Post Millennial Trauma Part 3: Dog Soldiers (2002)

I do seem to be doing a lot of werewolf movies recently.

I’ve been a while between reviews in this series, and the reason being that I could not for the life of me think of a film for 2002. In the end it came down to a choice between My Little Eye (an interesting and quite gripping take on Big Brother) and this, Neil Marshall’s debut film. To be honest, I don’t really know what I was thinking about, as Dog Soldiers is not only far superior to My Little Eye, but also an exhilarating and barnstorming take on the Werewolf mythos, whereas My Little Eye is a good film, and a severely underrated one, but is never going to be labelled great.

Ah, the giddy days of 2002. I was working for a record label, and my girlfriend at the time was not Mrs. Jarv- who wasn’t even in the UK at the time. England had a crap cricket team and were about to become the best side in Rugby. Weirder still, was that the football team had romped qualification to the World Cup and the Golden Generation looked like it was about to finally end all the years of hurt. (This is relevant, trust me).  In the midst of all this, I persuaded girlfriend-at-the-time that what she really needed to see was a small, almost zero budget, British movie about squaddies v Werewolves.

Impressed she was not.

Dog Soldiers opens with a fairly standard Horror scene. A couple, who are clearly in breach of Jarv’s golden rule of surviving a horror film, have gone camping. They exchange presents (she’s given him a silver letter opener, good to see people still kowtowing to Ibsen’s rule of Drama) before they get down to business. No sooner than you can say “Pedigree Chum” and they’re fucked. The second scene establishes the characters. Kevin McKidd is Private Cooper, and is trying out for Captain Ryan (Liam Cunningham) and his shady black-ops outfit. McKidd, needless to say, flunks for not shooting a dog.

That’s the establishing scenes over and done with, and the action starts properly with the full squad dropped at a remote location in Scotland. We’ve got Wells (Sean Pertwee), Cooper, Spoon (Darren Morfitt), Terry (Leslie Simpson) and other assorted squaddies. They’re playing war games as part of a training exercise. Not a lot happens, they traipse around get scared by a dead cow, before being attacked by a pack of angry werewolves, luckily they’re rescued by Megan (Emma Cleasby) and taken to a nearby cottage- where they make a spirited, frequently hilarious, but ultimately futile attempt to hold off the angry beasts till dawn.

As plot summaries go, that one is pretty sketchy, and I’ve done it just in case someone out there has been living under a rock and hasn’t seen this film. The plot, incidentally, is pretty irrelevant as the joy (and I do mean joy) of Dog Soldiers is in how damned entertaining it is. This is a rollicking film that rocks along faster than a greyhound on crack, contains outstanding character work, superb dialogue, comedy, scares, and is simply a blast a minute. I hadn’t actually watched it for a while before giving it another spin for this series, and I’d genuinely forgotten how fucking entertaining it is.

First up, I’ve mentioned the dialogue and it is simply outstanding. The characters are allowed to develop through interchanges, and all of them supply important details about who they are without labouring the point. For example, we know that fat Geordie Terry loves football, because all he cares about is getting off the stupid training mission to go and watch the England game. The Sarge tells a cracking anecdote about a Tattoo that’s simply stupendous, but my favourite exchange is when they’re deciding who goes out to be the lure “We need something small, fast, loud and annoying” (cue everyone turning to look at Spoon) who responds with a bemused “What?” because he clearly wasn’t paying attention.

"Come and have a go if you think you're hard enough"

What I really want to talk about, however, is the superglue scene. This has to be one of my favourite scenes in any film in the 21st Century. Wells is fucked, the wolf got him and his guts are hanging out. Cooper and Megan are attempting to stick him back together with superglue. This is, obviously, agonising, so Cooper gets him hammered on Whisky, at which point he goes through the whole drunks “I fucking love you” repertoire. Eventually, though, he decides that it’s not working and Cooper is going to have to knock him out- Cooper duly delivers the blow, and he drops like a sack of spuds. To which he then sits up and says “is that all you’ve got you fucking pussy”, thereby obliging Cooper to clean his clock again, with rather more success. This scene, although it sounds pretty grim, is actually played for laughs and is so expertly performed that it is simply downright hilarious, and is just one example of many great individual moments in a stonking film.

