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Howl (2015)

Alchemy
Blu-ray Disc Released: 1/12/2016

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Review by Mike Long, Posted on 1/19/2016

As a critic, I do a lot of criticizing in my reviews and one of my most common criticisms is a lack of originality. With all of the various ways for movies to be released these days, it seems like the films themselves simply offer more and more of the same thing. While I don't expect every movie to bowl me over with new ideas (wouldn't that be awesome!), I would think that more filmmakers would at least attempt to put a somewhat new spin on an old idea. Or perhaps combine two old ideas to make something which sort of felt fresh. For the most part, Howl doesn't break any new ground in the werewolf sub-genre of horror films, but it combines just enough disparate elements to make it interesting.

As Howl opens, train guard (which is a ticket-taker and sort of overall watchman) Joe (Ed Speelers) has just come off of an evening shift, when he learns that he must immediately get back on the rails for an overnight shift. He boards the train with fellow employee Ellen (Holly Weston), and begins to check tickets. After attending to the diverse and somewhat surly group of passengers, Joe settles in and dozes off. He is awoken by a jolt and immediately realizes that the train has stopped. Once he's dealt with the shaken and angry passengers, Joe gets a message from the driver (Sean Pertwee, in a brief cameo) that he's going outside to check on the situation. What Joe and the others don't realize is that the train has come to a halt in a dense forest which is inhabited by monsters. As the group argues about what to do next, a group of bloodthirsty creatures approach the train.

Again, Howl doesn't do anything to break the mold and we can easily pick out the individual pieces which look familiar. The bulk of the movie is an old-fashioned siege film, in which a group is trapped in a specific place, and menaced from an outside force. We get a very typical group of strangers here -- the sassy young woman, the old couple, the businesswoman, the nerd, the cocky guy, etc. Although they don't come at us as often as vampires or zombies, werewolf movies are certainly nothing new.

But, within those parameters, Howl tweaks things just enough to be intriguing. I can't remember the last time that I saw a horror movie which took place on a train. (Snowpiercer doesn't count. I said "horror movie", not "horrible movie".) This creates several things with which Writers Mark Huckerby and Nick Ostler can work. We have a setting which is long and narrow, so itís immediately claustrophobic, and yet the characters can move through it. The train can move, and this creates the sense of hope that if they can get it moving again, they can be away from the danger. Along with this, we get Joe, an unlikely hero who is a ticket taker -- I donít think that Iíve ever seen that before in a horror film. The werewolves themselves donít have a completely original look, save for the mouth of the first one, which have long, needle-like teeth. The third act of the film takes some minor chances and certainly does throw in some surprising deaths. In a similar vein, the ending is somewhat daring.

In the end, Howl is one of those movies which I canít necessarily recommend that you seek out, but if you come across it, give it a chance. Director Paul Hyett, who has a background in special effects makeup, including work in the modern-day classic, The Descent, helms his second feature film here and he gives the movie a nice pace. Things got a bit redundant in the middle, but the movie is never boring. Again, Howl wonít change your life, but I guarantee that ti will be the best werewolf movie set on a train that you see this week.

Howl only left me with questions about how the British rail system works on Blu-ray Disc courtesy of Alchemy. The film has been letterboxed at 2.35:1 and the Disc contains an AVC 1080p HD transfer which runs at an average of 20 Mbps. The image is sharp and clear, showing no distracting grain and no defects from the source materials. The film takes place entirely at night, and there are a few moments which feel too dark. The colors look good, although we donít get many bright tones here. The level of detail suffers somewhat form the dark look and some shots look a tad soft. The depth is good, most notably when looking down the train. The Disc carries a Dolby TrueHD 5.1 track which runs at 48 kHz and an average of 3.5 Mbps. The track provides clear dialogue and sound effects. The enclosed setting creates many opportunities for detailed stereo and surround sound effects which highlight sounds coming from off-screen. The subwoofer effects are nicely done as well, most notably from the werewolf growls.

The Howl Blu-ray Disc contains a selection of extra features. "The Werewolves" (6 minutes) has the creative team discussion the look of the creatures in the film and the specifics that they wanted. We also get to see the creature actors rehearsing their movements, as well as a time-lapse look at the make up being applied. "The Humans" (6 minutes) examines the characters and focuses on how the human drama is the true center-piece of the movie. "The Train" (6 minutes) reveals the origin of the film's story and then takes us onto the train set to see how the illusion of a real train was created. The score and the sound effects are discussed in "The Sound" (6 minutes). "The Grade" (4 minutes) is a somewhat unique piece as it shows us how changing the colors in the film can send messages to the audience.

Review Copyright 2016 by Mike Long