Neil Marshall’s gnarly take on the werewolf genre
Synopsis: A group of soldiers dispatched to the Scottish Highlands on special training maneuvers face their biggest fears after they run into Captain Ryan — the only survivor of a Special Ops team that was literally torn to pieces. Ryan refuses to disclose his mission even though whoever attacked his men might be hungry for seconds. Help arrives in the form of a local woman who shelters them in a deserted farmhouse deep in the forest … but when they realize that they are surrounded by a pack of blood-lusting werewolves, it’s apparent their nightmare has just begun!
There’s not a whole lot of new to Dog Soldiers, but what it does do, it does incredibly well. The premise involves planting a siege film, think Assault On Precinct 13 or Night Of The Living Dead, firmly in the midst of a werewolf slaughter. A rapidly escalating situation for a British army regiment, holed up in an old farmhouse, find their ammo, and men, are rapidly being depleted. A crew to root for, dire circumstances, snappy dialogue, tense action set-pieces, lashings of gore, and a thick streak of black humor, mean fans of either genres are satisfied. Beyond the squaddies vs monsters angle, there’s an extra layer of darkness and intrigue that comes from how this sticky situation all came about. This is not just a training exercise that has gone wrong, but an orchestrated event by a special intelligence unit to use these men as bait, to lure out these creatures for some nefarious reason.
Clearly ran off a tight budget, the lo-fi approach only adds to the charm of the film. A stripped down affair, where the aesthetic standouts are an authentic, and well-utilized farmhouse, and the hauntingly elegant werewolves that stalk it. What really makes this all work is the sense of camaraderie of the cast, a motley crew of British (and Irish!) character actors, enlisted to serve as fodder and foe for these werewolves. Kevin McKidd (Rome, Trainspotting), Sean Pertwee (Gotham, Event Horizon), and Liam Cunningham (Game of Thrones, Hunger) headline, but the entire ensemble relish every moment of action, the quieter moments as they contemplate their doom, and every line of dialogue that drips with laddy banter and shit-talking. Writer-director Neil Marshall, whose The Descent stands up as one of the all time greats of horror hits the notes you’d expect from a genre film of this type. Infusing creativity and intensity, and balancing wit with basal levels of bawdy humor. Marshall is often at his best, working with a great assortment of characters and veering between comedy and tense moments, and Dog Soldiers has that in spades.
So 4K. It’s all the rage right? But for Dog Soldiers, the format is likely to generate a little more excitement than usual. Originally, the film was shot on 16mm. Many of the presentations/releases have been of poorer quality, sourced from cinema prints, or blown up in some way. This is an all new 4K scan of the original camera negative, the transfer and restoration of which having been approved by Director Neil Marshall And Director Of Photography Sam McCurdy. Memories of the film, being saturated, high in contrast, and roughly hewn with grain is somewhat part of its charm. This restoration maintains much of the grit and muck of the film, due to the 16mm source, but the step up in detail and clarity of image is impressive. This is most noticeable in terms of seeing the work done to realize the werewolves late in the film. Blacks are more solid, flesh tones are natural. There is a general tilt toward cooler tones, something that feels a departure from previous viewings, and there is some clear artifacting as the camera pans over the Scottish forests near the beginning of the film. Overall, the 4K treatment of Dog Soldiers is a transformative wok. In addition to the 4K, Shout! have paired the release with a smorgasbord of extra features:
Disc 1 4K-UHD
- NEW Audio Commentary With Writer And Associate Professor Of Film Alison Peirse: Well researched and certainly interesting, Peirse’s contributions coves the film well, and places it into content against the werewolf horror sub-genre, and this films own enduring status
- Audio Commentary With Director Neil Marshall: Archival, but still holds up great. Adds context to shooting the film with limited time and money, the practical effects, the cast and crew, some logistical issues, and fun little tidbits from the set
- Audio Commentary With Producers David Allen And Brian O’Toole: A good overview on the production side, how various sequences and aspects of the film were realized, and its enduring popularity
Disc 2 Blu-ray
- NEW Audio Commentary with Writer And Associate Professor Of Film Alison Peirse: as above
- Audio Commentary With Director Neil Marshall: as above
- Audio Commentary With Producers David Allen And Brian O’Toole: as above
- NEW “Werewolves, Crawlers, Cannibals And More” — An Interview With Neil Marshall: Just shy of 40 minutes, this is a great ‘self-retrospective’ from the filmmaker
- NEW “A History Of Lycanthropy” — Author Gavin Baddeley On Werewolf Cinema: A well researched breakdown of various lycan-fueled features, and how various entries impacted the horror genre in general
- NEW “Werewolves, Folklore And Cinema” — A Video Essay By Author Mikel J. Koven: A product of the COVID ea, as the author reads his contribution over Zoom. At its most interesting when breaking down how the film industry approached these monstrous figures
- “Werewolves Vs. Soldiers” — A Look At The Making Of Dog Soldiers Featuring Interviews With Director Neil Marshall, Producers Christopher Figg And Keith Bell, Actors Kevin McKidd, Sean Pertwee, Darren Morfitt, Leslie Simpson And Emma Cleasby, Special Effects Artist Bob Keen, And More!: Just over an hour, this is a really solid featurette that pulls together interviews with a large number of the cast and crew to discuss the film, experiences on set, filming hi-jinks, and more
- “A Cottage In The Woods” — A Look At The Production Design With Production Designer Simon Bowles: A large chunk of the film takes place in this farmstead, so it’s great to see the work that went into planning out the structure, and how filming within it was navigated
- Combat — A Short Film By Neil Marshall: Just 8 minutes in length, worth a watch, you might even spot a familiar face or two
- UK Theatrical Trailers And U.S. Home Video Promo:
- Two Still Galleries — Photos From The Film And Rare Photos From Production Designer Simon Bowles And Special Effects Artist Dave Bonneywell’s Archives
The Bottom Line
Neil Marshall’s Dog Soldiers distills the essence of a siege movie and drops it into the midst of a werewolf slaughter. A tight and entertaining slice of horror, driven by a gung-ho cast and some gnarly moments. Shout! Factory deliver a truly impressive 4K restoration, with a comparably top-notch selection of extra features, resulting in a package with real pedigree.