a shine to the young girl, keeps her for himself and teaches her how to “maintain” the other girls in the house.

Dubbed Angel by Victor, she goes through her daily routine of giving the unwilling prostitutes heroin and cleaning them up for the next client. When she isn’t with Victor or the girls, she roams the house via the attic and the spaces between the walls and ceiling. She meets a girl that can communicate with her through sign language and the two become friends.

Suddenly the soldiers who killed her mother and kidnapped her show up and everything takes a turn for the worse.

The film is pretty brutal. Thankfully the “rape” scenes are not too graphic and not too many. They are, nonetheless, uncomfortable viewing. All the more so because the film shows just how dehumanised the girls have been made under Victors tutelage. When Angel “snaps” and decides to attempt escape, the picture increases the already potent air of dread.

Rosie Day, who played Angel, was brilliant in the role of the birth marked deaf mute. She was utterly convincing in her isolation and when she “turns” you find yourself cheering her on in her efforts to keep from becoming another victim. Sean Pertwee as Goran, the leader of the soldiers, made a brilliant villain.  His character is the worst of the lot in a film filled with distasteful and horrible people. It was a surprise to see Pertwee as a villain, he usually plays doomed characters who die quite graphically in whatever film he is in.

Sean Pertwee as Goran
Sean Pertwee as Goran

Kevin Howarth played brother owner Victor, and he also did an excellent job as the torn pimp. His character had another level, which made him all the more interesting as well as confusing. The only down side to the film was Pertwee’s accent. I have seen him in other films where his dialect and accent were spot on when playing a non-English role. In The Seasoning House, however it did have a tendency to  “wander.”

Kevin Howarth as Victor

The film was a pleasant surprise, as Hyett held nothing back for his first feature film. It was gripping stuff and there are some scenes near the end of the film that actually made me fell uncomfortable enough to almost stop watching for a moment. I have never been, “claustrophobically” inclined, but at several points my heart-rate increased and I had to “control” my breathing as I watched the action on screen.

This is a real “gut churning” experience that should not be missed. The Seasoning House is currently on UK Netflix and definitely a 4.5 out  of 5 star film. For a dramatic directorial debut, Peter Hyett, manages to hit a home run worthy of Babe Ruth.

Actress Rosie Day
Actress Rosie Day

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