Turns out 2001 was the year of the werewolf. But if you're a U.S. moviegoer you sure as heck would NEVER know it! Two breakout horror pictures, one Canadian and the other British, made the long mangy subgenre of horror howl back to life. CineSchlockers took notice and voted Ginger Snaps the top DVD that year. Now comes its guns 'n' gore cousin from across the pond Dog Soldiers (2001, 104 minutes). Writer/director Neil Marshall's flick set a box office record when it debuted in England. Here? It couldn't even garner a wide theatrical release! Instead, the Sci Fi Channel rightly saw its merits and provided a domestic venue. Hollywood's abysmal treatment of these movies is a sobering example of just how crucial DVD is to genre filmmakers and fans. Because it's painfully clear the present theatrical system doesn't see a significant market for horror pictures that don't feature cast members of "Dawson's Creek," or worse yet, feature actors with funny accents. Hence the Americanized remake of The Ring. Perhaps its impressive box office success can loosen the logjam of teen ensemble slashers and CGI-addled spook fests, allowing cult winners such as Ginger Snaps and Dog Soldiers to find a traditional audience. On second thought, we may experience world peace first.
The movie: A British military unit on a training exercise in the Scottish highlands finds itself in the ransacked camp of the special forces troops they were sent to engage. Nothing's in one piece and most everything that DOES remain is covered in blood. Then up from the rubble pops a frantic officer, his chest slashed in a claw-like pattern, and in his terror he repeats again and again, "There was only supposed to be ONE!" Fighting darkness, the team evacuates the injured Capt. Ryan (Liam Cunningham) and sets out in search of shelter only to be attacked themselves. But the enemy just happens to be a pack of WEREWOLVES! That's a fact none of these troopers are quick to embrace. Instead they focus on finding a defensible structure, namely a small isolated cottage, and prepare to reenact the best bits of Zulu -- except with MUCH furrier adversaries. It's a goldang grim situation, but the flick's also wryly witty. Take the plight of Sgt. Wells (Sean Pertwee) who's literally GUTTED by a 7-foot werewolf, yet he still manages to ape Abbott & Costello with Cooper (Kevin McKidd). "Put 'em back in again!," Cooper shouts while trying to stuff Wells' innards from whence they came. "They won't fit!," Wells screeches. Later he plays tug-of-war with a dog who takes a liking to his bloody bandages. Or when Cooper and his new lady friend Megan (Emma Cleasby) get him good and liquored up and prepare to Super Glue his gut shut, he looks down at the gruesome mess and beams, "Sausages!" CineSchlockers won't know whether to projectile vomit or laugh their keisters off. There's just enough of that sort of thing, along with fierce machine gun attacks and werewolves attempting to huff, puff and blow the cottage down as to keep audiences panting. Occasionally, there's even breaks to catch a breath or two. It's in such moments when the aforementioned Capt. Ryan regains his composure and takes to being a deliciously evil badass who seems to relish the cruel reality that they're pretty much doomed. But the night's not over yet.
Personally, what pushes this flick from great to danged brilliant, is the slyly hilarious final credit sequence. Trust me on that. CineSchlockers will likely recognize Mr. McKidd from his role as Tommy in Trainspotting, or if you're like yours truly and spend an obscene number of waking hours playing Grand Theft Auto: Vice City, you may place his voice as that of Love Fist manager Jezz Torrent.
Notables: No breasts. Seven corpses. Tent pitching. Point-blank canine execution. Head tumbles. Puking. Werewolf cam. Gratuitous slow mo. Flame throwing. Involuntary cannibalism. Multiple gun battles. One flying cow. Gratuitous campfire story. Flashlight to the brainpan. Howling. Tree branch impalement.
Quotables: Sgt. Wells barks, "I expect nothing less than gratuitous VIOLENCE from the lot of you. Just because we're firing blanks doesn't mean we have to be thinking NICE thoughts!" It seems Cooper agrees, "High spirits are just no substitute for 800 rounds a minute!" Spoon (Darren Morfitt) on his future as werewolf chow, "I hope I give you the s@#%s you f#@%ing wimp!!!"
Time codes: Wells regales his men with the tale of Eddie Oswald's wartime tattoo (14:50). A full moon means only one thing -- and it ain't good (19:25). Ryan explains how we arrived at this wacky crossroads of events (1:17:42). It ain't a good plan if you don't get to blow stuff up! (1:26:16).
Audio/Video: This anamorphic widescreen (1.85:1) print exhibits quite a bit of grain throughout. Certainly no surprise given how much of the picture plays out at night, and a smokey one at that. On the commentary, there's apparent reference to the flick having been shot in 16 mm. Perhaps the gritty feel is partially due to being blown up to 35? Regardless, it's nothing that distracts from the story. The Dolby Digital 5.1 track thumps the gunplay as it should and there's especially some nice movement when werewolves are attacking at all sides of the house. A 2.0 track is also included, as well as a fullframe transfer for the narrow minded.
Extras: Commentary by stateside producers David Allen and Brian O'Toole (two of about EIGHT including Hellraiser's Christopher Figg). Thankfully, this isn't the typical "producer vanity track," as both enthusiastically share very detailed insights on the flick's production. They also make a bit of a game by pointing out Mr. Marshall's homages to everything from Evil Dead to The Matrix to Saving Private Ryan. Still, fans will likely be disappointed to not be offered a track from the writer/director himself, or his cast. However, a 20-minute, but clip-heavy featurette goes a ways toward filling that void with onset interviews and a behind-the-grue look at the creature FX. Trailers. Uninspired menus with audio. The flick really deserves a proper special edition showcase. Most of all, where's the deleted "Peek-a-Boobs" scene?
Final thought: There's already talk of a sequel and it simply can't arrive soon enough! Highly Recommended.
G. Noel Gross is a Dallas graphic designer and avowed Drive-In Mutant who specializes in scribbling B-movie reviews. Noel is inspired by Joe Bob Briggs and his gospel of blood, breasts and beasts.