It’s so sad; all my brick and mortar DVD shops have disappeared! First they came for Tower Records and I said nothing, then the came for FYE and I said, “Yikes!” and then they came and closed down CEX an South Street and I was left a mere shell of my former self, DVD-detoxing in an alley. I know I can order physical media online but it’s really about the joy of the hunt for me. I love to dig through piles of coal to discover a hidden gem (it provides a much stronger dopamine rush). It’s gotten so hopelessly dismal that I’ve turned to the mangy offerings at 7-11 and the budget trough at my local RITE AID! These are sad days indeed! But as I’ve always said, (and feel free to put this on my tombstone) “When life hands you lemons- eat them because they are delicious.” Recently at RITE AID I came across a movie called HOWL. How have I never heard of this bad boy before? It’s about werewolves on a train (!!!!) and was written by ALAN GINSBERG (last part, not true).
Folks, it would be impossible for me NOT to purchase a movie about werewolves on a train, especially when it’s only four bucks and boasts on the cover that it’s directed by the dude who did the special effects for THE DESCENT (PAUL HYETT). It truly shocks me that I have never heard of this movie before (perhaps ignoring every conceivable Horror news outlet has somehow left me out of the loop?). Was I simply not paying attention in 2015? It’s hard to believe that my ears wouldn’t instinctively perk up at the mere mention of WEREWOLVES on a TRAIN because I LOVE both werewolves and trains; they are a perfect combination! Like Ginger Rogers and Fred Flintstone! Geez, how has the long-winded THE HOWLING series never addressed such a hairy predicament before? It boggles the mind.
Anyway, HOWL concerns a put-upon, mild-mannered train guard named Joe (ED SPELEERS) whose night shift turns out to be a nightmare due to a scraggly slew of passengers ripped straight from an AGATHA CHRISTIE novel and a deer-caused derailment that strands the motley crew in lycanthrope-land. Like any sadsack worth his salt, Joe also must deal with a haranguing bully (ELLIOT COWAN) and an elusive love interest (HOLLY WESTON). A lot of tension comes from the passengers failing to consolidate against the surrounding threat once it rears its snarling head and turning on each other with dire results. For the most part, many of the characters are as dimensional as CLUE cards but they’re an entertaining bunch just the same. My lone gripe would be that an overweight character is too routinely presented as comic relief to the annoying point that he seems lifted from a lazy teen sex comedy from the early eighties.
But hey, who cares about characterization when the majority of the cast is going to end up either howling at the moon or ripped to shreds? The werewolves in this movie are pretty awesome and duly threatening. Up close they’re like furry, roiding RAWHEAD REX sized mutants with few, if any, canine characteristics. From a distance, weaving through the dark forest is when they are at their most haunting and daunting. They’re often presented as shadowy silhouettes with glowing eyes, not unlike the ghostly beings in THE FOG and it’s damn striking. Actually, the whole look of the film is rather slick and stylish. I read some complaints online about the handling of the train itself, that the effect looks like a toy model but I have to say, I really dug that aspect of it. I think it gives the picture an unreal/dream quality and reads like an apathetic God’s view looking down upon the tiny tragedy below.
All in all, HOWL is a blast of old school fun and probably the most enjoyable werewolf movie I’ve seen in a dog’s age. It’s perfect late night fare with its claustrophobic setting and its “who will be infected next?” paranoid vibe. I found myself worrying for the few passengers that weren’t obnoxious and looking forward to the demises of the ones who got on my nerves and that’s just what I signed up for (besides werewolves and trains). The end comeuppance for the film’s main antagonist is especially gratifying. If you should stumble across HOWL hanging out in your local bargain bin I suggest you snatch it up right quick. I’m hoping and guessing as word gets out it will gain in popularity and cult approval over the years but in the meantime, it’ll fit quite nicely on my DVD shelf somewhere between THE HOWLING and TERROR TRAIN.