HTS Moderator , Reviewer
HTS Overall Score:72
We’ve had a distressing lack of good werewolf movies lately. Once upon a time it used to be fairly common to see the flesh eating beasties on screen, but now that fad has moved onto Vampires and most recently, Zombies (which is luckily seeming to run its course). Although not as popular, Werewolf movies carry a certain bloody charm to them which make them prime targets for a bloody, teeth knashing good time. Director Paul Hyett does so with a sort of gleeful gusto that showcases the former makeup and prosthetics manager skills at using practical wolf effects and ambiance over the use of excessive CGI blarney. “Howl” isn’t a SPECTACULAR film due to some sluggishness in the opening plot, combined with some stupid jump scares, but it ends up being a lot better than I actually expected. Earning it a single thumbs up for fans of a good werewolf munch.
Joe (Ed Speleers) is having just another average day for the poor slob. A ticketing “guard” on an English train, he is pretty much dumped on by everyone around him. His co-worker turned manager has just taken the supervisor position that Joe had been applying for, and the sheepish guy can’t even work up the nerve to ask out Ellen (Holly Weston), the cute attendant working the rail cars with him. Forced into a night time double shift for the graveyard train, Joe grumbles about his lot in lot and is off across the rails. It seems like a fairly uneventful night, filled with snotty passengers and the fun of having to deal with pee on the bathroom floor. That is until the train comes to a screeching half after running over a full grown buck deer. While the driver (played by “Gotham’s” Sean Pertwee) gets out and checks on the train, Joe is left in charge of keeping the passengers from losing their calm.
What seems like a random train stoppage turns into something much more when the rest of the passengers and crew run across the driver’s mangled corpse. Realizing that they are being attacked by some form of beast, the immediately run tail for the train and hole up there waiting for it to pass. Unfortunately for them, the train itself is nothing but a tin can for the type of monster they’re facing and they have to find alternates means of barricading themselves in and holding out the night. One by one the passengers start getting picked off. Some by the wolf, some by each other, until the remaining few who are still alive must contend with the possibility that they might not be making it home tonight.
[img]http://www.hometheatershack.com/gallery/file.php?n=63393[/img]“Howl” may not seem like a wildly inventive film in the werewolf category, but it’s lean and tightly trimmed story structure keep the pace pretty steady. The first 30 minutes of the film tend to be the weakest, with a lot of exposition between the characters on the train as well as some silly jump scares that the audience knows are coming due to the film just starting. However, once the train crashes and the first wolfie comes out to munch on the driver, the pace picks up dramatically and keeps itself well balanced until the inevitable conclusion. Simply put, the film knows what it is and doesn’t aspire to be anything else. We know the inevitable conclusion from the minute the movie starts and watch gleefully as the wolves pick the passengers clean until the remaining survivors can get to safety (that is IF there are any survivors at all).
Director Paul Hyett’s background in makeup and prosthetics is shown on screen here, as he tends to lean towards using practical effects and subterfuge to keep the monster looking nasty. The werewolves look much more organic and bulky than the CGI fests we’ve been privy to the last decade or so, and harken back to a time when you didn’t need wolves to pull back flips and contend with vampires and the like to look cool. They look like a weird cross between obviously human, a wolf. To the point that they are completely repulsive and terrifying to not only the passengers on the train, but the audience as well. Hyett takes great pleasure in only showing the full monsters during the final act, and instead teasing us with an arm, a leg or some glimpse of the creature while the face is hidden. Not till the assault on the train car are we allowed a full look, prolonging the suspense (and probably the budget) for as long as possible.
Not Rated by the MPAA
[img]http://www.hometheatershack.com/gallery/file.php?n=63401[/img]“Howl” is presented on Blu-ray with a technically impressive 2.40:1 AVC encoded transfer that really is only hindered by the deep grey and blue darkness that permeates 95% of the movie. The opening shot and the closing shots that happen in daylight are really impressive, with razor sharp focus and fantastic detail. However, most of the movie takes place on board the train, in the middle of the night, while be hunted by werewolves. Thusly combined with the blue/grey of night the film doesn’t look AS sharp as the cameras would allow. Technically this is not a problem with the transfer, as it is the stylistic choice of the film makers, there is not as much fine detail and clarity as a result. However, the resulting image is still quite pleasing as the shadows provide enough detail to satisfy viewers as well as give us some great looking skin tones and deep gushing black/red blood for the gore hounds. The only really flaw of the transfer itself was the banding that kept coming and going throughout the film in the dark and shadowing train.
[img]http://www.hometheatershack.com/gallery/file.php?n=63409[/img]Alchemy’s 5.1 Dolby TrueHD audio track is just as good as the video encode, giving us all the shrieking, tearing and slashing that the werewolves can provide in a great audio track. Dialog is strong and robust, with every word being perfectly intelligible whether it be from a scream or over the intercom of the train. There are some flaws, mainly with the audio being a little bit flat over the intercom as well as the surrounds not getting as used as I would have liked, and the directionality of the track suffers as a result. LFE is strong and powerful, adding some impressive weight to the sounds of the heavy train as well as the crashing and roaring of the monstrous beasts trying to break in and eat our heroes.
• The Werewolves
• The Humans
• The Train
• The Sound
• The Grade
“Howl” isn’t going to go down as one of the great werewolf movies of all time, up there with “American Werewolf in London”, “The Howling”, and “Silver Bullet”, but it’s a rather decent movie amongst a sea of drek. We haven’t had a good old fashioned wolf munching flick in quite some time, and “Howl” fills the void quite nicely, despite some sluggishness in the first half. The inventiveness of the designs, as well as the thick layers of gore once the wolves start attacking is quite a bit of fun and I certainly was never bored except for a small bit during the first half. Audio and video are well suited for a low budget film and will please most fans. All in all, I have to say that “Howl” works quite nicely as a solid rental for the monster horror fans.
Starring: Ed Speleers, Shauna Macdonald, Holly Weston
Directed by: Paul Hyett
Written by: Mark Huckerby, Nick Ostler
Aspect Ratio: 2.40:1 AVC
Audio: English: Dolby TrueHD 5.1, English DD 2.0
Runtime: 93 minutes
Blu-ray Release Date: January 12th 2016
Buy Howl On Blu-ray at Amazon
Recommendation: Solid Rental
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