British Horror Cult Classic Club: Dog Soldiers

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As serious Anglophiles - that's people who are heavily into British culture, not some kind of white power thing - Jef With One F and John Seaborn Gray are taking a look at some lesser-known British films this month. As the month happens to be October, they will all be horror films. We'll examine and discuss them for your education and general betterment. Cheerio.

Howdy folks! Jef With One F here taking the lead on this, our last entry into the world of British cult horror, posing the questions which John Seaborn Gray will answer. We've got a great one this time around from way back in 2002 and available for viewing completely free on the Tube of You! Dog Soldiers, starring Kevin McKidd as Private Cooper and the one and only Sean Pertwee as Sergeant Wells, follows a group of soldiers as they run a training exercise in the Scottish highlands. All is going according to plan until they run across the survivors of a special forces unit that has been completely eliminated except for one lone surviving Captain. Things get metal (like Ozzy metal) when it turns out this glen is home to a centuries-old clan of werewolves that laugh at bullets and like the taste of human flesh.

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Our heroes, posing amidst typical English gray dampness.
It's a pretty good flick for all that the special FX are a little cheesy by 21st century standards. Werewolves have always been the hardest monsters to really portray in film, even with the best of budgets. However, it has a lot of the same tense vibe that made 28 Days Later such an awesome action horror outing. There's more gunfire than any British movie I have ever seen, as well as some choice gore. It never really rises to the level of scary, but if you've ever wanted to watch a platoon take on werewolves in a firefight you're not going to get a better opportunity.

JEF: Even though it starts off with your typical young couple getting mysteriously mauled, pretty much the whole first act is just the soldiers bullshitting like some kind of English version of the first act in Aliens. It's actually really cool, but I'm not sure if it was supposed to make us care more for the people caught in the impending slaughter or just to illustrate to us who was and wasn't going to make it based on their personalities. What do you think?

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Wuh-oh.
JSG: Yeah, I think it definitely serves to make us like them, and for me, it totally worked. For a bunch of fairly well-disciplined soldiers, they endearingly goof around quite a bit. Seeing them interact before the terror started really had me cheering for Spoon much later, when he unleashed his Jackie Chan-level one-on-one beatdown on one of the werewolves using basically an entire kitchen.

JEF: I have to say this... it's not often that you come across a story from a character that involves getting a tattoo of the devil on your ass that ends up being chilling, poignant, appropriate, and life-changing all at the same time. In this case Wells talks about his friend that ate it on a tank mine in Kuwait and the only bit of skin that survived was a portrait of Ol' Nick on his bum. What would you get tattooed on yourself to offer some protection from evil?

JSG: A winged, undead St. George Carlin of Manhattan, along with his quote, "I say if you're gonna go for the angel bullshit, you might as well go for the zombie package as well."

JEF: How come we always know who the good guy is by the way he refuses to kill a dog?

JSG: There's a whole screenwriting book about this. It's a handy shortcut for when you don't have a lot of time to develop a character before you want the audience rooting for him. It works in reverse, too; tell me you didn't want to wring Ryan's smug fucking neck as soon as he shot that German Shepherd.

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Emma Cleasby as Megan the dogsbody
JEF: So the group gets saved by a random girl in the middle of nowhere and absolutely no one thinks to question it for like 45 minutes worth of screen time? Is Emma Cleasby just that cute or what?

JSG: She's pretty damn cute. I think they picked an Englishwoman who heavily resembled Gillian Andersen to throw us X-Files fans off her scent.

JEF: I'm generally pretty kind to the special effects, but one thing I just couldn't get past was that the "night vision" used by the werewolves was pretty plainly just the same shots done during daylight. How did you react to the effects used?

JSG: The "night vision" thing didn't impress me much technically, but it worked well enough as a device to portray the werewolves in pursuit without always showing them. I liked the fact that the monsters were practical effects with no CGI. I thought the cinematography was generally good at showing enough of them to be creepy but not enough to ruin the illusion by showing the seams in their decent but still decidedly sub-Rick Baker costumes. It's a trick at least as old as Jaws.

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Private Spoon, ladies and gentlemen.
JEF: They totally ate human flesh in the house without knowing it, didn't they?

JSG: Oh yeah.

JEF: Our plucky female lead turns out to be just another werewolf in disguise, hoping to get away from her weird family. Then the whole things just degenerates into bitch jokes and a crack about it being "that time of the month." Honestly, pretty much everything Megan did seemed completely insane and pointless to me. You could have lifted her right out and it would have made a lot more sense.

JSG: "Being nice to women will get you nowhere, Cooper. Being nice to me will get you killed. You may think we're all bitches, but me... I'm the real thing." I feel bad that an actress had to say this. Was Neil Marshall going through a bad breakup during the writing process? I don't actually think Megan was one of the werewolves, though, until she sliced her hand on the glass that had werewolf blood on it. I think she had been more of a thrall, doing human stuff they needed done on the full moon nights, like digging graves, cleaning up body parts, and making sure the trash gets set out for the morning.

JEF: I like especially how they empty untold rounds into these things and it does nothing, but when it gets convenient all of a sudden one bullet to the head puts them down. It's not as dumb as in Monster Squad when the wolfman reconstructs from being blown up because the dynamite wasn't silver, but it's close.

JSG: No, they didn't just switch from werewolf rules to zombie rules. The only one who died from a gunshot wound alone was Megan, before she was finished changing into a werewolf for the first time. Cooper stabbed Were-Ryan in the heart with a silver letter opener before shooting him in the head.

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Nice doggie... cute little pooch... maybe I got a Milkbone™...
JEF: The epilogue of the film tells us that Private Joe Kirkley's beloved England trounced Germany in the football match 5-1... do you think that knowing that would have made him a bit happier about being killed by a werewolf?

JSG: "England beat the bloody krauts by a rout. I can die now. Proceed, wolf-person."

JEF: Seriously... what do you say when you get back to civilization and you have to tell people about the werewolves?

JSG: You tell them just enough to convince them you didn't murder your squad. Make up a Scooby-Doo story about a crazy wolf cult who wore costumes and fake claws and teeth and body armor, who drugged you with something that made you hallucinate wolf-monsters. (You remember that episode of Scooby Doo, right? Where they got dosed with shrooms?) Leave it up to the forensics people to start spreading the werewolf rumor.

That's all for this year, folks. Thank you for following us these past few weeks, and perhaps we'll see you again. Ta!

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