Filmed in 2001 and released in 2002, Dog Soldiers is the film that propelled director Neil Marshall into the big time. Followed by the equally brilliant The Descent and the not-quite-so-brilliant Doomsday (also the fairly decent Centurion which stars a baby faced Michael Fassbender), this is a proper old school horror movie, filled with lashings of gallows humour and oodles of nods, winks and references to other films ranging from Zulu to The Matrix.
Dog Soldiers tells the story of a group of British soldiers, sent into the wilds on a training exercise. They’re led by Sgt Wells (Sean Pertwee – Event Horizon, Gotham), who is assisted by Pvt Cooper (Kevin McKidd – Rome, Grey’s Anatomy). What starts out as a seemingly dull weekend slogging through the woods instead of watching the football world cup swiftly devolves into something altogether… hairier?
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The squad comes across the sole survivor of the special forces unit they’re meant to be mock-engaging, the wounded Captain Ryan (Liam Cunningham – Game of Thrones, Hunger), and are forced to retreat through the woods with him, pursued by shadowy, dangerous assailants that seem strangely untroubled by the bullets flying their way.
Rescued by zoologist Megan (Emma Cleasby – Coronation Street, Doomsday), the squad hunker down in a farmhouse and make preparations to try and make it to sunrise in the hopes they’ll be able to escape and find help. The night swiftly devolves into a frantic last stand effort as the soldiers try to stay alive while coming to terms with the fact that they’re being hunted by werewolves. Hence the title. See what they did there?
Eighteen years on, and this film still delights on every level, and it’s clear to see why Marshall was quickly given much larger budgets to play with. The story is tight, there’s barely a wasted breath anywhere to be found in this film, the action is satisfying and the claret sprays the walls with satisfying regularity. Just enough time is given to set the scene and allow the audience to get to know the characters and after that the throttle is pinned to the floor for the rest of the runtime.
The cameraderie between the soldiers is natural and believable, filled with casual insults and gallows humour. The performances are universally great, from the casual confidence of Spoon to the slimy arrogance of Captain Ryan and the crisp, no-nonsense delivery from Sgt Wells. “I am A. PROFESSIONAL. SOLDIER” he states in one scene, enunciating every single syllable and you absolutely believe him.
So, what’s this restoration like? 80% of it looks great, as crisp and clean as if it was filmed last year. Night shots are dark, but you can still see what’s going on. It’s never had a particularly vibrant colour palatte but it still looks lovely with every stitch, every wrinkled piece of fabric or polished piece of metal rended in glorious HD.
The rest? Oh dear. The rest of it looks like it’s been taken straight from someone’s camcorder circa 1987. The VFX shots are horrendously low quality compared to the rest, a problem that this film isn’t alone in suffering from. Babylon 5 has the same issue, with all the effects shots rendered in far lower quality than the rest of the episode. Presumably this is something to do with the effects technology of the time, and a timely reminder, once again, that practical effects will almost always trump VFX.
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Previously only available in high-def by purchasing the Blu-ray from America – a criminal oversight for a film by a British director filled with British actors – Dog Soldiers remains a slightly overlooked horror classic. It deserves to stand proudly in the canon of werewolf movies, rubbing shoulders with The Howling, An American Werewolf in London and Stirba: Werewolf Bitch. And no, I did not make that last one up.
Hopefully this new release will introduce it to a whole new audience too young to see it first time round. Is it worth a purchase? HELL yes. If you want to dip your toe into Neil Marshall’s work, this or The Descent remain the best things he’s ever done.
Dog Soldiers is out now on 4k Digital Release, and back in cinemas on 23rd October.