If you want to get a small idea of what I do, and why I wanted to guest post on Jeff’s blog, take a look at this: http://openletterstomyenemies.blogspot.com/2012/11/dear-tnt-network.html
Otherwise, hello my name is Greg, and I am the thing that Jeff sees when he closes his eyes at night.
When he asked me if I’d like to review a movie for this site, my mind went to Dog Soldiers. I loved watching the cheap SyFy movies in high school, and when I was home on break my freshman year of college, I caught this movie when it premiered. It wasn’t love at first sight. It was more an excited admiration.
This movie is as much about what it isn’t as what it is. It isn’t a typical SyFy original with CGI processed on a Wang EXE computer from 1989. It wasn’t outsourced to Romania for cheap shooting locations. It wasn’t stocked with D list actors that were the belle of the ball in their Community theater programs. Most of all, it wasn’t directed and shot with the grace of a little kid trying to shove a square peg in a round hole.
What this movie is, admittedly, is a formulaic werewolf story from Britain. Seeing that the most well-known actor to most Americans would be lead Kevin McKidd, who had one of the smaller roles in Trainspotting, it seemed par for the course for the network’s original content for the time. It is able to be more than its straightforward plot through good acting, and good dialogue and an understatedly deft direction by then-first time director and screenwriter Neil Marshall. He would follow this movie up with the cult classic horror movie The Descent, and the underappreciated fun post- apocalyptic movie Doomsday.
It starts off in cliché territory, with a couple camping in the woods, attacked by an unseen monster. The next scene gives us both our protagonist and antagonist, with a British special forces team on exercise, where new recruit Private Cooper refuses orders to kill a stray dog from the mustache twirlingly evil Captain Ryan. Cooper joins a new, less bloodthirsty team, in time for some war games in the Scottish highlands. They come across a slaughtered enemy team, Cooper’s old team, with the only survivor being Captain Ryan, and are forced to hide with a completely not suspicious at all lady living at a farmhouse in the middle of nowhere while werewolves surround them and eventually assault the house. Nothing groundbreaking at all, but the spice is in the execution.
Marshall’s script fleshes out the members of Cooper’s team as well as it can without bogging the story with exposition. The standouts are, of course, protagonist Pvt. Cooper, the fatherly Sgt. Wells, and comic relief Pvt. Spoon, who just wants to watch the soccer match. Their dialogue is believable and their back and forth is really enjoyable, especially for a low budget horror movie. He took obvious care with this, in what seems to be his intended calling card film, much like Raimi with Evil Dead.
That brings us to the direction in general. Marshall takes cues from several of his predecessors, but does so with a deft hand. There is never a scene that points at the situation and screams, “This is just like Aliens! Hey guys! JUST LIKE IT!” It is more an overall atmosphere that makes you think of the farmhouse in Night of the Living Dead, or the tense, stark scenery of Alien, and much of the tongue in cheek black humor is reminiscent of Evil Dead and other Raimi fare. Most impressive is Marshall’s insistence on using practical effects instead of the cheaper CGI he could have used. The eventual werewolf metamorphosis is done using makeup and creative camera angles, and the final form of the werewolf was impressive. Marshall hired Uli Simon, who created the werewolves for An American Werewolf in London, another nod to his predecessors, and as you can see from the photo, while not overly terrifying, the skinny tall actor in a suit with an animatronic head is very preferable to an awful computer wolf.
The one unfortunate thing with the movie is that it could have signaled a new direction for the then SciFi Network, where they give aspiring horror and science fiction directors chances to prove themselves. Marshall used this to get a real Hollywood deal for The Descent, and has continued to make good movies for the big screen ever since. SciFi eventually became SyFy, and focused more on their own original television shows. They still makes awful movies in the former USSR featuring has-been actors like Urkel and Debbie Gibson, which are honestly fun to watch since they are so very bad. However, this could have been an great new platform that birthed exciting new directors, and perhaps helped revive the honest to God good horror movies that have been absent lately.
Dog Soldiers gets a solid 4 out of 5 ice cream cones for eighteen dead bodies, six dead werewolves, duct tape surgery, chest stabbing, face biting, werewolf boxing, werewolf fu, medieval swordplay, and two giant explosions.