Four weeks ago, a special ops team on training manoeuvres ended their excursion badly when their leader (Liam Cunningham) shot one of their dogs to prove a point, thus leaving the applicant on trial (Kevin McKidd) without a place for refusing to pull the trigger himself. Now he is part of a squad of soldiers in the Scottish Highlands who are on a different training exercise when they find themselves being attacked by an unknown enemy that has torn their comrades - that special ops group - limb from limb. As night falls, they seek refuge in an old farmhouse while their attackers prowl outside, waiting to pick them off one by one...
Written by director Neil Marshall in what was his debut, seemingly paving the way for a bright new hope in British horror that did not quite work out,, Dog Soldiers is a sturdy British werewolf movie for the Friday night beer and pizza crowd. Good British horror movies had pretty much died out in the late seventies and early eighties - even bad British horrors were thin on the ground. And oddly, aside from Oliver Reed in the nineteen-sixties and a couple of others the UK had never gone in much for werewolf movies, preferring vampires, devil worship and the undead, which gives Dog Soldiers a novel pedigree, chum.
It's not entirely perfect. The film quickly settles into a cycle of attacks and earnest, hoarse-voiced conversations that feel a little like marking time before Marshall can unleash his next onslaught. And it's too obviously Night of the Living Dead with (very tall) werewolves, no matter how often the Battle of Rorke's Drift from Brit classic Zulu is mentioned in the dialogue. Also, the squaddies are largely interchangeable, with only Sean Pertwee and Kevin McKidd making much of an impression, even with one of the troops given the unlikely moniker of Spoon (so, a The Matrix fan or The Tick fan?).
On the other hand, it has some enjoyable shocks and the monsters are suitably savage, cast with dancers inside the costumes to give them a distinctive way of moving and wisely kept in the shadows (bright lights would have shown up the low budget). The transformations are mostly of the "collapse behind the table and emerge fanged and hairy" variety of a hundred Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde adaptations, but Bob Keen's effects are nice and gory (is it possible to impale yourself on a tree like that?) and there's even time for a couple of big explosions to liven things up a bit more. Plus there's the burning question "Who's going to be next to turn into a werewolf?" though the answer to that particular conundrum is not exactly difficult to guess.
The script contains a few good twists (although the final one doesn't make much sense when you think about it) and surprisingly, some good laughs too. In fact, Pertwee secures the funniest moments, carrying off an amusing drunk act (you don't see many of them anymore) and the immortal line "Fetch!" with assurance. Indeed, his character and McKidd's have a really cheering buddy relationship born of genuine affection that renders them all the more engaging, especially given the ludicrous indignities Pertwee suffers. Little wonder it became a firm favourite of actual British soldiers while on their tours - it carries that authenticity of soldiers' camaraderie, notably in the salty dialogue, despite being about the supernatural and an outlandish situation. If there's not much to be learned from all this, except "be nice to dogs (but not werewolves)", then at least it's solid nourishment. Music by Mark Thomas (not the political comedian, one presumes).
British writer and director. Made his feature debut in 2002 with the popular werewolf chiller Dog Soldiers, while 2005's The Descent was a scary girls-in-caves horror. Moved into television, including episodes of Game of Thrones, before returning to the big screen with the troubled Hellboy reboot.