Dog Soldiers (2002)
Directed by Neil Marshall

Starring Emma Cleasby Kevin McKidd Liam Cunningham Sean Pertwee Thomas Lockyer

A brilliant, amazing, fun-as-fucking-hell action-horror film from Britain, "Dog Soldiers" may even be a better werewolf film than "Ginger Snaps." It was, at least, one of the very best horror films of 2002, and is a vastly different look at lycanthropy than that Canadian comedy. Sadly, like the previous year's "Ginger Snaps," this wasn't snapped up by major studios and sent to cineplexes across America. At the time of this writing it was still looking for a distributor in the U.S., after enjoying a successful crowd-pleasing run in Britain.

It boasts a pretty big budget for a horror film. A cross between "Scarecrows," "The Howling," "Zulu Dawn," and (of course) "Aliens," "Dog Soldiers" is about a group of British soldiers on a routine training mission in a remote Scottish forest. They come across a badly wounded member of a special ops team, who appears to have been attacked by a wild animal. As the sun starts setting, they find themselves under attack by an army of lycanthropes (that is, werewolves). After their leader is badly injured to the point where his guts are hanging out the group manages to hook up with a lovely, twentysomething female zoologist who just happens to be passing as they stumble out onto a road. They all take shelter in an abandoned house nearby.

She informs them that just about the entire population of this woodsy community consists of lycanthropes, and she's hoping these men have come to rescue her. Not quite believing her, the group takes refuge in a small house, with the last two-thirds of the film playing like a cross between "Night of the Living Dead" and "Aliens," with werewolves coming at them from every opening in the home. No CGI was used to create the werewolves, which look pretty damn impressive (definitely better in the film than they do in the movie stills).

Ever since Hammer Films dissolved in the 1970s, quality British horror has been an endangered species. As a matter of fact, off the top of my head I can't even think of as high-quality a British horror film from the past quarter century as this one. Truth is, "Dog Soldiers" is far better than most of the stuff being generated out of the United States these days, with bloody, realistic effects; a great story; and genuinely tense action. Is it better than that last kick-ass horror-actioner, "Blade 2"? Arguably, yes. "Dog Soldiers" is taking on such an original idea -- war with werewolves -- and delivering something totally unique. "Blade 2" was technically a better movie, but as a sequel to one of the best horror-action films of all time, it had a lot going for it already.

Like all landmark horror films, "Dog Soldiers" takes the conventions of a subgenre (in this case werewolf movies) and tears them apart. It does for werewolf movies what "Blade" did to vampire films. Unlike too many horror films today, it doesn't flinch at bloodshed. "Gut-wrenching" is a good way to describe part of "Dog Soldiers." If you catch the scene with the house pet and the injured officer with his guts hanging out, you'll know what I mean.

"Dog Soldiers" is definitely going to be a classic. Unfortunately, it may be relegated to limited theatrical showings in the U.S., not unlike "Ginger Snaps," before heading to video. If there's any justice left in America, it will be playing at cineplexes across the country before it heads to the small screen. But don't count on it.

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-- Review by Lucius Gore

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