Originally released in 2002, Neil Marshall’s Dog Soldiers was an immediate favourite upon release because it felt unique and surprising in the thriller/horror genre. Some twenty years later, Second Sight Films have put together this smart release, complete with a new 4K restoration from the original camera negative, approved by Marshall and Director of Photography, Sam McCurdy.
Dog Soldiers opens with an inconspicuous couple camping in the Scottish Highlands, and whilst getting their thing on, and after offering an early Chekhov’s gun, their tent is opened from the outside and they’re killed by something we don’t see but sounds animalistic. Jumping forward to ‘now,’ the narrative throws us into a routine Army training session deep in the same setting. Here we meet Sergeant Wells (Sean Pertwee), Cooper (Kevin McKidd), and others, who are on their way to meet up with a Special Ops unit, led by C.O. Ryan (Liam Cunningham), but eventually discover he’s the only survivor of another vicious Highland attack.
While this makes a group of people with knowledge of a mysterious beast in the forest, it’s not long before they’re under attack again. As they flee, they’re fortuitously picked up by Emma Cleasby’s zoologist Megan, and end up taking shelter in an abandoned farmhouse but as the dark of the night takes hold, they’re trapped there by the predators outside. So, to summarise, once the blackness of the night fully envelopes the house, carnage and attacks commence as the (now seen) werewolves try to feed, and the soldiers try to survive. It’s a dog-eat-soldier, soldier-shoot-werewolves kinda setup, and it’s pretty brutal – and heavily intense once the big scenes kick off.
Does it stand the test of time? A little bit. Whilst the restoration highlights the low budget side of the movie making, although it did cost an alleged £2.3m to make, shooting the dark is always difficult. The earlier scenes with the soldiers talking about slightly cliched things does show up it’s early 2000s vibe, but Sean Pertwee offers a gravitas with his stories and central position. Generally, it’s those lead actors who really give the film its belief element, even though the whole thing is obviously batshit crazy (and that’s okay).
Dog Soldiers also has an enormous sweeping score by Mark Thomas that pushes it up a level, so once the idle chat disappears, the ghost stories and looming risks make up for that early stuff as well as a great jump scare. Neil Marshall’s film particularly revels in the nasty death sequences and gruesome injuries, as well as really striking werewolf make-up/design that remains frightening to this day.
There are also plenty of surprises in the ridiculousness, and it knows what type of film it is, with the gory becoming occasionally comical and the increasing intensity really pulling you into the fight to the death. There’s no hiding from its escapism intentions, and that’s fine by me. While you’ll never match the beauty of An American Werewolf in London, Dog Soldiers has moments of natural drama as well, a particular stand-out scene involves Megan playing Debussy’s Clair de Lune which adds class as it’s juxtaposed with the howls of those ‘natural’ predators outside, and the gleam of a full moon lingering in the back. A great scene.
Intense action, and a brutal fight for survival, it’s the commitment of the actors which lasts right up to the final scene that makes Dog Soldiers worth revisiting as an experience for sure.
While there are a few extras recycled from previous releases, this is a nice collector’s edition. Neil Marshall’s ‘making of’ insight hits an hour or so, and I think there’s a mix of old and new interviews entwined into a single package. You’ve got the always welcome deleted scenes and gag reel, which is obviously grainy for the time it was shot, plus more insight from Special Effects artist Bob Keen, as well as a deeper look at the Cabin/Cottage in the Woods, and the creation of that, with Production Designer Simon Bowles.
The 4K UHD is presented in the old Dolby Vision HDR, plus this release features the archive audio commentary by Director Neil Marshall; Archive audio commentary by Producers David E. Allen and Brian O’Toole; New audio commentary by writer and Associate Professor of Film Alison Peirse and even more delves into the mythology.
These include ‘A History of Lycanthropy’ with author Gavin Baddeley on Werewolf Cinema plus Werewolves, Folklore and Cinema: a video essay by author Mikel J. Koven; Werewolves vs Soldiers: The Making of Dog Soldiers with Neil Marshall, Producers Christopher Figg and Keith Bell, Actors Sean Pertwee, Kevin McKidd, Darren Morfitt, Leslie Simpson and Emma Cleasby; Combat: a short film by Neil Marshall, the usual Trailers and Photo Gallery, and also Optional English subtitles for the hearing impaired.