Horror comedy; if it’s done right it can be glorious, but is a tricky one to pull off. Think of An American werewolf in London, The Evil Dead series, Shaun of the dead. When they work they really work.
Dog soldiers is very much a film of its time, early 2000s lad’s mag mentality. It is contextual however, with the main characters being a band of soldiers on a training recce. Football, kebabs on the way home, get the beers in, women are posh birds or slappers, more football; macho bullshit all the way. In that manner this film has aged badly, yet if that’s your kind of thing you’ll have a riot, and remember the ‘good old days’ when PC culture hadn’t quashed such attitudes. That English so-called charm is here in buckets, with the class divide played out as it goes on. Sean Pertwee’s Cockney babble played so full-on it hurts, and football considered life or death - not merely a game.
With lines such as ‘’You think it’s all over..it is now’’, a reference to The Matrix (having come thick on its coattails) which comes from one character having the name Spoon, and Kevin McKidd’s Cooper thinking all women are bitches, only to find out, to his great surprise, how right he was. You sure get to know this bunch, in the midst of slaughter, and to a degree you give a shit.
Much of the humour comes from the ragtag group having rough edges, it’s gone on record that a lot of the dialogue was improvised. That shows in such hilarious scenes as when the Sarge exclaims ‘‘Sausages’’ as he lays there with his guts hanging out, only moments before the dog of the house had been pulling at his intestines thinking it was getting a tasty meal of the aforementioned meat delicacy. In the same scene the male posturing is put under spotlight when the only female in the building asks if they would ‘’like to be alone’’, as a dying man (?) spurts forth the love he has for his fellow brother. If anyone is in doubt to the director’s stance on gender politics they should check out his subsequent film, The Descent.
This horror comedy may seem a mile away from where Marshall next went, but there is a reason Dog Soldiers works, and it is in fact a bloody entertaining film. Comedy is hard to play with the horror mixed in, and vice versa; the scares need to work and boy do they! Once the action starts, and the bodies fly, there is no let up. The SFX benefit from being practical, no CGI here. Just look at the only other lycanthrope film of that period - An American werewolf in Paris - to see how everybody was using the new technology, and how bad it looks now. The low budget shines through, and is used to every advantage.
Leading up to where this film-maker would lay his stamp on the genre, we can note gloopy sound FX, gallons of blood ‘n’ gore and subtle use of creatures lit slightly in the shadowy darkness. Full use of model work, and brilliant conveyance of tension by soundscape to fill in the gaps. It’s easy to see, on reflection, how Neil Marshall became of a master of the genre. From this little comedy film, a great acorn grew.
Well worth revisiting this ‘bad dog’, now all shiny and new in 4K from Second Sight and Vertigo Releasing.
Catch 'Dog Soldiers' now at a cinema near you