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Dog Soldiers

First Look Pictures // R // May 5, 2009
List Price: $19.98 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by Adam Tyner | posted June 13, 2009 | E-mail the Author
"We are
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now up against a live, hostile target. So, if Little Red Riding Hood should show up with a bazooka and a bad attitude, I'd expect you to chin the bitch."

Half Predator...half Night of the Living Dead...all werewolf. That's Dog Soldiers. Hell, that's the review, period. Thanks! See ya next time, and don't forget to tip your waitress on the way out.

A handful of British soldiers are dropped in the middle of nowhere in Scotland -- four hours from anything bearing so much as a passing resemblance to civilization -- for a set of war games...what's supposed to be routine training maneuvers. As it turns out, though...? There's nothing all that routine about being picked off one by one by a pack of werewolves. One of the soldiers is skewered on a stray tree branch and is quickly carved apart, and Sarge (Sean Pertwee) is trying to stuff what's left of his guts back under his shirt. Courtesy of a cryptozoologist (Emma Cleasby), her Humvee, and some exceedingly convenient timing, the de-disemboweled sergeant and his surviving soldiers make their way to what looks to be an abandoned farmhouse. Their radio's useless, there's no phone within fifty miles, and only a couple of doors and fine Scottish craftsmanship stand between them and a pack of ravenous werewolves. The only reason the creatures don't swarm the house is because the soldiers are armed to the teeth, but their stock of ammunition is quickly dwindling, and the body count is starting to pile up...

As much
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a horror mix tape as it is a movie, writer/director Neil Marshall (Doomsday; The Descent) strings together one homage to his favorite fright flicks after another. So many of the Dutch angles and shots of the farmhouse seem nicked straight out of the Evil Dead playbook, Marshall makes it a point to quote The Shining and Aliens, he takes the Jaws approach and keeps his killers a looming, unseen menace before they're truly unleashed, the bloodied chunks of meat on its skeleton of a story are Predator-meets-spam-in-a-cabin...and with werewolves! Yes, this is a movie that namechecks an obscurity like Zabriskie Point and also has a werewolf swatting a severed head at a Land Rover.

The first two Ginger Snaps aside, I can't even think of another werewolf flick from the past twenty years that'd be in the running to approaching what Neil Marshall pulls off with Dog Soldiers. It's sopping in barrel drums of the red stuff, the impressive looking wolves have been hammered out with practical effects rather than in some CG render farm in Palo Alto, and even with its cacklingly dark sense of humor, Dog Soldiers can be unnervingly tense...and I mean, c'mon, it has a bareknuckled soldier boxing a werewolf; that's worth ten bucks right there. Sure, the editing's kind of choppy early on, and the werewolves look more convincing when the camera's catching 'em from the waist up, but that's nitpicking. Dog Soldiers is a blood-spattered valentine to the genre and an inhuman amount of fun. I'd have cheerfully stapled on a higher recommendation if there were more to this Blu-ray disc. The extras from earlier DVD releases have been chucked out the driver's side window, and high-def visuals and lossless audio only go so far with such a low-budget, quick-'n-dirty 16mm horror flick. Oh well. With the going price around $13 or $14 as I write this, at least it's cheap. Recommended.

Dog Soldiers was shot on the cheap on gritty 16mm stock, and even though the flick clawed its way into theaters back in 2002, it looks like it could've been shot a full twenty years earlier. First Look did shell out for a 1080p24 master and a shiny new AVC encode, but this is a rough looking movie, so don't waltz in expecting much of a step up over the DVD. The 1.85:1 image is consistently soft and never really belts out all that much in the way of fine object detail. Its colors have that dull, microbudget-16mm-horror tint to 'em, and the photography's saddled with weak black levels and flat contrast. Even the opening and closing titles are excessively soft and sport dull whites. The masking to 1.85:1 also seems to be on the flaky side; there are a few spots where I'd swear I spotted a stray scanline or two bleeding through at the very top. On the upside, though, the transfer's pretty clean -- only a few scattered spots and flecks creep in, and they're easily shrugged off -- and the heavy sheen of grain doesn't make the AVC encode sputter and clearly hasn't been slathered in clumsy noise reduction. The image did seem to smear a couple of times in fast motion, there's something about the frame rate in a few stretches that...just didn't seem right, and I spotted some mild ringing every once in a while.

I guess the less-longwinded version goes something like this: Dog Soldiers is perfectly watchable in high-def, but it's probably not worth the upgrade if you've already forked over fifteen bucks for the DVD, and the uninitiated would be better off keeping their expectations in check.

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Dog Soldiers is packing a 16-bit Dolby TrueHD track, but don't expect all that much there either. Even with the constant sprays of gunfire and a few colossal explosions, the sound effects are flat straight across the board. There's no real distinctness or clarity to the different elements -- they're all kind of muddled together -- and I doubt I'd have been able to pick out much of a difference if this lossless track were side-by-side with a standard issue DVD. I guess the mindset with this 5.1 remix is to keep the surrounds caked under an inch of dust until all hell breaks loose. There's some decent stereo imaging up front, but even the Casiorchestral score barely lurches from the rear speakers. The mix does scream to life during the feral attacks, though, starting with a werewolf spastically clawing at a Humvee and continuing with the wolves at the gatefront door, quick, controlled bursts of gunfire, and the howls and snarls as the beasts mount their assaults. The fidelity's still pretty limited, sure, but this TrueHD track does eventually take better advantage of the other speakers it has within arm's reach. The subwoofer, though...? Not so much. As limp and lifeless as the machine gun fire is, the score belts out at least one room-rattling belch, and the explosions pack kind of a wallop. Still, neither of 'em trump anything I'd expect to hear out of any other format, really...even one of the lower channels on cable. Again, it's a really low-budget flick, I'd rather Neil Marshall and company have shuffled whatever money they had towards splatter rather than sound, and its lossless audio is still completely listenable. Just don't expect your toes to curl outta some sonic orgasm or whatever.

A Dolby Digital stereo track and subtitles in English (SDH) and Spanish round out the audio options.

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Nothing, really: just a handful of standard definition trailers for other First Look releases on Blu-ray.

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The Final Word
Dog Soldiers isn't much of a Blu-ray disc, no, but Neil Marshall's blood-drenched blend of action and horror makes for a hell of a flick, and the sticker price is low enough that it's worth picking up over the DVD anyway. Recommended.
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