Discovering ‘Dog Soldiers,’ the Little Werewolf Movie That Doesn’t Require a Poop-Scoop
I don’t typically gravitate toward low-budget horror films when searching for some kind of motion picture entertainment late at night on streaming services, propped in bed with the ol’ iPad handy. First, the everyday news of the real world is full of enough horror and outright insanity and I do not crave the sight of gore. Second, when I am attracted to a horror film, it’s usually because the synopsis or description indicates that the movie has a psychological angle with a modicum of sophistication and originality.
Werewolf movies are hardly original: not since The Howling, back in Biblical Times, maybe American Werewolf in London, and perhaps just the first flick in that Underworld series with Kate Beckinsale have I been vaguely amused (much less captivated) by a lycanthropic showpiece. I love the sense of antiquity behind werewolf-lore, going back ostensibly all the way to fairy tales like the Three Little Pigs, Red Riding Hood, and Lon Chaney’s early cinematic efforts at Universal.
But there has never been a classic piece of literature centered upon the werewolf mythos, to my knowledge, with the possible exception of cryptozoological stories and accounts regarding the alleged “Beast of Gevaudan,” and I am carried along primary by literary undercurrents, if I am carried along by anything.
That being said, I am presently in a fairly frenetic creative phase as far my writing and illustrating schedules are concerned and proper use of my downtime is crucial when it comes to calming the synapses with engaging entertainment that is not of my own making. In such circumstances, many things I encounter online might suffice: old reruns of Everybody Loves Raymond, familiar but strangely comforting sci-fi faves like Alien and Aliens, the odd Woody Allen movie, and, yes, an occasional werewolf extravaganza that catches my interest.
Usually, the monster movies end-up being lousy, but that was not the case with last night’s choice, Dog Soldiers, starring Sean Pertwee and Liam Cunningham. The 2001 picture was written and directed by Neil Marshall. The premise has a few hitches but is fairly simple and proved compelling from the start: a squad of Scottish soldiers are gathered in the highlands for training exercises, bonding as only squad members in the gloomy woods can bond and enjoying a bit of wry U.K. camaraderie, when they are ambushed by werewolves with no conceivable means of escape.
Yeah, that’s the extent of it. What makes the film work on various levels—and what has doubtless earned it status as a cult feature—is the snappy writing, pacing, dialogue, and obvious cohesion of the fine cast. Watching a close-knit crew of soldiers bandying good-natured insults and remarks while bunkered in the forest can be a sort of “comfort food,” for the viewer looking to wind-down the brain. This is a quality one notices to powerful cinematic effect in movies like Predator and Aliens (or even Alien) and the “realness” of the onscreen engagement lends itself to a fruitful engagement with the audience. To be certain, director Neil Marshall has borrowed a number of tropes rather liberally from both Predator and Aliens films, but he fits them usefully into Dog Soldiers without making them painfully obvious.
The result is worth a late-night watch, if you’re a monster movie fan of any degree, and while Dog Soldiers has a smattering of plotty hiccups along the ride, it’s worth the trip. Besides, it was made in 2001, when directors in general still knew how to write and film movies of any sort. That alone gave me impetus to stream the thing on Amazon Prime. I saw the high consumer ratings, but it was the date that caught my eye even more. I thought, “2001, huh? The people who made this have a 50-50 chance of being competent at their jobs. I’ll have a look.”
Collider has a fairly recent appraisal of the movie. One might wish to READ IT alongside my own. For what it’s worth, the horror fan could do a lot worse than Dog Soldiers on a fully moonlit night when sleep seems a tad far away and you’re apt to bark at the moon yourself. It’s good.
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