Whatever Happened to the Lycanthropy Lads? ‘Dog Soldiers’

Dave Geldard on the recently released Limited Edition 4K Blu-ray of Neil Marshall’s British Horror.

Looking back now at the first decade of the 21st Century, it was undeniably a time of resurgence for that favourite of genre cinema – The British Horror Film.

Stateside, the torture porn sub-genre had become massively popular during this era, due to films such as James Wan’s Saw (2004) and Eli Roth’s Hostel (2005). Whilst the British output at the time seemed, perhaps, more inspired by traditional influences.

Danny Boyle updated the apocalyptic thriller format with 28 Days Later (2002) which clearly had its roots in John Wyndham’s novel The Day of the Triffids. Edgar Wright’s Zom-Rom-Com masterpiece Shaun of the Dead (2004), whilst certainly a love letter to the George Romero zombie flicks, also displayed its Wyndham D.N.A. and throughout the film, scenes took influence from such diverse source material as Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978), Threads (1984) and even Doctor Who.

Inspired by, amongst others, the likes of American Werewolf in London (1980) and The Howling (1981), Neil Marshall reinvented the traditional werewolf story for the modern age with his long-form directorial debut, Dog Soldiers (2002).

The narrative follows a group of six British squaddies who go on a routine training exercise in the Scottish Highlands, only to stumble upon the blood drenched remains of the Elite Special Forces unit they were supposed to be training with. The soldiers soon come under attack themselves from an invisible enemy and whilst retreating, run into zoologist, Megan (Emma Cleasby), who leads them to an empty cottage. It is there that their attackers are revealed to be Werewolves. As situation worsens, we see the soldier’s ultra-macho masks slip and their real personalities and anxieties come to the fore…

Often maligned as a B-Movie, Dog Soldiers stands undeniably head and shoulders above such fare, with an action-packed simple story, full of bloody gore and dark comic humour. Central to the film’s charm is the fantastic casting and Marshall’s intelligently written characterisations.

Sean Pertwee steals the show as heroic badass Sgt. Harry Wells (a tribute to H.G. Wells). We see Wells switching between the stereotyped Army Sergeant, full of toxic, sweary, masculine bravado to a more thoughtful soul, revealing his more sensitive side and discussing his deepest, darkest fears with his men. As he tries to defend his men from the attackers, Wells upholds morality, battles courageously and does occasionally balance it all out by showing his fragility. It’s such great, well-rounded writing and performances that really make this film and elevate it above the usual low budget horror outings.

Kevin Kidd also impresses as Private Cooper. His strength of character is revealed early in the film when he fails to complete his Special Forces training by refusing orders from Capt. Ryan (Game of Thrones star Liam Cunningham) to shoot a dog for no good reason. Throughout the film he is loyal to his Sergeant (almost looking upon Sgt. Wells as a father figure) and will do anything to protect his men.

The film’s sole female character, Megan, thankfully isn’t just a screaming victim. She is sharp, well-educated, and capable of holding her own. At times she recalls Sigourney Weaver’s Ripley character from the Alien franchise. Megan is complex and multi layered. You will find yourself dissecting her actions and motivations long after the film has finished.

The werewolves themselves are well realised and cleverly shot. Any movie in the Lycanthrope genre is unquestionably going to be compared to American Werewolf in London. Wisely, considering its budget constraints, Dog Soldiers doesn’t try to replicate Rick Baker’s special effects work when it comes to the transformations. In fact, the metamorphosis has an unlikely influence, Carry on Screaming (1966), one of Marshall’s childhood favourites.

Marshall also had the genius idea of hiring dancers instead of stuntmen to don the werewolf costumes, giving them much more unique, nuanced movements. The werewolf attacks are cleverly shot, knowing that sometimes just a mere glimpse can often be more powerful and effective, although when you do see the complete creature, they do look magnificent.

There seems to be nods towards other genre classics throughout the film too.

The cabin in the woods setting often recalls Sam Raimi’s Evil Dead (1981). The sense of paranoia and claustrophobia within the group of soldiers is reminiscent of John Carpenter’s The Thing (1982) and there are many moments throughout that will remind the viewer of Predator.

Blu-ray collectors and film buffs alike will be pleased to know that the picture quality of this Blu-ray release from Second Sight brings us a much-improved picture from previous releases. Images are sharp, bringing out fine detail and the colours are rich. Grain remains present but adds to the style and atmosphere.

The extras (including a fantastic 40-minute interview with Neil Marshall himself) are essential for lovers of this film.

Neil Marshall went on to write and direct another classic of the Horror genre, The Descent (2005). It’s one to watch or revisit if you enjoy Dog Soldiers, although distinctly different in terms of structure and premise it has a very similar visual style. It is just as engaging, and both stand up well to repeated viewings.

This Blu-ray is an essential addition to any Horror fan’s shelves. Not only is Dog Soldiers a great example of early 2000s British Horror but it’s also, without question, one of the greatest and most enjoyable werewolf movies of all time.

Special Features

A new 4K restoration from the original camera negative approved by director Neil Marshall and director of photography Sam McCurdy

Features 4K UHD and Bluray with bonus features on both formats

4K UHD presented in Dolby Vision HDR

Archive audio commentary by Director Neil Marshall

Archive audio commentary by Producers David E. Allen and Brian O’Toole

New audio commentary by writer and Associate Professor of Film Alison Peirse

Werewolves, Crawlers, Cannibals and More: a new 40minute interview with Neil Marshall

A History of Lycanthropy: author Gavin Baddeley on Werewolf Cinema

Werewolves, Folklore and Cinema: a video essay by author Mikel J. Koven

Werewolves vs Soldiers: The Making of Dog Soldiers with Neil Marshall, Producers Christopher Figg and Keith Bell, Actors Sean Pertwee, Kevin McKidd, Darren Morfitt, Leslie Simpson and Emma Cleasby, Special Effects Artist Bob Keen and more!

A Cottage in the Woods: an interview with Production Designer Simon Bowles

Combat: a short film by Neil Marshall

Deleted Scenes and Gag Reel with optional commentary by Neil Marshall

Trailers and Photo Gallery

Optional English subtitles for the hearing impaired

❉ ‘Dog Soldiers’ Limited Edition 4K UHD/Blu-ray and Standard Edition 4K UHD and Blu-ray single was released by Second Sight Films on 22 August 2022. Cert: 15. Running Time: 105 mins. Check out Second Sight Films’ website for new release info and for consumers to buy direct at www.secondsightfilms.co.uk. More from Second Sight: Twitter: @SecondSightFilm | Instagram: secondsightfilmsofficial | Facebook: SecondSightFilms

❉ David Geldard is a regular contributor to We Are Cult and co-editor (with Jay Gent) of In the Lap of the Gods: Queen & Freddie Mercury: Music and Memories, due to be published by Cult Ink later this year with all profits to be donated to The Mercury Phoenix Trust. David hosts the Classic Rock Hub on http://fabradiointernational.com and tweets as @DaveOfAndrozani

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