Certain movies are so good that their winning formula creates a whole new genre. Die Hard is a prime example. How often have you seen movies that are essentially Die Hard in some other environment? My personal favorite is still Under Siege: Die Hard + boat + Steven Segal +Gary Busey + Tommy Lee Jones = Awesome! Another trend-setter was Zulu: Michael Caine + British Army vs. literally A MILLION Zulus. It is an incredible picture, and has inspired its fair share of imitators, such as Dog Soldiers.
There are few things that can’t be made better with werewolves. Neil “I bring the balls back to horror” Marshall’s 2002 feature film debut takes the Zulu formula and in place of Zulus gives us 7-foot-tall-blood-thirsty Scottish werewolves.
And we should all thank him for it.
Dog Soldiers follows a doomed squad of British soldiers on a training exercise against American soldiers. Just when everything is going fine, the British squad find the remains of a completely separate special ops team and are immediately attacked by what ate the rest. The rest of the film follows the squad as they hole up in a farmhouse desperately fighting insurmountable odds to make it to the dawn.
We get to see the beginnings of a few staples of Marshall’s film-making: great characters with decent development, juxtaposition/rearrangement of older themes to create new craziness, and balls out gore!
Kevin McKidd of Rome and Trainspotting leads our plucky band of Brit soldiers, including the always brilliant and gravelly-voiced Sean Pertwee, and channels past great “I don’t know what the hell’s going on, but I’m dealing with it” characters like Kurt Russell’s in The Thing or Ben Affleck’s in Phantoms. Yeah, I put them in the same sentence. For as we all know: “Affleck was the bomb in Phantoms, yo.”
What makes these characters intriguing is that they attack the werewolf problem as if it were just another enemy. The deck is stacked against them, sure, but they apply their army training and determination with a surprising degree of effectiveness.
As I mentioned, werewolves make everything better, and I have to say, as something of a connoisseur, these are some great werewolves. Admittedly, the film was low budget so Marshall uses them much like Steven Spielberg used the shark in Jaws : brief moments, quick glances, and hideous violence. Though once Marshall finally lets the audience get a good look at the wolves, they are quite memorable. Intimidating figures with distinctive wolf features as compared to the wolves in the first two Underworld films that had no fur, and didn't really look like anything. As an added bonus, these wolves have no compunction with turning six feet of badass Brit into a wet pile of goo!
Marshall creates a film that at first glance does not know what it should be; but, in fact, it mixes multiple genres to create its own voice and a wickedly good, adrenaline-fueled ride.