Which brings me neatly around to the acting. Pertwee, McKidd, Cunningham and Morfitt are simply excellent in their various roles, but unfortunately there is a big lag in the acting stakes- Cleasby, while not awful, is simply not up to scratch as Megan and it doesn’t help her that she has some of the clunkiest dialogue in the film “I’m a real bitch” leaping to mind. Furthermore, on this note, the twist is so fucking painfully obvious that it’s a bit insulting on rewatch, even if I did let it slide on first viewing.

Bet you didn't see that coming.

The next minor flaw is the special effects. Marshall clearly was operating off an extremely limited budget, and as such a full wolf transformation was completely out of the question. However, the gore scenes are messy and well handled, but the actual wolves themselves are, how can I put this, crap. To compensate, Marshall hides them in dark lighting or obscure angles and fast editing and so manages to mostly negate this otherwise catastrophic and deal breaking failure. The only real complaint that I have about them is the final showdown- when we see the wolf in it’s full, erm, glory and it doesn’t look great.

Dog Soldiers is also an extremely British (specifically English) film. A huge amount of the vernacular that the characters use is pure common English, and there are multiple references in the film, particularly to football, that I’m sure whip clear over the heads of most American viewers. For example, Marshall uses the greatest piece of sporting commentary ever (from the redoubtable Kenneth Wolstenhome) as the eventual pay-off line: “They think it’s all over… it is now”. Finally on this note, circumstances outside of the film conspired perfectly, so when Marshall presents the faked National Enquirer cover “Werewolves ate my platoon” is relegated to the sidebar as the only thing more unlikely than that managed to dominate the front page: England 5 Germany 1.

And it really happened.

Mano e Werewolf. How fucking awesome.

Overall, this is an outstanding debut. It’s a touch rough around the edges but is never less than a blast. Dog Soldiers is a rip-roaring and monstrously entertaining British take on the Werewolf movie, and is actually not only a nice reminder that going to the cinema is meant to be fun, but is also one of the finest beer and pizza movies of the last decade. I give it three and a half Churchills out of 4 and cannot recommend it enough.

Until next time,

Jarv.

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About Jarv

Workshy cynic, given to posting reams of nonsense on the internet and watching films that have inexplicably got a piss poor reputation.

57 responses to “Post Millennial Trauma Part 3: Dog Soldiers (2002)”

  1. tombando says :

    Never seen it, sounds good.

  2. Bartleby says :

    I’ve always enjoyed this one too, although I think your passion for it might be overselling a little bit. That’s fine though,Im often overexuberant about fave movies too.

    Good review though, as I think your emphasis of the ‘super glue’ scene is a good point why the movie works. It’s made up of standard horror stuff (disemboweling), comic strip humor (the effusive drunk) and typical male movie shenanigans (the punching) and yet Marshall makes it all work and seem unique because of the daftness of the super-glue conceit. None of DS is original on it’s own but he arranges it so it feels fresh.

    I

    • Jarv says :

      Exuberant. Damn it, that’s the word I was thinking of.

      I had this as a three out of four film, but when I rewatched it last night I enjoyed it so much that I bumped it up a mark. It’s a superb film.

  3. Bartleby says :

    I saw this again for the first time in years last spring when I was stuck home with a nasty cold. It came at the end of an all day werewolf lineup on syfy that was made up of the awful (Beast of Bray Road, Dark Wolf), the boring and lame (Ginger Snaps III, Skinwalkers, Never Cry Werewolf), the pretty decent (Ginger Snaps 2, Silver Bullet) and finally…Dog Soldiers.

    Interesting because Dog Soldiers isn’t any more financially funded than those other movies or thematically philosophically different in it’s bent. It’s just that Marshall is a better pulp artist than all those others and he can pull surprises out of tired genre routines.

