Looks like you’re getting two Halloween posts for today and tomorrow, which might be the biggest commitment I’ve ever made to Halloween on my blog. Like I did last year: I’m going to commit a little time towards talking about one of my favourite cult horror movies before moving onto something I feel everyone knows about tomorrow. For now though, I’m going to be talking about the 2002 British Werewolf movie; Dog Soldiers.
Dog Soldiers is the directorial debut of Neil Marshall, who then would go on to direct The Descent in 2005, Doomsday in 2008 and then that terrible Hellboy reboot from just last year. Dog Soldiers is a somewhat campy, action-driven horror movie with a very British sense of humour and setting. Following a group of British soldiers on a training exercise in the Scottish Highlands, they quickly find the remains of their opposition ripped to shreds, their discovery accompanied by ominous howls just over the ridge.
It’s been a few years since I watched this movie, and upon revisiting it I’m really noticing the ‘made for the BBC’ vibe the whole thing has. Despite the fact that it wasn’t. Every scene in the movie taking place either in the middle of the dense Scottish (actually Luxembourg) woodland or a cottage in the middle of a sound stage. Not to knock the movie for it, it’s just something that contributes to the whole tone and feel of the thing for me. It adds a quaint charm.
Starring Kevin McKidd as Private Cooper, the movie opens with him concluding a training exam with an SAS adjacent military unit, a test he seems to be passing until the commanding officer, Captain ‘total bastard’ Ryan orders him to shoot a dog. Something Cooper refuses to do, thus failing and being chucked back to his old unit.
All the time I was watching this movie, I was sure I knew Cooper from somewhere. As it turns out, McKidd provides the voice for Soap in the Call of Duty: Modern Warfare games, so maybe Infinity Ward saw Dog Soldiers and thought: We want that werewolf bloke in our game.
Actually, this movie does have a pretty decent cast of recognisable faces. the aforementioned Captain Ryan is played by Liam Cunningham of Game of the Thrones fame and the Sergeant of Cooper’s squad once the movie really gets rolling is played by Sean Pertwee, who would later go on to play Alfred in Gotham and Lestrade in Elementary.
Although it says a lot about me when the place I recognise him from is playing the gobby pilot from Event Horizon. So hey, there’s the link between this movie and the Halloween movie I talked about last year, maybe I can make that a running theme and Kevin Bacon together the movies I talk about every year for Halloween.
Once the movie gets going, Cooper and his squad stumble upon a bunch of dead “SAS” guys who have been ripped apart by monsters, they take their guns and make a run for it, bumping into a local called Megan along the way and holding up in a cottage in the middle of nowhere, spending the rest of the movie holding out against the seemingly unkillable monsters until the sun comes up.
There’s a delightfully campy charm to this movie, most of the characters are screaming out in as many “Britishisms” as they can, either being incredibly Scottish or incredible Cockney, which are the perfect two British accents for being angry and/or scared in an action movie in my opinion. Like the director says in the bonus features on the DVD though, this is a movie about soldiers first and about werewolves second.
Which works to his credit, the enemy are incidental to the plot really, it’s more about the soldiers making a last stand against an overwhelming force and holding out as long as they can. It could have been vampires, it could have been zombies and it probably would have still worked just the same. I am glad it was werewolves though because the effects in this movie are pretty good.
There’s no CGI in this movie, which is something some horror movie fans will take as a big mark of pride. For the sake of this movie though, it absolutely works in its favour. We don’t see much of the wolves, but they’re very striking when we do get a good look at them. They’re tall and thin, with these animatronic wolf heads on top of their warped bodies. There’s a way they look and move that really reminds me of how the Alien looked in the first Alien.
I’m not sure if that was intentional, or simply a by-product of the actor simply moving in a similarly shaped uncomfortable costume. Either way though, it totally works in the movie’s favour and makes the monsters one of the highlights. The one real downside to it is that we don’t get a transformation sequence really at all. Which is honestly one of the hallmarks of any Werewolf movie.
The best we get are some yellow contact lenses, some fake nails and teeth and then they fall out of the frame and then rise up as this 7-foot tall wolfman. This was a movie made on a budget though and not everyone can try to emulate that American Werewolf in London transformation sequence.
Maybe it’s because I’m British, but there’s something inherently familiar and heartening about this movie. While the more famous stars in the movie do give off the vibe of action movie stars, the rest of the guys, who’re there simply to get picked off give a real “normal bloke” feeling to the movie and this situation. It’s hard to tell if it’s because they’re a bunch of actors with no experience handling weapons, or if the characters in the movie are just supposed to be naff, but there’s something about the way they fumble around with the guns in an unprofessional way that makes me smile.
And that’s really the movie’s biggest appeal to me at the end of the day. They’re having fun with it, they’re dedicating the time and effort to the things that horror movie nerds would dedicated their time to, like the effects, and everything else just seems like a laugh. The one liners are cheesy, the effects are impressive and it’s a quick sit.
Dog Soldiers is a no-nonsense, action-packed creature feature where a bunch of British squaddies shout vulgarities at some werewolves as they shoot them, throw boiling water at them and impale them with a broadsword that shows up out of nowhere. It’s a fun, campy ride with some likeable if shallow, characters and some impressive monster effects. I’m not sure how well known this movie is outside of the U.K. but I’d recommend it to any horror movie fan who hasn’t seen it; it’s some good fun.