31 Days of Halloween — Day 31: Dog Soldiers (2002) — by Dr. Shock

dogsoldiersEditor’s note: Dave “Dr. Shock” Becker is a host on Horror Movie Podcast and the Land of the Creeps horror podcast. He is also the mastermind behind DVDInfatuation.com, a movie review blog where he is watching and posting one review every day until he reaches at least 2,500 movie reviews. Follow Doc on Twitter: @DVDinfatuation.

Years before he faced off against underground creatures in The Descent and brought on the apocalypse in Doomsday, writer / director Neil Marshall sent a crack military unit up against some pretty nasty werewolves in 2002’s Dog Soldiers. Packed with wild action sequences and a few scenes of over-the-top gore, Dog Soldiers is a thrill-a-minute monster film, and one hell of a directorial debut.

A team of British soldiers travels deep into the Scottish Highlands to take part in what they believe will be a military exercise. But after discovering the bloody remains of a Special Forces unit the next morning, the squad, led by Sgt. Harry Wells (Sean Pertwee) and his second-in-command Pvt. Cooper (Kevin McKidd), realizes they’re suddenly facing an enemy that’s all too real. After rescuing Capt. Ryan (Liam Cunningham), the Special Forces commander and the only one to survive the attack, Wells and his men take off running, one step ahead of what appears to be a pack of enormous wolves.
Following a brief melee, during which one soldier is killed and Sgt. Wells is injured, the remaining troops make their way to the main road, where they’re picked up by a passing land rover driven by Megan (Emma Cleasby), a zoologist, who takes them to a secluded cottage. According to Megan, the wolves that the unit encountered aren’t animals at all; they’re werewolves. Worse than that, they’re hungry werewolves, and when these lycanthropic enemies surround the cottage later that evening, the result is a night of chaos that those lucky enough to survive won’t soon forget.

Unlike most independent monster films, which tend to conceal their creatures until the very end, Dog Soldiers gives us a good look at its werewolves early on, and continues to do so throughout the rest of the movie. The reason for this is obvious: the werewolves, brought to life by special make-up effects supervisor Dave Bonneywell and his crew, look damn good, and the more we see them, the creepier they become (each is a few feet taller than their human adversaries, and their appetite for human flesh is never satiated). This leads to several violent encounters between the lycanthropes (which, like most hungry predators, attack frequently) and the soldiers (who transform the tiny cottage into an impressive stronghold), with each new assault more bloody than the last.

This, combined with a superb cast (especially Sean Pertwee as Sgt. Wells, who, during their first night in the wilderness, tells his men an unforgettable story) and a handful of gory scenes, helped make Dog Soldiers the first truly great werewolf film of the new millennium.

— Dr. Shock

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5 thoughts on “31 Days of Halloween — Day 31: Dog Soldiers (2002) — by Dr. Shock

  1. Dang I love Dog Soldiers.This is the movie that I think of as a counterexample when I hear Jay going off on how a movie isn’t a “real” horror movie if the protagonists have enough agency and competence to possibly win (his “victim vs victor” T&A dimension). These are some tough squaddies, and under different circumstances they could have kicked some serious lupine patootie, but who would dare say that this movie doesn’t count as horror? Same goes for Jay saying that he doesn’t dig action-horror. Dog Soldiers is one of my all-time favourite werewolf films.

    • Great review by Dr. Shock. I’m glad you like the look of the werewolves, as some have said that they hate their look, and I don’t understand why.

      I love this movie too, but I do agree with Josh and Jay that action horror too often misses something crucial if the protagonists are too well-equipped to deal with the situation. It’s not my favorite subgenre either. Much of it is too heavy on the action and too light on the horror. There has to be a sense of real danger, and Dog Soldiers manages to pull that off by having werewolves that are nearly unstoppable. Also, they seem human enough in wolf shape to be able to plan their attacks, rather than just go on a bestial rampage, which makes them even scarier and more dangerous.


    Day 31 – Silent Night, Deadly Night (1984)

    Ever since I first watched Black Christmas years ago, I’ve been on a quest to try and find another Christmas based horror movie that could live up to that Bob Clark film. I’ve only watched Silent Night, Deadly Night once, several years ago, but my recollection is that I loved it. It was perhaps the closest thing to a Christmas horror movie that came anywhere near as close as Black Christmas. Part of the fun of watching a Christmas based horror movie is that unlike a Halloween themed movie, Christmas isn’t the time for frights. It’s the time of the year to get together with the family, share some happiness, and to be all jolly or whatever. Just like horror in the daylight, it’s the fact that horror isn’t supposed to happen at Christmas time is what makes it so much fun to watch.