    If you look at his career so far you cant accuse him of any truly original films, but he takes the plots he chooses and makes them a damn good time.

    Im personally glad there’s still a contingent of directors out there doing this sort of stuff. Otherwise there’d never be variation amidst the syfy originals.

    In other news,w hen I started assembling my top 25 SYFY originals, I’ve found this one listed as one, and so it’s pretty much at the top.

    Turns out that the U.S. release was via SYFY who purchased the tv rights and legitimately labeled it an ‘SYFY original’. So it gets through on a technicality.

    • Jarv says :

      Cheating!

      Heh,

      Actually, I agree with pretty much all of that. At the moment I mark Marshall with:

      The Descent 4 Changs
      Dog Soldiers 3.5 Changs
      Centurion 3 Changs
      Doomsday 2.5 Changs.

      He’s in a rare vein of form and it’s right at the start of his career. Hope he can keep it up.

      • Droid says :

        No way is Dog Soldiers better than Centurion.

      • Jarv says :

        I watched both of them again- Centurion is more polished but Dog Soldiers is more fun.

        Really, those two are actually Dog Soldiers 3.3 rounded up and Centurion 3.2 rounded down. Little to choose from and I’ll probably change my mind again.

      • Droid says :

        The Descent – 4 Changs
        Centurion – 3 Changs(actually 3.25 but I can’t quite bring myself to round up)
        Dog Soldiers – 3 Changs (rounded up)
        Doomsday – 1.5 Changs (rounded up)

        3 out of 4 ain’t bad.

    • Jarv says :

      Have you got your horror movies up so I can whinge about your strange taste?

      Hehe.

      • Bartleby says :

        they will be up in a bit this morning, along with reviews for The Last Lovecraft, My Dog Tulip and Hiss!, Lynch’s nutty little girl’s Hindi movie about the snake woman.

      • Bartleby says :

        and you probably wont have many complaints on my horror list save for one, which I know you haven’t seen but have decided against on principal.

      • Jarv says :

        The King’s Speech?

      • Jarv says :

        Wait, that’s not right- I have seen Le Divorce.

        Genuinely horrifying.

      • Jarv says :

        Actually, I think I know what you are talking about- It’s that Raimi thing. Drag me to PG13 CGI lameness isn’t it?

      • Droid says :

        I liked DMTH. The PG13 argument is redundant because it didn’t need gore. And the CGI didn’t bother me.

      • koutchboom says :

        Was there even 10 horror films this year? Well I mean that aren’t bootleg Asian films? What you got…Saw7/PA2/Last Exorcism/Freddy……….drawing a blank on the rest. Only Last Exorcism being good. Ohh I guess [REC]2: Die Harder. hmmmmmmm Shutter Island doesn’t count because thats a thriller I’ve been told……what else what else…..fantastic four, fantastic four…….nope nothing.

      • DocPazuzu says :

        Trust me, Jarv, DMTH is ace. I really, really thought I was going to hate it (hello Spidey 3) but ended up loving it.

      • Droid says :

        Watch it in a double bill with Thinner.

      • Jarv says :

        It’s on the Lovefilm list, but there are so many strikes against it for me (as with nerd trek) I’ll probably see it at some point but won’t rush to.

      • DocPazuzu says :

        …except Thinner is crap.

      • Jarv says :

        Beat me to it.

        It was a crap story and is a crap film.

      • Droid says :

        Thinners fun. At least it was when I saw it when it came out.

      • Jarv says :

        Nope.

        Bored me.

        Anyway, I’m mostly watching Asian films at the moment because there are so many good ones in Lovefilm’s free thing.

        So far I haven’t seen a bad one.

        I may also give that Norwegian TCM rip off another shot, but it was veering towards TP and Mrs. Jarv shat one. I’ve got Cold Prey coming up in this series (YES!) which is mint.

