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Friday, August 25, 2006

Blind Picks from Netflix: Dog Soldiers (2002)

When I was a kid I loved to read horror comics, and I had a very special love for war-themed horror comics. I had a stash from the fifties that were dog-eared and suitably jingoistic. Don’t ask me why, but I just loved stories out of “Two-Fisted Tales,” and “War is Hell.” Fortunately, small time filmmakers in the UK have seen fit to revive the genre with such films as “The Bunker,” “Deathwatch,” and today’s film, “Dog Soldiers.”

I added “Dog Soldiers,” to my queue because it is the only other film made by Neil Marshall (“The Descent”) and I wanted to see his other work. It is a rare thing of beauty—a good, solid, incredibly low-budget werewolf movie. It is obvious watching it that the filmmakers had limited funding—the movie looks like it was filmed in 1992, not 2002. Marshall makes up for this deficiency with a good case, great writing and some very creative editing. Borrowing—or perhaps just plain stealing—the editing style from “The Howling,” he manages to make us scared of the werewolves without showing anything more than a choppy blur. When we do see wolfy, however, it is not disappointing, if only because the werewolves look so very odd. They are approximately seven feet tall, with gangly limbs and giant heads. Actually, if Wilt Chamberlain strapped a wolf’s head trophy to his face, it would give you a decent approximation. This is not a put-down, mind you—I actually thought that the wolf costumes were cool, considering what they could have been like (remember Big Wolf on Campus? No? That’s probably for the best). Marshall borrows heavily from other films; the cast and conflicts are from "Alien," the setting from "Night of the Living Dead," and the broad, gorey humor from "Evil Dead." However, like Brian DePalma, Marshall has a true gift for incorporating the elements of other films into his own to create something fresh and immensely entertaining.

On to the plot: A group of British soldiers is sent on a routine training mission in the Highlands of Scotland against a Special Operations squad. When they find the Special Ops folks ripped to pieces, they realize that their mission isn’t routine after all. They lock themselves up in an abandoned farmhouse with an injured nemesis (Liam Cunningham) who is up to something and a zoologist names Megan (Emma Cleasby) who clearly knows more than she is letting on. What follows is a nasty, bloody, knockdown, drag-out battle of tooth and nail between man and beast. I won’t say it’s a great film, but it is a great werewolf film—and I can say as a seasoned horror movie enthusiast that there are not a lot of great werewolf films. Hmm, just to keep count, let’s end this review with a list!

Best Werewolf Movies:

1) Silver Bullet—This is probably the most satisfying werewolf movie ever. It’s wholesome. I’d even venture to say it’s a family werewolf film.
2) Dog Soldiers—See above.
3) American Werewolf in London—John Landis is one of the few directors who understands the balance of horror and comedy in film. Also, Rick Baker provided very good makeup.
4) In The Company of Wolves—I love Angela Carter, but I love Angela Lansbury even more. This movie is spectacular.
5) The Howling—cheeeeezy, but definitive and, at some points, quite terrifying.

Honorable Mention: Wolf –Great concept. Jack Nicholson rocks and James Spader…sigh, he can mess my hair up anytme.


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