Thursday, June 23, 2016

Everything is Bone: "Dog Soldiers" (2002)


For my money (and what a paltry sum that is) Dog Soldiers is the best made-for-TV movie ever. For American viewers, Dog Soldiers debuted in the spring of 2002 on the once-great Sci Fi Channel (no Ys need apply). The film, which was directed by a then unknown British genius named Neil Marshall, pretty much hits every orgasm point for horror nerds, with a funny gaggle of British soldiers violently duking it out with a pack of Highlander werewolves. Get the Kleenex ready, boys. 

Dog Soldiers opens in the misty mountains of Scotland. A couple of working stiffs (one of whom seems to be a writer) are celebrating something. The girl stiff (played by Tina Landini) hands her knight a letter opener made out of pure silver. The male stiff (Craig Conway) is left speechless. As with most camping couples, this ugly pair of John Bulls are rather randy and soon start making boom-boom. In a brilliant shot, as the man slowly zips down his lady's trousers, he realizes that someone is zipping down the door to their tent. It's a werewolf, not a prowling peeper. Enter lots of blood, howling, and an exquisite shot of a full moon. 

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A few days earlier, Private Cooper (played by Kevin McKidd) fails the selection process for special operations (most likely the SAS). He is terminated by the sociopathic Captain Ryan (played by Liam Cunningham) because he refuses to coldly murder a dog with Ryan's Browning Hi-Power. Side note: when we first see Captain Ryan's sidearm, it clearly has an empty magazine well. For a movie chock full of groovy guns (MP5A2, Mossberg M500, HK41, and L85A1), there's plenty of gaffes involving firearms. Also, if you think that Dog Soldiers presents a truthful depiction of the selection process for special forces, than you are a Grade-A idiot. 

Anyway, back to the movie. After failing, Cooper is RTU'd (returned to unit) just in time for an exercise pitting the regular British Army against the SAS. The exercise takes place in the Highlands--the very same Highlands where campers have been going missing at an alarming rate. According to Cooper, the team's lone Scotsman, the papers blame the killings on a terrific beast, something like the legendary Beast of Bodmin Moor. Others point to an escaped lunatic that's gone blood hungry. We, the audience, know that the culprits are the offspring of Lawrence Talbot. 

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After one of the best soliloquies in the history of horror cinema that comes courtesy of Marshall (the screenwriter) and actor Sean Pertwee (who plays the grizzled Sergeant Wells), Dog Soldiers picks up tremendous speed. First there's a dead cow that comes flying into camp. Mutilated guts lead the boys to discover yet another bloodbath, this time involving their opponents, the SAS. Realizing that the shit has properly hit the fan, Sergeant Wells tells his men to ditch the blank guns and pick up real rounds. The fight is on. 

The team's first KIA is Corporal Bruce Campbell (played by Thomas Lockyer). The unlucky bastard runs into a super sharp tree branch before being gutted by a lycanthrope. Next on the chopping block is Sergeant Wells himself, who suffers a torn gut that spews out extra red and raw sausages. The team only manages to drag him and themselves to safety thanks to the timely intervention of a civilian (played by Emma Cleansby). Megan piles the men into her yellow Land Rover and finds shelter in a very isolated farmhouse. There are no phones inside the house, plus the nearest town is four hours away. The only plus sides are the dog and the food that the house's missing family left behind. 

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Dog Soldiers now becomes a siege flick pitting the troops against the werewolves. There are no silver bullets here, so basically all the lads can do is shoot the lycans long and hard enough that they have to go back into the night and lick their wounds. Although the lovable hard man Private Witherspoon (played by Darren Morfitt) cheerfully likens the dire situation to the famous Battle of Rorke's Drift, where heavily outnumbered British soldiers successfully defended against a Zulu attempt to capture their base, few share his enthusiasm. Private Joe Kirkley (played by Chris Robson) calls the whole show "bone" (short for bollocks), but carries on. As can be guessed, the main heroes of the siege are Cooper, "Spoon," and the ailing Sergeant Wells. As for the vile Captain Ryan, he makes a miraculous recovery. Before growing newfound body hair and a few inches in height, the SAS man admits that Sergeant Wells's squad were intentionally led into a trap. They were setup to be bait for a werewolf, that was then to be captured and studied for possible military application. London of course did not reckon that there would be more than one werewolf. As it turns out, there's a whole family of werewolves and the team is holed up in their house. 

The film's penultimate betrayal comes when Megan reveals that she has led the men into their last trap. She's not only a wolfie, but she's also a member of the family that has been trying to kill Private Cooper and company since the twenty minute mark. This leads to a gigantic blowup involving the few remaining men and the whole pack, including Captain Ryan. A stove leaking gas gets involved, and I hope you didn't forget about that silver penknife, for it too plays a part. Only one man survives the whole ordeal. I'm sure you can figure it out. 

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Dog Soldiers has been called the perfect werewolf movie and I concur. Although the coloring makes the film almost too dark to see, the overall ambiance of cold, rainy Scotland is better than perfect. Marshall's direction and script, along with solid performances from the cast, makes Dog Soldiers a can't-miss flicker for all fright film fans. There continues to be talk of a sequel. I hope there's some meat on those bones because I'm hungry for more. 

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