This week, Scream Factory is celebrating Neil Marshall’s stunning debut feature, Dog Soldiers, with a special Collector’s Edition Blu-ray and DVD combo pack that is nothing short of an amazing feat in itself. And while there has been some controversy surrounding the quality of the transfer (more on that later), what I will say is that regardless, SF has done an excellent job with their overall presentation of the disc and it’s nice to see the spotlight finally on Dog Soldiers, a film that has flown mostly under the radar here in the States since it was first released back on DVD in 2002.
Dog Soldiers starts off with a weekend military exercise that goes horribly awry, when a group of Scottish soldiers are sent off to a wooded area that also happens to be a haven for strange happenings, as a string of disappearances have occurred there over the years. As they make their way through the area, they stumble across the blood-soaked remains of a highly-armed special ops unit and only one survivor, Captain Ryan (Liam Cunningham), who’s found repeating “there was supposed to be only one.” A foreboding message the soldiers don’t recognize as an impending threat, they soon encounter something they're wholly unprepared for—a deadly pack of lycanthropes on the hunt for fresh prey. As the group narrowly escapes their beastly clutches, they are rescued by a woman (Emma Cleasby) residing in a nearby area who brings them to her home to regroup. Once they arrive though, they begin to realize that this may end up being a no-win situation for all of them as the werewolves arrive and are hell-bent on killing every last person hiding inside the house.
There’s a critic’s quote on the artwork for Dog Soldiers comparing Marshall’s debut with another iconic horror debut—The Evil Dead—and I truly believe that comparison is probably the closest thing you’ll ever get to perfectly summarizing just why this film is so special. With his werewolf-centric story, Marshall demonstrates that you don’t always need a huge budget to create a kick-ass movie (although budgets certainly helped his later works like The Descent and the criminally underrated Doomsday). Dog Soldiers also proved Marshall’s ability to handle hugely ambitious material and found a way to bring werewolves back into the genre fold in a believably scary and ferocious way, something I appreciated as a fan of the subgenre.
Marshall’s run-and-gun, low-fi style of shooting adds a gritty sense of realism to Dog Soldiers and immerses viewers in the disorienting wooded landscape. As potential lycanthrope victims, the entire cast all deliver strong performances across the board, particularly Cunningham, who plays his character out like a smug poker player who thinks he’s two steps ahead of everyone else. Cleasby also offers the very male-centric film with a much-needed shot of estrogen as a mysterious zoologist named Megan who also has a few secrets of her own that could have huge implications for the men trapped inside her home.
While it may get bogged down from time to time with a bit of exposition, Dog Soldiers is still an incredible showcase of Marshall’s (then) burgeoning talent, bursting with raw action and demonstrating that you don’t always need the biggest budget or the best filmmaking tools at your disposal if you know how to create a fiercely compelling and engaging story—one that’s a fantastic blend of monsters and low-budget mayhem. I’d also like to commend Dog Soldiers for featuring some of the best werewolf designs this side of An American Werewolf in London and The Howling—a feat most modern lycanthrope films just haven’t quite achieved (although Late Phases gets pretty damned close).
Now, onto the recent controversy regarding the quality of the Dog Soldiers Blu-ray. There’s been some hubbub in the last week or so over the quality of the picture featured in Scream Factory’s Collector’s Edition release and, to be fair, the complaints aren’t completely unjustified. A lot of the night scenes are incredibly noisy, almost enough to be a distraction in some of the earlier scenes, but, as a whole, Dog Soldiers still looks infinitely better here than it has anywhere else.
Shot on 16mm film, there is going to always be an issue with grain and resolution but really, with a film like this (much like The Evil Dead), I feel that a clean and glossy picture quality would actually take away from Dog Soldiers’ low-fi charms. Would I have loved to see something better? Sure. But as it has been stated by Marshall, a film negative was unable to be retrieved for this release, so he and Scream Factory painstakingly did everything they could with the resources and materials they had. And with that in mind, I am good with the final results (even if I will always hold out hope that one day the Dog Soldiers negative will indeed be located).
Anyone who has become a fan of Marshall’s work over the last thirteen years will definitely want to spend some time with the audio commentary on Dog Soldiers,but the really great stuff is found in the “Making Of” featurette as well as the stills gallery— courtesy of the production designer and special effects artist—that gives fans a rare look into all that went into the creation of this modern cult classic. I’m a sucker for what goes into making a great monster movie and the bonus material on Dog Soldiers did not disappoint at all.
Movie Rating: 4/5, Disc Rating: 3.5/5