      • DocPazuzu says :

        I’ve got Cold Prey 2 at home right now for weekend watching.

      • Jarv says :

        Jonah reckons it’s almost as good.

        Next up in this is Tale of 2 Sisters, I think- although 2003 has several contenders.

  4. DocPazuzu says :

    “…and put a kettle on.”

    I love Dog Soldiers! Yes, compared to the Baker/Bottin werewolves of cinema fame, the werewolves look kind of crap, but the fact that they’re so tall and lanky and deliberate rather than savage in their movements makes them rather eerie which works in the film’s favor, as does keeping them in the dark which you mentioned.

    Yes, the tattoo story is great and the bovine post-payoff is a true pants filler.

    Pertwee is a fucking genre legend and should be in every single movie dealing with werewolves, vampires, post-apocalyptic cannibals and space hell.

  5. Droid says :

    Just got a chance to actually read the review and I pretty much agree with it all, except that your excitement level was amped at 11, while mine was a more considered 7. Good film, but not quite this great IMO.

    • Jarv says :

      I think this is a cultural thing. When I was watching it, it honestly felt like it was made just for me- all the references, the language etc.

      And the fact that it was clearly changed to include that England 5 Germany 1 result was just the icing on the cake for me- awesome.

      I do admit to being overexcited by it at the time, and I was trying to get that feeling across. I watch it about once a year now, usually drunk, and enjoy it every time. I’m not as excited by it now, though.

  6. Bartleby says :

    strangely, Koutch, there’s no bootleg asian horror on my list this year. In truth, the asians haven’t produced a quality horror picture in a few years. I’d prolly go back to The Host, but I know there are some that wouldn’t quite call it horror. Maybe Hansel and Gretel? Other than that, asian horror has been well and truly in the crapper for some time. Tale of Two Sisters might be the last really great one.

    • koutchboom says :

      NO? I got that Face of the Devil? House of the Devil? Smile of the Devil? The fucking next film film for good bad weird guy at home. I know its more Old Boy then horror but can’t wait to watch.

      Need to see your list then because I need me some good horror movies to watch.

      Fun fact The Last Exorcism poster was banned fuck either in German or England for the pose she makes.

      • Jarv says :

        When Jonah typed that, I thought “bullshit” instantly. However, in thinking about it, I’m struggling to think of a really first rate Asian Horror since 2003. Dumplings, maybe, although that just makes people throw up and even then was in the Three Extremes so I think it was about 2005.

      • koutchboom says :

        AAAAAhahahahah even the Asians got tired of J-Horror.

  7. Bartleby says :

    I Saw the Devil is more dark action thriller, ala The Chaser (which I didnt include per our conv the other day).

    Dumplings to me was well made but revolting, and I can’t in good conscience call it ‘good’. The ‘segment’ in Extremes was better, and even then the rest of that anthology wasnt very good. So, for me, those didn’t qualify due to quality.

    I can see a case being made for Thirst, but I personally didnt really glom to that one in the way Harry and co. seem to.

    But yes, even 05 is still about five years ago, which is a long time to not have anything when they are still regularly churning out tons of the stuff over there, particularly in Thailand.

    • Jarv says :

      Thirst was a massive disappointment. In hindsight, I’m wondering if I should really downgrade that rating.

      I mean it was Alright but I still feel that I want to like it more than I actually do like it.

      If Thirst is the best, then they haven’t produced anything great in years.

    • Jarv says :

      13: Game of Death is billed as a horror movie, and it isn’t.

    • koutchboom says :

      So what your saying is that ‘Serbian Film’ is on your list?

  8. Continentalop says :

    Damn. Another movie that guys on my catch up list.

    And “Ibsen’s Rules of Drama/Chechov’s Gun”, why the fuck do so many filmmakers nowadays not understand foreshadowing?

    • Jarv says :

      To be fair, it’s quite well done.

      It’s briefly shown at the start, and then rediscovered late in the film. You know what’s coming, but it’s not like it’s there all the way through.

