Monday, July 11, 2016


While comics and nostalgia continue to rule the multiplex, there's no better time to hide out with some streaming services and their wide selections of indie horror films!

You're spoiled for choices - have been for quite a while - but I'd like to discuss one flick in particular: Howl. A claustrophobically tight little Brit project about werewolves on a train, it hits all the right notes without dragging or getting lost in genre cliches. Admittedly, there aren't many cliches in werewolf film as a genre which brings me to a brief digression.

Werewolves have never been very compelling as a monster archetype. They're two-dimensional and too culturally specific to get under the skin the same way as ghosts and vampires. Further, they lack the moral ambiguity of the restless or hungry dead, being straightforward marauders. When presented heroically, they either play as a mix of Twilight knock-off and Furry erotica - or become little more than New Age superheroes in need of a shave. And yes, I've played Werewolf: The Apocalypse so I know just how silly it can get...

This is not horror.

As straight and unambiguous antagonists, werewolves serve much better. See the iconic Dog Soldiers, which you've already heard quoted up and down the internet. This may not offer as much narrative depth as Herzog's Nosferatu but that's not the point. You don't watch a werewolf movie for gothic high seriousness but for the same reason you watch The Revenant or that movie where Liam Neeson boxes with wolves: the stark, visceral horror of Man Against Nature.

And Howl does that very very well.

This is horror!

Set on a late-night commuter train out of London, the story focuses on beleaguered railway worker Joe and his few colleagues, alongside half a dozen or so passengers. Beyond Joe, the personalities are really developed from the start - with the exception of a prissy girl who never gets off her phone - but this isn't an oversight or incompetence on the part of the filmmakers. We get to know the rest of these meals on wheels gradually as things go from bad to worse. Rather than burden the audience with a Dickensian backstory for people who will mostly be compost by the morning, we get to infer the characters' individual stories from how they react to certain death. It keeps things moving while keeping the audience invested.

Adrian deserves special mention. First presenting as a pragmatic, can-do type who takes charge while Joe is fumbling over how to handle the stopped train, he quickly reveals himself to be a ruthless and deeply selfish character once he grasps the mortal danger they are all in. The same qualities that make him sharp-dressed and successful in the white collar world of London make him a danger to everyone else in their struggle for survival. There's a lesson in that.

And it bears repeating that the werewolves in Howl are bloody fantastic. Look at that picture again - it's just so wonderfully grotesque! They've got some lupine features but not the long doggy snout that, no matter how much it's smeared in blood and gristle, still retains the familiar quality of the family dog. The things in Howl in contrast look like walking barracudas.

You can catch it now on Hulu or through other perfectly legal means. Hulu also has the entire Subspecies series of films, which are hilariously terrible.


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