‘It’s out there waiting…’
The Howling is a 2017 British horror feature film written and directed by Steven M. Smith (The Doll Master; Haunted; Tales of the Supernatural: Naked). It stars Jon-Paul Gates, Elizabeth Saint and Tiffany-Ellen Robinson.
The story begins thirty years ago, in a remote English village. Then, many believed the odd tales they had heard of a millionaire scientist and socialite named Rathbone, who often performed ungodly animal experiments, then mysteriously disappeared one day from his mansion house.
However, the village locals’ version of the Rathbone legend took his oddities quite a bit further. They were quite sure that his experimenting included humans, in addition to the local fauna. So no-one was upset or too curious when he went missing, even after rumours that one of his human subjects had got loose, killed him, and escaped.
Now, a group of teenagers, decide to go looking for clues about the lore, or even about the crazed scientist himself. Then one night out in the woods, beyond the village…
Horror is all about atmosphere.
It doesn’t matter how bloody or gory a film is. It doesn’t matter how creative the filmmakers gets when it comes to creating their monster or plotting out their haunting. It doesn’t matter how meta the dialogue is or how many references are tossed in to other horror movies. It all starts with atmosphere.
The right atmosphere keeps us, the viewers, off-balance throughout the entire film. The right atmosphere leaves us wondering what’s lurking behind every corner and it makes us jump at every unexpected sound. The right atmosphere tells us that something terrifying could happen at any minute. The right atmosphere makes us feel as if we’re watching a filmed nightmare. The right atmosphere keeps us watching even when we might want to look away.
The Howling is full of atmosphere.
Now, before anyone asks, this British film is not a remake of the classic American werewolf movie. Instead, it deals with the legend of Dr. Rathbone (Jon-Paul Gates). Rathbone, it’s said, was a scientist who lived in a mansion outside of a small English village. Everyone suspected that, inside of his mansion, Rathbone was performing horrific experiments on both animals and humans. When Rathbone mysteriously disappeared, no one regretted his absence. In fact, many people suspected that perhaps Rathbone had been killed by one of his experiments and, if so, good riddance! Of course, the only problem was that, with Rathbone gone, no one was quite what had actually happened to his experiments. Were they now living in the woods or was the whole thing just an urban legend?
As Halloween approaches, three teenagers – Jason (Erik Knutsvik), his girlfriend Kristy (Tiffany-Ellen Robinson), and their friend Sophia (Maria Austin) – camp in the woods, hoping to discover the truth. After all, there’s a lot of online clicks and youtube views to be captured by hunting the paranormal. One need only watch Mystery, Uncovered with Ben Tramer (Matthew Fitzthomas Rogers) to understand that!
When it starts storming and their car disappears, Jason, Kristy, and Sophia are forced to seek refuge in what appears to be some sort of decrepit asylum. They’re met by the caretaker, Shelley (Hans Hernke), who says he works for the Master and who, when an inmate suddenly makes an appearance, says, “Don’t mind him, he’s harmless.”
Of course, no one that they’ll meet that night is harmless…
The Howling plays out like a filmed dream, full of strange characters and nicely surreal images. The film starts with a series of overhead shots, all of which suggest that not only the main characters but the entire world is being watched and stalked by some ominous and unknown force. With the exception of a few key scenes, the majority of the film is in black-and-white and some of the images captures, especially in the doctor’s lab, are striking in their starkness. (There are also a few brief scenes where the asylum is so dark that it’s hard to visually make out what’s happening. Instead, we only hear voices in the blackness, an effective reminder of why so many people sleep with at least one light on.)
The few times when colour does intrude on the film, like when Shelley lights a candle or when we see an episode of Mystery, Uncovered, the effect is a disquieting one. In perhaps the film’s strongest sequence, several of Rathbone’s “patients’ suddenly appear in full, vibrant colour, a nightmarish montage that seems to literally explode from the film. There’s also a nicely down black-and-white scene involving a rather haunting dance.
Lest I give you the wrong idea, The Howling definitely has a sense of humour about itself. In many ways it’s an homage to the gloriously over-the-top horror films of the past. It’s a film that obviously was made for horror fans by horror fans and, as a result, the 83 minute running time is full of references to other classic horror films. Shelley, for instance, will be a familiar character to anyone who has ever seen a haunted house film from the ’40s or ’50s. There’s always a mysterious caretaker. As for the asylum itself, it feels like it could have been transported in from the twisted, psychological landscape of German Expressionism.
I liked The Howling. It’s a low-budget horror film that makes pays homage to some of my favourite horror films and makes good use of a dream-like atmosphere. And, as I said before, atmosphere is everything…
Lisa Marie Bowman, HORRORPEDIA – A version of this review appears on Through the Shattered Lens
Buy DVD: Amazon.co.uk
“Its biggest strength is Alex Harrison’s corking monochrome photography (with occasional well-judged colour moments), evoking the post-Universal, pre-Hammer Euro-style of Freda or Franju […] On the downside, the script is full of narrative gaps and unexplained motivations, and Gates’ accent provokes unintended giggles, wobbling between Bela Lugosi and Colonel Klink.” MJ Simpson, British Horror Revival
“There are all sorts of vile creatures on display as well as some nice blood n’ guts in particular a rather graphic heart removal. I also liked the retro feel of the film as part of it is in black and white and when something nasty happens, colour literally bleeds into the picture which is a nice touch. The Howling is a cool little low budget horror shot in just twelve days. I found it rather barmy and a bit ‘out there’ which I loved, so give it a bash.” The Fleapit Cinema
“The Howling is at best described as Ed Woodian, while at its worst technically inept. Filmed in black and white to presumably create an air of the classic Universal monster movies, it aims for James Whale but ends up being closer to something his Surrey-born shock jock namesake might create instead.” Dave Wain, The Schlock Pit
- Jon-Paul Gates – Knights of the Damned; The Doll Master; Decadent Evil II
- Elizabeth Saint – Carver; Reaper
- Tiffany-Ellen Robinson – The Ripper’s Son; The Dark Field; The Doll Master
- Wendy Morgan
- Zane Casablanca
- Carla Shinall
- Steven M. Smith
- Tony Fadil
- Matthew Fitzthomas Rogers
- Hans Hernke
- Jeremy Hill
- Meriam Kaxuxwena
- Maria Austin
- Gaz de Vere
- Vanessa Hider
Ipswich, Suffolk, England, UK