Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Strangers on a Train

HOWL (2015)

Similar to DOG SOLDIERS, HOWL benefits from a
contemporary setting and practical creature FX.

PAUL Hyett - more famous his special makeups for THE DESCENT and EDEN LAKE - directs this low budget but polished horror which pits hybrid werewolves against occupants of a stranded late night train (much better than snakes on a plane). London guard Joe (Ed Speelers), unsuccessful for a promotion, and trolley hostess Ellen (Holly Western), are working on the last Alpha Trax out of the capital. The passengers are a motley selection, which includes high-flying alpha male Adrian (Elliot Cowan), professional single mother Kate (Shauna Macdonald), annoying adolescent Nina (Rosie Day), football yob Paul (Calvin Dean) and an elderly couple (Ged (Duncan Preston) and Jenny (Ania Marson)). When the carriages hit a deer and the driver (Sean Pertwee) goes to investigate but never returns, Joe must rise up and protect the commuters from a menace attacking out of the dense forest.

HOWL is widely regarded as the best werewolf picture since AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON. Whereas Universal stumbled with their retro-fitted 2010 reboot THE WOLFMAN, Hyett's film doesn't suffer from the American picture's insistence with their outdated monster design: here, the lean and refreshingly non-hairy werewolves are portrayed more like mutations, impressively vicious and sleek when moving in on their prey. On the human side, the characters are stereotypes but well written and played, and in the best horror film tradition not always interacting successfully as the tensions mount. Consequently, HOWL follows in the tradition of the John Wyndham short story Confidence Trick, where an underground train journey to hell explores the effects of belief on the part of the travellers.

Widespread in European folklore, the werewolf concept chiefly developed during the Middle Ages.

Britain has several outlandish "real" werewolf stories. One of the most famous emanates from Cannock Chase in Staffordshire, where there have been sightings since a notorious incident in 1975: a boy claimed to have promised his soul to the devil through a Ouija board, gaining power to transform into a wolf (then stabbed himself to death). Another colourful tale originates from 1920's Lincolnshire, when a local archaeologist discovered a human skeleton with a wolf's head; after he took his find home, his house was besieged by a werewolf. The Buxton, Derbyshire werewolf is more abstract, as it is unclear whether the creature is a physical entity or a supernatural beast (the nearby village of Wormhill claims to be the location where the last wolf in England was killed in the sixteenth century). And on a broader scale, the Isle of Lewis in the Outer Hebrides allegedly once hosted an entire colony of wolf men.