Reader Requests – Dog Soldiers (2002)

A routine military exercise turns into a nightmare in the Scotland wilderness. (IMDB synopsis)

I’m not sure if this counts as a request, per se, but a friend recommended that I watch the film, and that weekend we watched the film. So I might as well write a review, mightn’t I? Dog Soldiers is a horror comedy that has the same producer as Hellraiser and an allusion to the Evil Dead series on the DVD’s blurb. Sounds good to me.
Also, before I begin the review, I need to get something off my chest. I was watching a game show called The Chase the other day, and this happened:

Bradley Walsh: Slasher Films come from what genre of film?
Contestant: Hammer Horror.
Bradley Walsh: I’ll accept that!

…Bah humbug.

Review:

Now then! The film begins with a couple camping in an unspecified location in Scotland (or maybe it was specified and I wasn’t paying attention). The woman gives her bloke a solid silver letter opener as a present, and just as the pair is about to get frisky in their tent, a wolfy thing yanks her away and mauls her horribly. Serves her right?
Next, we’re privy to a special forces training exercise in which Cooper, who has thus far evaded capture, is ordered to shoot a dog by his commanding officer Ryan. He refuses to do so, and I’m with him all the way, because border collies are adorable, but I also have a feeling his attitude towards dogs and/or SIMILAR creatures will change over the course of the film. Also, you can tell Ryan is the bad guy because he DOES shoot the dog. At least he’s not a hypocrite.
Four weeks later, Cooper joins another group in the Highlands of Scotland for a training exercise against Special Forces. Sarge expects “nothing but gratuitous violence from the lot of you”. Ha ha. Anyway, the group are huddled by their campfire that night, swapping stories, when suddenly a heilan’ coo falls from the sky, crashing into their fire and spoiling the punchline of a joke. They decide not to call in about it, but then things get serious when the opposing team is found to have been killed to death, all except for Ryan. Also, no signal on the radio, which is a bit of a bother. The group are then attacked by an enormous and ferocious bipedal werewolf and have to seek sanctuary in the house of a woman named Megan. From that point on, it’s a battle of wits against the family of werewolves – one that’s packed full of action, scares and good old British humour. Tally-ho!
This is a good film, and it does a lot of things that I personally approve of. First of all, the werewolves are NOT computer-generated, as the filmmakers knew that the special effects factor couldn’t be the focus of the film. The wolf-suits they created actually look good, or at least as far as I can tell – the creatures stay in shadow most of the time, and often the most you’ll see is a hairy clawed arm, or a snarling wolfy snout. I also think it was a wise decision to have all the transformations take place under a table or somewhere out of the way, as it would be hard to top the transformation scene from An American Werewolf in London.
The comedy is great, and it’s clear that whoever wrote the script has spent a long time around army-guys, as the dialogue is spot on. My favourite lines came out of Sarge, the snarky and dry-witted leader of the group –

Cooper: You all right?
Sarge: Oh, yeah, yeah. I’m peachy, mate.

– although Cooper, Spoon and even Ryan have their moments. (I don’t remember the other soldier’s names. Sorry.) There’s also Megan, the one female character who also happens to be Scottish and a badass, which is no coincidence. She seems to be knowledgeable and helpful to the group, until the reveal that she’s been lying to them and is, in fact, a member of the werewolf family. I thought that was quite a good twist, but I knew something was up when she said the closest place to the house they were in was Fort William, a four-hour drive away. Now, every holiday I had growing up was in Scotland, and it was a SIX-hour drive from the West Midlands up to Fife. I’m pretty sure there’s no four-hour-wide deserts in Bonnie Scotland.
But I digress. The comedy is a strong element on its own, but it really brings something to the action scenes, too. Tasked with taking down a pack of werewolves, the soldiers arm themselves with guns, an axe, an electric turkey carver and a goddamn sword, and at one point Spoony takes them on with his bare hands and almost wins! And, of course, in the same vein as Black Sheep, they make every wolfy joke you could possibly think of. Red Riding Hood this, Three Little Pigs that, “Dogs? More like pussies!”, etc. etc, etc.
I’m not sure if this film actually scared me at any point, however. It definitely has a spooky atmosphere and a bit of suspense, and there’s gore-a-plenty. However, I think I was more focused on the aforementioned comedy and action. I also picked up on some horror tropes that slightly annoyed me. Ryan unhelpfully refers to the werewolves as ‘they’ when questioned; a soldier’s weapon is jammed at a crucial moment; a soldier takes a moment to crack wise with his back to a window, causing a werewolf to pick him off soon afterwards. When will people learn?

Final Verdict:

It feels odd to compare this film to Black Sheep, as Dog Soldiers was made first, but they really are very similar. I think this film has a slight advantage, as it deals with a creature which is actually meant to be frightening. Dog Soldiers also endeavours to be a loving send-up to other films, is well-written and generally more entertaining to watch. I’d say it’s a good one to stick on for a Hallowe’en party with friends.

Rating:

6 1/2 jam sandwiches.

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