Dog Soldiers - Second Sight Limited Edition 4K Blu Ray Release Review
Director: Neil Marshall
Starring: Sean Pertwee, Kevin McKidd, Emma Cleasby, Liam Cunningham, Darren Morfitt
Written by: Neil Marshall
Produced by: Christopher Figg, David E. Allen, Tom Reeve
Cinematography by: Sam McCurdy
Original Score by: Mark Thomas
A routine military exercise turns into a nightmare in the Scotland wilderness.
20 years ago I, along with two close friends, went to our local cinema to watch a random horror film about werewolves. It was a fairly arbitrary decision. We probably hadn't even seen a trailer or knew anything about the film except what was shown on the poster. Two hours later we came out of the screening buzzing, laughing and rambling uncontrollably about how fucking amazing 'Dog Soldiers' was. And now thanks to Second Sight Films, Neil Marshall's best film (?) gets a stunning 4K restoration from it's original 16mm camera negative, complete with Director and Producer commentaries, video essays and a slew of awesome documentaries about the making of the film and the history of Lycanthropes.
"You may think all woman are bitches...but I'm the real thing!"
I mentioned in the opening paragraph that 'Dog Soldiers' is Neil Marshall's best film. Well that's a debate that could last a very long time and certainly his second feature film 'The Descent' should be thrown into that equation too. The latter basically borrowed the thematic premise but changed the location and the danger whilst also flipping the genders. From a technical stance 'Dog Soldiers' may not necessarily live up to some of Marshall's later works but for pure fun, action packed, balls to the walls horror, this little low-budget werewolf flick is really difficult to beat. It's super rough around the edges and you can tell that Marshall and DoP Sam McCurdy are doing everything in their power to hide any of the imperfections, but the flaws are part and parcel of the DNA of what makes great horror films great. Marshall was clearly still learning his profession but looking back on 'Dog Soldiers' two decades later still brings a massive smile to my face.
Much of what makes 'Dog Soldiers' such an enjoyable watch is the chemistry between the group of lads. It sounds a bit cheesy but you really get a sense that the soldiers were a brotherhood and that makes what happens to them all the more tragic to watch. The camaraderie feels genuine and the dialogue is super quirky. It doesn't actually sound like they're just rhyming off words from a script and it adds some authenticity to the group. Liam Cunningham is such a good actor that I wanted to smash my TV in every time his face appeared on the screen. And Sean Pertwee is just magical. His natural charisma makes him the standout amongst a group of talented character actors. Marshall was able to recreate some of this success with the female cast of 'The Descent' although with that film he added in a layer of toxicity and betrayal which played into the how the plot thickened as the film progressed. Clearly Neil Marshall likes ensembles and he also likes monsters and I'm not sure he's ever really been able to better his version of the werewolf.
"What happened? We were attacked by huge, fuckin' howlin' things that's what!"
The best horror films are those that throw the lead character(s) into insurmountable peril, to the point of no escape, and manage to take you on a journey full of tension and scares, twists and turns, blood and gore and a genuinely emotional experience. It doesn't hurt if there's a good dose of comedic entertainment in there too and 'Dog Soldiers' is overflowing with all of the above.
Set in the remote Scottish Highlands, (but filmed in Luxembourg) a small group of squaddies are taking part in a routine military exercise when they are suddenly attacked by "something" animalistic. They come across a commanding officer who has been brutally injured by the beast. On the cusp of death the officer, played by Liam Cunningham, repeats the phrase "There was only supposed to be one". Soon the group is set upon by a gang of vicious humanoid wolves whose relentless attacks end up killing and maiming a few of them. Desperate and without any real knowledge of what's attacking them, the group make contact with a zoologist called Megan who takes them to relative safety at a nearby cottage in the woods. But their night is about to get worse because the werewolves have followed them and it's only a matter of time before dinner is served.
It's brutal. It's bloody. It's hilarious fun. The entire film is as unrelenting as the ferocious werewolves themselves, never really taking any prolonged moments to breathe and relax. Its unflinching, carnal chaos held together by a tight script and amazing performances from the main cast. Throw in some of the coolest werewolf designs ever brought to screen, innovative practical effects and makeup and viscerally bloody violence and it's easy to see why 'Dog Soldiers' is regularly featured on some of those 'Greatest British Horror FIlm' lists. Marshall cast professional dancers in the role of the werewolves instead of taking the traditional stuntman route because he wanted them to appear graceful on screen. He used forced camera angles and lowered ceilings to give them even more height and add an extra layer of menace and power as they towered over the humans. Its bursting with endlessly quotable one-liners and full of gorgeous visuals. One thing that really surprised me this time around was just how beautifully epic Mark Thomas' score is. It really level ups the action and poignant moments of the film.
You can read in more detail about the painstakingly intricate process of restoring the original negative to 4K in the 2022 Arrow FrightFest Guide as approved by Director Neil Marshall and DoP Sam McCurdy.
- Gavin Logan
'Dog Soldiers' Limited Edition 4K UHD/BluRay & Standard Edition 4k/BluRay are now available to buy from Second Sight Films www.secondsightfilms.co.uk