    The opening scenes of Silent Night, Deadly Night were pretty fantastic. There’s two good scares involving Santa. The first is actually something that seems like it could happen to children to perhaps mess with them some. It’s only a short scene, but I love Billy’s conversation with his crazy grandfather as the grandfather being spouting out nonsense about how Santa will punish Billy if Billy was ever bad this year. This fear tactic works so well because it’s far more likely to happen than for a child to witness Santa killing their parents. The second scare is just that – a robber dressed as Santa suckers Billy’s parents into stopping their car on the side of the road and murders them in cold blood. The concept of a killer Santa may not be rare, but I’ve always appreciated the idea of Santa presented as a ruthless killer.

    From there, the big scares of the movie for the next time period in 1974 are far too real. It’s all a commentary on mental health and how as a society, we do so little to help those that need the help. Poor Billy is bat shit traumatized by the mere concept of Christmas, for obvious reasons, but those that are supposed to be looking out for his well being, is not caring about Billy’s mental health at all. Without question, the biggest villain of the entire movie for me wasn’t Billy or even the man dressed as Santa that killed his parents, it’s Mother Superior. She’s ruthless in forcing Billy to try and embrace Christmas. This actually caused one of my problems with movie. Despite multiple kills, Mother Superior wasn’t one of them. All of this could have been avoided had Billy had someone who was actually supportive of him in the aftermath of his parents’ death, but instead he had someone who was likely more responsible for turning him into a homicidal maniac than even his parents’ killer.

    The rest of the movie takes place in 1984 and there’s a bit of a bait-and-switch. It sets up with an eighteen year old Billy beginning to work at a local toy store. We’re introduced to Billy’s boss, his coworkers including the antagonist co-worker and the potential love interest co-worker. Without question, my favorite part of the entire movie took place at this toy store we’re shown a montage of Billy working. It’s so incredibly cheesy. It’s just one clip of Billy working hard, drinking milk for lunch, and smiling at everyone to the tune of a corny song. The montage ends as the Christmas decorations are brought out and all joy is removed from Billy’s face. Throughout watching this segment of the film, I’m expecting that this is to be it. These are the body count characters and Billy’s love interest is going to be the final girl. Instead, Billy goes crazy, kills his co workers, and it’s time for Billy to bail on the shop to find more victims to go after. I’m not a fan of this move. I was getting used to these characters and they were ones I cared about to some degree. From this point on, all of Billy’s victims are just random people that we’re introduced to moments before. I don’t care about any of them. It’s a shame really. Up until the movie shifts away from the toy store, I was really enjoying this. The other annoyance at killing off all of the coworkers in the middle of the movie is that there was a blonde cashier that was shown at the party, but she just sorta disappeared without any mention and nor do we see her body, as if Billy killed her off camera. What’s the deal? What happened to you random blonde hair cashier?!

    A downside to even buying the Blu-Ray like I have is that due to the fact that apparently the movie had problems with the MPAA, there were many edited scenes in the movie. The Blu-Ray adds them all back in, but since those cuts were not cared for, the video quality is noticeably lower compared to the rest of the movie. On the plus side, the unedited version of the movie does include quite a lot of good looking deaths. Silent Night really summed up 80’s horror with graphic kills and an endless amount of nudity. Some of the kills reminded me of horror classics such as the original Halloween with Billy killing a coworker with a string of Christmas lights and later Texas Chainsaw Massacre when Billy dropped Linnea Quigley down on some deer antlers that reminded me of the infamous meat hook drop done by Leatherface. Out of all of the deaths, my favorite ended up being the playful kill involving Billy chopping the head off of a bully while he was sledding down the snow covered hill so that all his friend saw was a headless body when it finally stopped at the bottom of the hill.

    Overall, I had some fond memories of Silent Night, Deadly Night, and if I’m being honest, I was left a little disappointed. I loved the first half, but once everyone at the toy shop was killed off, the movie felt directionless. The kills keep coming, but it’s impossible to care about any of them. I did enjoy the first half well enough that it I was still left happy enough when the credits began to roll. It would make for a short movie, but I’d be happier had the movie just finished at the conclusion of those toy store kills instead of forcing it to limper along for the rest of the ninety minute runtime. If you’re a fan of Christmas related horror movies, I would suggest checking out Silent Night, Deadly Night thanks to its high death count and the fun value of the first half. Ultimately, Black Christmas still easily stands on top of the Christmas horror mountain and I can’t see that changing.

    Rating: 6.5/10

  3. This is the movie that I have as my number one werewolf movie.
    I love American Werewolf in London, the effects still stand out, but I think the humour and violence in Dog Soldiers tips it.
    Might be a British bias, but the humour is great.

  4. Day 31: House of 1000 Corpses (2003)
    Rating: 7.5/10

    I first watched this film many years ago and it terrified me which is a good thing. This was my second watch and I liked it a little less. I think mostly the mono color cutscenes put me off.

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