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Modern British Cult Cinema: HOWL

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Director: Paul Hyett.  Writers: Mark Huckerby, Nick Ostler. Cast: Ed Speelers, Holly Weston, Shauna McDonald, Sean Pertwee, Rosie Day.

Werewolves are awesome aren’t they? howling at the moon, voraciously stalking their prey, fighting vampires (but mostly losing, ’cause Kate Beckinsale kicks arse… obviously!) Over the decades there have been a fair few great movies based upon the shape shifting lycanthropes, dating back as far as 1935 with ‘Werewolf of London’ through classic Lon Chaney’s ‘The Wolf Man’ from 1941, and beyond with such deliciously depraved delights as The Howling, An American Werewolf In London (my personal fave), The Company Of Wolves, Ginger Snaps and the aforementioned bad-arse Beckinsale movie series ‘Underworld’ , this particular horror sub-genre has been well served over the years.

In 2002, British director Neil Marshall (Descent, Centurion, Hellboy) gave us his own vision of the classic genre with the stupendous ‘Dog Soldiers’ an absolute gem of a movie that followed a small group of British soldiers on a training mission against the S.A.S in the Scottish Highlands, but the Special Air Service turns out to be the least of their worries as they are assailed by an even deadlier force (yep, deadlier than the SAS!) a pack of ravenous lycos! The low budget horror/comedy was a huge smash hit not just in the UK but worldwide, and helped propel the career of it’s helm Neil Marshall to international stardom.

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Train guard Joe and colleague Ellen discover there are worse things than British Rail pre-packed sandwiches!

‘Howl’ is the most recent Anglo entry into this lycanthropic category, and feels very much like it’s embedded in the same universe as Dog Soldiers, in fact there’s even a cameo by brilliant British thesp – Sean Pertwee (this time with entrails intact!) though in the popular tradition of English actors named ‘Sean’ he doesn’t last too long! (seriously, English actors bearing that titular name have about the same amount of movie survivability as a red shirted Star Trek security officer!)

Train guard Joe, winding down after a long shift, is pushed into taking on a red eye journey by his new (sneery and unpleasant) supervisor. Tired but unwilling to rock the boat (train?) Joe agrees, and boards the non-stop train from Waterloo, yet his resolve and that of his fellow commuters will be tested to the utmost when the train seemingly breaks down in a dark and ominous stretch of forest miles from anywhere. With communications down and the train driver inexplicably missing, Joe attempts to keep the passengers calm, which ultimately proves futile as the train is assailed by an unknown animal, large of stature and with a blood lust for the occupants of the stricken carriages.

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“He’s, uh, behind me isn’t he?”

Howl is a tense, fun and rollickingly wild Werewolf siege movie, in the style of the aforementioned Dog Soldiers. Some decent acting from a great cast (which includes Ed Speelers of Downtown Abbey, Shauna McDonald of The Descent, and of course the legendary Sean Pertwee ) a superbly creepy setting, but most importantly of all, the gore and werewolves themselves are top notch, though the film isn’t quite up to the standards of Dog Soldiers, the creature effects in HOWL far outstrip those in Marshall’s earlier lyco opus, in fact the practical effects are some of the best I’ve seen in a UK horror for years especially considering the rather low budget nature of the film (a measly £1,000,000) Highly Recommended!

1313 review

Modern British Cult Cinema: Doomsday

Doomsday 1 Cast: Rhona Mitra, Sean Pertwee, Bob Hoskins, Malcolm McDowell, Alexander Siddig, Myanna Burring, Craig Conway. Director: Neil Marshall. Writer: Neil Marshall.

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” I have come here to chew bubblegum and kick arse … and I am all out of bubblegum”

Prolific British genre director Neil Marshall describes his movie Doomsday as a love letter to movies such as  Escape from New York, Mad Max and the Warriors … all absolute cult classics in their own right, and Doomsday is the perfect blend of these three fantastic movies with a little bit of 28 days later thrown in for good measure. Most people will more readily recognise Marshall’s film work from his earlier movies: Werewolf siege movie – Dog Soldiers and cavernous horror – the Descent, Doomsday was his third movie and my personal favourite so far.

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“Welcome to Doomsday, guess who’s on the menu?!”

