The London Horror Festival is bigger than ever, new scare attractions appear all over the country every year and independent events like Frissonic’s Howl expand the otherworldly and terrifying offers for thrill seekers this time of year.
Directed by Paul Hyett
Helming his second full length feature, Paul Hyett’s Howl is a movie whose title along with the poster’s full moon, give a clear hint at the story’s lycanthropic pitch and proves to be one of the year’s best horror pictures so far.
Some of the best werewolf movies have been made in Britain and in one of the most imaginative takes on the genre since John Landis’ groundbreaking An American Werewolf In London, Hyett’s yarn (penned by Mark Huckerby and Nick Ostler) kicks off in the comfortingly familiar surroundings of Waterloo Station.
Train based terror has long fuelled the romance of ghost and horror tales and in a summer that has rail strikes gripping the nation, it’s refreshing to watch Alpha Trains’ (a fictional company whose livery is only loosely based on South West Trains) evening express pull out of the London terminus, with its dozen or so souls on board heading towards far more than their usual Waterloo sunset.
There is an ever-so British budgetary constraint to the movie that suggests an air of Hammer Horror. The cast are far from household names, (though in a neat touch, Rosie Day and Sean Pertwee, both carryovers from Hyett’s The Seasoning House make short-lived cameos) the purpose built railway carriage set wouldn’t withstand the scrutiny of even a mildly obsessive train-geek and some of the matte work is cringeworthy. But no matter, for as a deer on the line brings driver Pertwee’s train to a shuddering and unscheduled halt, it is only a matter of time before (nearly) all of the onboard souls succumb in turn to beautifully brutal slaughter.
In a sometimes creaking story, the director’s skill lies as much in the suspense he’s woven into the film as it does in the gruesomeness of his imagery. Having cut his teeth (sorry) designing special make up and effects for creature features such as The Descent movies, Hyett has a keen eye for what shocks. To be fair there’s nothing here that quite matches Rick Baker’s award winning genius in American Werewolf, but Hyett knows his craft.
Also impressive is that amidst a script of occasional corniness, (The Seasoning House had a far superior text) Hyett coaxes performances from his cast that convince throughout. Ed Speleers leads as a bumbling train guard searching for the hero inside himself, whilst Elliot Cowan is Adrian, a handsomely chiselled bounder and a womanising cad who in a neat post-modern touch reveals that he won’t employ women at his City finance house because of their annoying tendency to fall pregnant. Back in the day it used to be that just being a bastard marked a character out to deserve a spectacular death – turns out in 2015 he has to be a sexist bastard too.
For the cinephiles playing werewolf bingo, Howl trots out most of the tropes, (but not all mind, there are no silver bullets in this picture) with the occasional twist. We’ve been brought up to know that those bitten by the beast have to become werewolves themselves. Hyett however offers up a nod to the zombie genre by having his victims spew that particularly dark red blood, only ever found in those transitioning to the world of the un-dead. There is also a lovely touch as Ania Marson, Jenny an elderly female victim, finds herself vomiting out her dentures, only to then develop a far more useful set of incisors, infinitely superior to anything available on the NHS.
As Ellen the train’s trolley stewardess, Holly Weston gives an assured performance that suggests a hint of sexual frisson and rivalry amongst the characters, whilst Calvin Dean’s Paul provides occasional moments of drunken slob comedy (and classy suspense) before his number’s up.
Whilst Hyett’s best may yet await us, Howl remains a ripping yarn, cleverly realised and yet again, only enhanced by Paul E. Francis’ intelligent score. Not just worth the ticket and popcorn, it’s a great date-movie too.