      The film is a blast- and I was being facetious with that remark.

    • Spud McSpud says :

      You know, that REALLY pisses me off too. And thanks to JJ Abram-fanwank, there’s a whole generation of new writers who think it’s completely fine to round off a show that claimed it had a plan all along with a Magic Glowy Cave With Magic River Of Piss. And to then answer any difficult mystery they had invented with the words “It’s magic”.

      There’s a LOT to be said for foreshadowing – which, if done properly, can even stand being guessed from the beginning by spoilsport know-it-all geeks. Case in point – the finale to ASHES TO ASHES. The absolute case for NOT getting it right – the aforementioned LOST finale.

      Fuck the writers of today. If you ain’t following Ibsen’s rules, then you are a ‘tard. End of.

  9. Spud McSpud says :

    “I’m gonna give you the shits, you fucking wimp!!”

    There’s some choice dialogue in this, delivered with relish by lads who clearly knew this was a great, great movie, and it was played pitch-perfectly. It always reminds me of early low budget John Carpenter, the days of THE FOG and HALLOWEEN and ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK – making the best of a meagre budget with tight dialogue, great characters and enough genre titbits to satisfy the geeks. DOG SOLDIERS is a class act, a great start to an interesting career for Neil Marshall.

    And Emma Cleasby is fucking gorgeous. I think that might have been the rationale for her being cast, despite her obvious inability to give any kind of dramatic resonance to her dialogue…

  10. Spud McSpud says :

    “When I signed on that dotted line, I fucking meant it!”

    Best line Son of Wurzel ever delivered. This movie is the closest thing to great acting he’s ever done. Testament to the overflow of talent Marshall had when he made this movie.

  11. ThereWolf says :

    I love this film. I’ve lost count how many times I’ve gone for a shit and shouted “I’m in the khazi!” – whether it was necessary to do so or not.

    It’s all been said above, the ‘tattoo’ speech – which reminds me of Quint in ‘Jaws’. And the magnificent Spoon going hand-to-hand with a werewolf, chucking every object he can lay his hands on at it.

    Quite simply superb.

  12. LB says :

    Yup yup and yup-this movie said-maybe genre filmmaking isn’t dead. loved it myself.

  13. just pillow talk says :

    Quite simply, I love all of Neil’s movies.

    Whenever this is on syfy I always have to watch it, edited be damned. I just can’t turn it off. While The Descent and Centurion are his best movies for me, I think this and Doomsday have the most rewatchability for me in terms of fun watching.

    Pillow out.

    Oh wait, that was so 8 posts ago…

  14. just pillow talk says :

    And fuck me Jarv, you’ve been banging out a lot of reviews and whatnot.

    Was that like a New Year’s resolution or something, one-a-day?

    • Jarv says :

      No. It’s mostly catching up with things I saw over Christmas. I’m going to do a Ninja 3: The Domination vault review when I get home tonight. I’m desperately trying to find a good vampire film for tomorrow though.

      The review line up for the next 7 Days from me is:

      Suggestions for Drunken Cinema (complete with poll)
      Ninja 3: The Domination (schlock)
      Cronos: (unless I can think of another one) (vampire)
      13: Game of Death (underrated)
      Resident Evil (Video Game- fucking put it off again last night)
      Ratman (schlock- bound to be garbage)
      Manhunt (Underrated)

      On this note, if anyone wants to post anything- Don’t worry about squishing any post of mine. If I’ve got something to go up, I’ll time it for 6 hours after yours. If I’ve got something already up, just post anyway.

      • Jarv says :

        Also on that note, Bronco if you want us to put up any review, just email it to either me or Droid and one of us will do it for you.

  15. Jacob Black says :

    Can’t wait for the next installment at the movies – I love the wolf pack and can’t wait to see Breaking Dawn

    • Jarv says :

      I’m presuming that you aren’t spam. However, are you honestly trying to even remotely compare the awesomeness of Dog Soldiers to the manual for spousal abuse that is Twilight?

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