The first time I watched the 2002 British classic, Dog Soldiers, was a bootleg copy on a dodgy projector in a bar on a Greek Island.

Yes, if you can even imagine the quality and sound that produced then you’ll understand how amazing the digitally remastered re-release appeared. Halleluiah!

For those who haven’t seen Neil Marshall’s debut in any format, permit me to brief you. A group of soldiers take part in what should be a standard exercise in the Scottish Highlands. We are introduced to the unit, including a wonderful campfire scene that cements Sgt. Wells (the always engaging Sean Pertwee) as a caring leader who will do whatever he needs to protect his lads.  After coming across a site where there appears to have been some sort of massacre, they find one survivor – a cocky Secret Service captain (Liam Cunningham who hams it up as an over-the-top villain) that one of the characters, Cooper (Kevin McKidd), has a history with. This also sets up Wells with one of my two favourite lines from the script.

“We are now up against live, hostile targets. So, if Little Red Riding Hood should show up with a bazooka and a bad attitude, I expect you to chin the bitch.”

Dog Soldiers movie poster

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All hell breaks loose from there on, and soon they encounter some rather unlikely enemies.

I’ll give you a clue – aroooooooo!!!

Tensions build as we the viewer realise what they are now up against.

The chase sequence through the dense fir trees was so clear in the remastered edition. And you really could see the amazing sausages when Wells delivers my other favourite piece of dialogue

“My guts are out Coop!”

This scene is priceless, and I can genuinely say, ‘seen that got the tee-shirt! Yes, I do have the tee shirt.

Now with an injured leader to add to the problems, the lads are mightily relieved when a mysterious female turns up and rescues them, bringing them back to her friends’ house.

How convenient.

And well, you can kind of guess what happens next. There aren’t any great plot twists nor dramatic social commentary and this movie doesn’t need it.

The reason it doesn’t need it, is that because our characters are not looking for redemption, or on a soul-searching mission. They are ordinary people thrown into extraordinary situations. As with any great story, the plot delivers a dilemma and then focuses on the resolution. And in true horror movie style, they are thrown curve ball every time they think that they might be closer to settling the situation.

The fact that this was Neil Marshall’s first movie, and it was made on a shoe-string, beggars belief.

No part of this film appears bargain-basement budget. This is key to what I believe Dog Soldiers does particularly well; it avoids all pretences of being something it isn’t. This is not a Hollywood blockbuster. It didn’t have the backing, the acting royalty or the equipment to compete with the likes of Resident Evil or Red Dragon also released that year. However, that in no way detracts from the quality and there are some fantastic scenes. One which I especially enjoy involves Cooper trying to superglue the sarge back together. He ends up punching him in the face to knock him out. The reason this scene looks especially realistic is because McKidd missed his fake mark and really did cause Pertwee to lose consciousness. Method acting to a tee.

There are so many more. A home-made blow torch in the loo. ‘Fisticuffs’ between a soldier and one of the ‘dogs’. You won’t see that in some of the more serious werewolf adaptations.

One of its strongest points is that humour, alongside some killer one-liners. But the banter is also realistic, especially between a close-knit group of men who would literally die for each other. Of course, some of the dialogue is a little corny and added for effect. Yet,  overall it delivers, portraying the necessary gallows humour of a unit to a tee.

Viewers get plenty of action with very little filler. Gore fans will be happy; there isn’t a lot of blood, but the scenes we get are well done. You will be shown just enough to portray what Marshall wants you to see. On-budget practical effects rather than fancy and expensive CGI, show just what was needed without being over the top.

In my opinion, too, the werewolves we are presented with, are some of the best on-screen. I like my lycanthropes to resemble actual wolves. After all, werewolf comes from the Olde English Werewulf, meaning were (man) and wulf (wolf). I am all for originality and spins on the classics to keep things fresh but, for me personally, I enjoy it most when a writer keeps to the original lore.

So, thank you Mr. Marshall for that.

In conclusion, this film does exactly what it says on the tin. It is about ‘dogs’ and soldiers. The term ‘Dog Soldier’ originates from the Cheyenne tribes (thank you, Shane Hawk, for that!), but this particular moniker is purely in relation to the lycanthropy and the fact that Cooper appears to have a very strong bond with Man’s Best Friend. It is not a billion-dollar blockbuster, but nor does it ever pretend to be so. Solid acting, fun dialogue, decent practical effects and a couple of good jump scares. That to me is what keeps bringing people back, and hopefully, with the new 4K release coming, it will bring a new generation of viewers into the mix.

 

Janine Pipe

Janine Pipe

Author

Trading in a police badge and then classroom, Janine is a full-time Splatterpunk Award-nominated writer, whilst also being a mum, wife and Disney addict. Influenced by the works of King from a young age, she likes to shock readers with violence and scare them with monsters – both mythical and man-made. When she’s not killing people off, she likes to chew the fat with other authors – reviewing books and conducting interviews for her podcast and YouTube channel. You’ll likely find her devouring work by Glenn Rolfe, Hunter Shea and Tim Meyer. Her biggest fan, beta reader, editor and financier is her loving husband. He just wants her to write a story about werewolves that wear shoes on their hands …

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