I’m a huge fan of horror movies and always have been. I often sleeked down the aisles of my local video store shopping by nothing but box art. It was at this same family-owned video store in 2002 that I found a film called Dog Soldiers. As a werewolf fan, seeing a pack of them on the cover sold the movie for me. By this point, I was 12 and an old hat at horror movies. I knew what I was getting into.
Well, I thought I did.
What I envisioned was a cheesy, gory flick about soldiers fighting werewolves. Ninety minutes, in and out with bad acting, over-the-top gore, and ultimately a fun but forgettable experience. I was wrong. What I found was a surprisingly good horror movie with good characters, a good premise, and excellent execution.
Dog Soldiers is one of the few films that mixes both horror and the military. Most military movies don’t work well with horror because guns tend to solve most problems encountered in a horror film. However, this flick manages to create a tense atmosphere, even while depicting trained soldiers using modern weaponry.
Dog Soldiers – Simple and thrilling
The plot is fairly simple. It begins with a man and woman camping and facing something dreadful. Then it cuts to a man being chased through the woods by a soldier. He’s fleeing and ends up fighting several of the men off before succumbing. Then we meet our hero and a mix of our antagonists.
The film flash-forwards to a group of six soldiers being dropped off in the wilderness of Scotland. They are basic infantry soldiers armed with L85 rifles equipped with blank firing adapters. It’s a training operation, and it’s quickly explained that these six men would be facing off with a group of special operations soldiers in a training exercise.
From there, the movie moves at a solid pace. We get a quick introduction to the various characters and their personalities, from the intelligent Cooper to the experienced Sergeant Wells. The soldiers find that the special ops team they would train against has been torn to shreds. Amongst their gear, they recover rifles, shotguns, and SMGs loaded with live rounds.
Before we know it, it’s werewolf time, and we are immediately exposed to some gore and violence.
A woman saves the soldiers and takes them to the house of her neighbors. From there, they intend to board up and hold firm until they have a plan.
It’s a film made on a tight budget and by fans of practical effects. We see that in the gore, violence, and glimpses of werewolves.
From A to B and beyond
Dog Soldiers is a fast-moving film. It doesn’t waste much time and is constantly moving forward. We have a realistic and believable dialog between soldiers, quick and logical planning, and no one dies because they are an idiot making idiot decisions.
The men constantly work to better secure the home they are sheltering in from constant attack. It’s not the deepest military-tactics film by any means, and even if it were, which technical manual discusses anti-werewolf tactics, in the first place? Still, the men have a camaraderie and a gentle joking nature, and they do take into account their supplies. As much as Cooper reminds everyone to use short controlled bursts, no one really does.
The men seemingly fire long bursts from their weapons which have little effect on the werewolves. Yet, they are rarely ever forced to reload. The men use boiling water, axes, and at one point, a sword to aid in their defense. It’s fun to watch, and we don’t see too much of the werewolves. We see arms, snouts, and similar features. It’s all practical, and while clearly fake, it’s always good to see practical effects.
In a world where Marvel movies dominate, it’s easy to forget how fun practical effects are. Seeing costumes, animatronics, and rubber guts is satisfying. The film’s werewolves are done well because they are rarely seen and only seen in the dark. When we do finally see a good view of them, they are huge, gainly beasts that would be frightful to stumble into.
The hard work
Dog Soldiers is a good movie through and through. It’s well-paced, well-written has surprises in store, and has good tension. Some scenes border on cheesy, like when a soldier throws punches at a werewolf, and it is kind of effective for a few blows. Tough to believe when we see the abuse these creatures can take.
Still, what sets the movie apart is that it seems like it was an act of love. The filmmakers, actors, and crew seemed to enjoy making the movie. It was an independent passion project, and they put the hard work in to make it great. Having a horror movie where your main characters have automatic weapons is tough, but Dog Soldiers pulled it off.
I rewatch this film every few years, and even though I know exactly what is going to happen, I still enjoy the ride. It’s a shame the sequels never got made. I’d love to see Cooper become an elite werewolf hunter.
If you’re looking for something a little different for this spooky season, then check out Dog Soldiers.