Dir: Neil Marshall. UK. 2001. 105mins
A zestful, unpretentious slab of prime British horror movie, Dog Soldiers delivers enough guts and gore to please most genre fans. Cheerfully acknowledging its limitations and influences without toppling into post-modern parody, it also has the chance of reaching a wider general audience. The mixture of bloodletting, black humour and bad taste could endear it to a younger multiplex crowd, promising healthy theatrical results when it is released in the UK on May 10. International prospects are reasonably robust in markets where there's an appetite for old-fashioned scary movie schlock served with gusto and laced with cult potential. The film took the audience prize and best film award - from a jury that included Christopher Lee and Tetsuo director Shinya Tsukamoto - at the Brussels Festival Of Fantasy Film last month.
Writer-director-editor Neil Marshall sets the scene for his feature debut with two prologues. In one a young couple in the remote Scottish Highlands fall foul of a ravenous, unrelenting and unseen beast. In the other, rebellious soldier Cooper (McKidd) survives a gruelling set of army manoeuvres but fails to qualify because of his refusal to shoot an innocent dog. Four weeks later, Cooper is one of six soldiers on a routine training exercise in the very Highland spot where the couple disappeared without a trace.
Having set the scene for monster mayhem, Marshall delays going in for the kill and instead establishes the rowdy camaraderie in a gung-ho unit led by tough guy Sergeant Wells (Pertwee). Armed with blanks and dummy grenades, the men regard their assignment as a waste of time, especially as they miss a vital football fixture between England and Germany. As they exchange campfire stories designed to chill the blood, the mangled carcass of a cow plummets from the sky. On the move, they discover Captain Ryan (Cunningham) looking "like he took on Jack The Ripper and lost". Running for their lives, they are rescued by biologist Megan (Cleasby) and take refuge in an abandoned farmhouse that is soon under siege from a ferocious pack of giant-sized werewolves.
Reminiscent of The Blair Witch Project and Predator in its early stages, the film changes course to emulate Evil Dead, An American Werewolf In London, Aliens and countless westerns as the surviving soldiers face waves of attacks from drooling, sharp-clawed furry creatures that Marshall eventually reveals in their full glory. Despite the raft of American influences, it retains a British sensibility throughout with its cheesy one-liners and soldiers who respond to the escalating terror by brewing a nice pot of tea.
There are lapses in logic, dialogue and characterisation, missed opportunities along the way and the one major female role is seriously underwritten but sheer energy, cheek and pace allow it to transcend its failings. The always reliable McKidd is rock solid as the ultimate leader of the soldiers, production values are good and Marshall manages to keep everything on track as the scope of the film shrinks from attractive outdoor locations to the increasingly claustrophobic setting of the farmhouse. Unashamedly commercial British film-making that delivers the goods, Marshall's first feature will certainly gain him a following among horror aficionados and will definitely not be confused with the 1978 Vietnam drama of the same name starring Nick Nolte.
Prod cos: Kismet Entertainment Group, Noel Gay Motion Picture Company, Carousel Picture Company
UK dist: Pathe UK
Int'l sales Victor Film Co
Prod: Christopher Figg, David Allen, Tom Reeve
Exec prod: Harmon Kaslow, Romain Schroeder, Vic Bateman
Cinematography: Sam McCurdy
Prod des: Simon Bowles
Music: Mark Thomas
Main cast: Sean Pertwee, Kevin McKidd, Emma Cleasby, Liam Cunningham, Thomas Lockyer