DOG SOLDIERS(director/writer/editor: Neil Marshall; cinematographer: Sam McCurdy; music: Mark Thomas; cast: Sean Pertwee (Sgt. Wells), Chris Robson (Joe), Kevin McKidd (Cooper), Emma Cleasby (Megan), Liam Cunningham (Ryan), Thomas Lockyer (Bruce), Leslie Simpson (Terry), Darren Morfitt (Spoon); Runtime: 105; MPAA Rating: R; producers: Christopher Figg/Tom Reeve/David E. Allen; Artisan; 2002-UK)
“Mark me down as a non-believer in werewolf films that are not serious and rely on stupidity as a substitute for humor.”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
Silly, ridiculous, and grisly best describes “Dog Soldiers,” but it’s only ‘a werewolf meets the army spoof’ set in the Scottish highlands — so why not be irreverent of the werewolf legend? The low-budget British film, released only in video in this country, didn’t make any sense in telling about the lycanthrope legend, but then again it wasn’t supposed to — right! It was played tongue-and-cheek and didn’t have any pretensions to be taken seriously. It borrowed from a host of other horror flicks, and since it was so well presented — I guess I’m not supposed to care how empty it felt. Neil Marshall makes this a humorous and action-packed horror tale, that gets real daffy fast and only gets daffier and daffier. “Dog Soldiers” pays homage to “Wolfen,” “Evil Dead,”and “An American Werewolf in London,” though I wouldn’t put it in the same caliber because it was too clichéd and lacked the same intensity as the others.
A British Army patrol of six are out on a routine exercise and are led by gritty gung-ho vet, Sergeant Wells (Sean Pertwee). The others are mostly green recruits unhappy to be in the wilderness and consist of Pfc. Cooper (Kevin McKidd), Joe (Chris Robson), Terry (Leslie Simpson), Spoon (Darren Morfitt), and their radioman Corporal Bruce Campbell (Thomas Lockyer). They tell each other some scary horror stories and then hear some strange howling, and when they go to check it out they stumble across a stack of unrecognizable strewn bloody bodies with the only survivor being a panicky Special Forces captain, Ryan (Liam Cunningham), saying over and over “There was only supposed to be one.” Ryan had previously flunked Cooper on his test to enter his elite unit because he failed to kill a dog as ordered during the trial exercise. The squad is subsequently attacked by whatever beasts killed the others, as the attackers are not seen until the film’s second half. Bruce’s body is torn to shreds while Wells is saved by the film’s hero Cooper, who takes command of the squad in the emergency. Wells’s guts were ripped out. This leads to some gruesome jokes about sausages and a show of macho courage by both, as Wells wants to be left behind to hold off the attackers while the others escape. But Cooper, instead, carries him on his back to join the remainder of the survivors. They are hoping their limited supply of ammo holds up (later when trapped in a farmhouse there will be a comparison made to the battle with the Zulus at Rorke’s Drift).
Puzzled and frightened about the senseless attack while fleeing on foot as the beasts happen to be the size of a Frankenstein but with fangs and hair all over their bod, they stop a jeep driven by a beautiful female driver, Megan (Emma Cleasby). She’s a zoologist who came here a few years ago to become one with nature and study the rumors she heard about wolves in the area. Megan tells the men, this is no ordinary enemy — it is werewolves attacking on the night of the full moon. The squad retreats to an abandoned farmhouse in the isolated area, and spends the night (the rest of the film) trying to hold back the werewolves, patching Wells up with Superglue, cracking a lot of sick juvenile jokes, having Joe complain he’s missing the biggest World Cup soccer game in ages between England and Germany all because of this stupid exercise, and having Cooper discover that some of those with him are werewolves.
That’s quite a lot to deal with, as Marshall spoons this comedy-horror story out in absurd dollops all the while trying to build on the tension and at the same time taking potshots in a good-natured way at the army and at as many werewolf films as he can. The adrenaline rush for the true horror junkie comes about in the battle with the werewolves: on the rooftops, cartops, and treetops. That’s followed-up by fireball explosions, the silver knife used on the werewolf as the weapon of last resort; and, finally, in all the mutilations. The trouble with all these proficiently done scenes, is that it only results in gross-out violence. Mark me down as a non-believer in werewolf films that are not serious and rely on stupidity as a substitute for humor.
REVIEWED ON 11/21/2002 GRADE: C
Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”
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