Back on March 22, 2002, a new kind of werewolf film premiered at the Brussels International Fantastic Film Festival in Neil Marshall’s Dog Soldiers. A six-man squad of soldiers on a training mission in the Scottish wilderness come across an enemy that can’t be killed with even the most extreme firepower. How can they defend themselves against these unkillable, bloodthirsty creatures?
Dog Soldiers was written, directed, and edited by Neil Marshall (The Descent 2005) in his feature film debut and stars Sean Pertwee (Event Horizon 1997), Kevin McKidd (Grey’s Anatomy TV series, Trainspotting 1996), Emma Cleasby (Coronation Street TV series), Liam Cunningham (Game Of Thrones TV series), Thomas Lockyer (Cutthroat Island 1995), Darren Morfitt (Star Wars Episode VIII: The Last Jedi 2017), and Doomsday’s (2008) Chris Robson and Leslie Simpson. The makeup and FX were spearheaded by Richard Darwin (Alien v Predator 2004, X-Men franchise), Dave Bonneywell (Event Horizon 1997, Hellboy II: A Golden Army 2008), Harry Wiessenhaan (The Devil’s Own 1997), and Bob Keen (Hellraiser 1987, Candyman 1992). Wiessenhaan also coordinated the action sequences and stunts.
The Werewolves in Dog Soldiers
Let’s start with the werewolves themselves. The monsters created for Dog Soldiers are terrifying. Their tall, thin bodies tower over these trained soldiers, men who are considered some of the toughest humans on the planet. Bullets can’t kill them. They have inhuman strength. These killers have claws that tear through wood and metal, and their long, sharp teeth rend meat like hungry T. Rex’s at a brontosaurus buffet. They’re not covered in hair but have smooth, muscular bodies that remind us of their human aspects. And they’re smart, working together and waiting patiently for the best moment to attack.
The creatures themselves were mostly created out of practical FX. Very little CGI was used since computer generated images were over used at the time and Director Neil Marshall wanted the film focused on the story rather than people looking for faulty CGI. So the werewolves were animatronics and professional dancers in body suits with stilts, an action that highlighted the creatures’ grace and elegant movements. A great decision, if I do say so myself.
The Military Aspect in Dog Soldiers
If anyone is equipped to go toe-to-toe against these supernatural creatures, it’s members of the trained military. Much like Predator (1987), this group of men are trained troopers, confident in their abilities to control a situation. Yet even our most sturdy and strategically minded soldiers are no match against these omnipotent beasts. They’re smart as hell and work together much the same as the soldiers themselves are trained to do.
As Megan (Creasly) says in the film:
“My guess is they’re doing exactly what you’d be doing in their shoes. Working as a team. Looking for a weakness. A way in.”
Dog Soldiers is a military movie. It’s strategic and weapon-heavy and packed with action. The guns—including SA-80s, MP5s, a Mossberg 500 shotgun, a Heckler & Koch HK41, a HK41, a Heckler & Koch P2A1 flare pistol, 9mm Browning HPs, and a Commercial Browning Hi Power Mark III – 9x19mm—commands, and even the random patter was based on true militaristic tactics. Each bullet is counted as its shot. There’s no never ending ammunition here. Even one of the werewolves gets ahold of one of the shotguns. This was important to director Neil Marshall, who wanted to pay tribute to both his father and his grandfather who were both in the military. Even the idea that a cup of tea sorting it all out and the gallows humor the boys use in conversation is common among soldiers.
Then there’s the title: Dog Soldiers. Both the human squad and the werewolf family fit under the label of dog soldiers. The creatures, so like canines, behave like soldiers, while men in the lower end of the military are often called dogfaces or dog soldiers.
The Humor in Dog Soldiers
The humor in Dog Soldiers is pitch black to break the tension of the bloody life-or-death moments, and no matter how bad it got, the boys would always find a way to make a joke. From Cooper telling the slowly turning Ryan, “You… sit. Stay,” to someone yelling, “Bad dog!” as soon as he turned, the humor did not quit. Then there’s the scene where Private Witherspoon is killed, but Cooper and Ryan are still looking for him. Ryan finds Spoon’s watch in a pile of shredded guts and says, “There is no Spoon.” This is a direct shoutout to The Matrix (1999).
Trivia from Dog Soldiers (from IMDb)
Some of the corpses hanging around in the basement were originally created for and used in Event Horizon (1997). Actor Sean Pertwee was in both movies.
Simon Pegg was offered a part in the film, but turned it down after Edgar Wright asked him to save his first horror role for Shaun of the Dead (2004).
Chris Robson (Joe Kirkley) made a confession to Neil Marshall on the night they were set to shoot the scene where his character runs to the barn and drives the jeep back up to the house. He couldn’t drive. Marshall punished his tardy admission by making him attempt it anyways for the first take. “He did it and ran off the road.”
The movie probably takes place on the 1 and 2 September 2001, as England did indeed beat Germany 5 – 1 on the night of the 1st. Those nights were indeed full moons.
Neil Marshall is constantly asked about a sequel, but “I think I can fairly safely say that there’s never going to be a sequel now.” He had a whole trilogy planned, but he says it was never up to him anyway as the rights don’t belong to him. His own sequel plans alternated between Cooper (McKidd) battling more werewolves or facing off against other supernatural creatures instead. He jokes that it’ll probably end up getting remade before it gets a sequel. “Probably as a found footage movie or something.”
The dog (Sam’s) real name was Villrikke’s Acer, and he was “very lovely but kind of the worst trained movie dog” Marshall’s ever encountered.
Megan says that the werewolves are kind people in human form but it’s most likely a lie because the stew in the cottage that the soldiers eat is described as tasting like pork. Towards the end of the film, the corpse-filled cellar seems disturbingly like a meat larder, and real-life cannibals have commonly reported that human meat tastes like pork. This works two ways: it reveals the werewolf family when in human form were not only hiding their victims’ bodies around their house but were also cooking and eating them, and it indicates the soldiers were unknowingly eating human stew.
The film is a motif of the classic fairytales Little Red Riding Hood – Sgt Wells name drops her, Bruce strays from the beaten path and immediately gets killed, Megan turns out to be a werewolf disguised as a human. Goldilocks & The Three Bears – the soldiers find food on the stove and help themselves, and Cooper mockingly compares the werewolves to the three bears later on. Fittingly Cooper is the only blond in the group as well. The Three Little Pigs – the soldiers barricade themselves in a house to protect from the big bad wolves. The house gets literally blown down in the climax.