Doomsday begins in 2008 in Scotland with a killer plague called the Doomsday virus rampantly infecting the majority of the population in a short space of time. The effects of the virus are harsh and fast acting, the victim breaking out initially in sores and lesions, ultimately succumbing to an unpleasant and agonising death as the virus spreads throughout their body. With the plague showing no signs of abating, the Government decide to wall Scotland off and leave the people to die, enforcing this with a large military presence at the wall to surreptitiously kill anyone who gets anywhere near the wall’s perimeter.

Decades pass and the rest of the worlds’ leaders enforce a quarantine on the whole of the British isles not allowing any traffic in or out of the country even though the virus itself seems to have been halted. With a growing population and nowhere to expand, the British people find themselves living in cramped and squalid conditions, and then in the country’s capital of London the Reaper virus once again rears its ugly head, slowly expanding its way through the city’s population. When a British satellite picks up pictures of what seems to be healthy looking people living in Scotland, a small team of  SAS soldiers and doctors are sent in to find what they believe must be a cure, given only 24 hours to succeed before the Government decide to take more dramatic action and close off the city of London and leave it’s citizens to die in agony.

Make no bones about it, that is one crazy car!

Make no bones about it, that is one crazy car!

Leading the team is a tough no-nonsense female soldier by the name of  Major Eden Sinclair (Rhona Mitra), herself a survivor of the original Scottish outbreak of the virus when she was airlifted out as a child by a military chopper just before the country was put under permanent quarantine, her mother was not so lucky and was left behind like so many others, giving Sinclair a personal impetus to lead the team into no mans land to recover a cure and find some semblance of peace about her mother’s fate. London born actress Rhona Mitra plays the tough but fair Major Sinclair fantastically, a statuesque former model (she was the original Lara Croft model for the first Tomb Raider game) with real acting chops, her character is essentially this film’s version of Snake Plissken from Escape from New York, even occasionally wearing a high tech eye-patch.

In fact there are so many similarities to Escape from New York in the first half of the film, the walled off part of the UK patrolled by soldiers, the team being given only 24 hours to find the cure and the music itself are all big homages to the John Carpenter classic. The second half of the movie is Marshall’s homage to George Miller’s classic Mad Max series of movies replete with crazy mohicans and punks, this time with a twist as these savages are also cannibals! In fact the references to Carpenter and Miller’s amazing movies are so prevalent that you could (and I have!) turn this into the ultimate 80’s cult movie drinking game by taking a shot every time you see a reference to one of those two great movies, I guarantee you will be pissed by the forty minute mark! … oh and keep an eye out for the two soldiers aptly named Miller and Carpenter.

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The lovely Rhona Mitra in ‘badass’ mode

The film is full of fantastic British actors, joining Rhona Mitra are … the late, great Bob Hoskins as Police chief Nelson, Malcolm McDowell as Kane the leader of a group of survivors in Scotland and the man who apparently has the cure to the virus.  Also the amazing Sean Pertwee who, like another famous British actor called Sean (Sean Bean in fact) manages to die in virtually every movie he has ever been in, it seems if you are English actor named Sean you have about the same filmic lifespan as a Star Trek red-shirted security officer!

Well you don't see that every day!

Well you don’t see that every day!

Doomsday is a cross breed of action and horror, but also manages to bizarrely (but brilliantly) add in medieval knights and castles to the mix, with at one point the captured Major Sinclair fighting a duel against a heavily armoured champion knight in a castle arena complete with baying peasants. The last twenty minutes of the film are Marshall’s version of the amazing chase sequence from the end of Mad Max 2 (aka the Road Warrior)  with Sinclair and two other survivors fleeing in a Bentley supercar whilst being chased by the cannibalistic punks in their post apocalyptic buggies and motorcycles, with the leader of the punks – Sol’s car seemingly made out of the very bones of his victims.

The film itself is not for the faint of heart and very much deserves its 18 rating, the virus effects are disgusting, the action sequences are brutal and the cannibal scenes unflinching and gloriously revolting, If you are in any way a fan of  Escape from New York or Mad Max, or even just the action horror genre in general then this movie is a must watch … fast, fun , violent and disgusting … but oh so very cool!

Precinct1313 Rating: 5 cannibal punk rockers out of 5.