The episode of Best Horror Movie You Never Saw covering Dog Soldiers was Written by Cody Hamman, Narrated by Kier Gomes, Edited by Juan Jimenez, Produced by John Fallon and Tyler Nichols, and Executive Produced by Berge Garabedian.
A group of well-trained soldiers are dropped into the wilderness. Where they start getting picked off by a mysterious attacker. It quickly becomes apparent that their enemy is some kind of monstrous creature. And the weapons they have aren’t so effective when the target isn’t human. This sounds like a description of Predator – but it’s actually Dog Soldiers (watch it HERE). Which is one of the coolest werewolf movies ever made, and The Best Horror Movie You Never Saw.
Neil Marshall knew from an early age that he wanted to be a filmmaker. Raised on the classics from the ‘70s and ‘80s, he was especially fond of horror. The films of John Carpenter, John Landis, Joe Dante, Peter Jackson, Sam Raimi. When he took a film course, most of his classmates made attempts at directing artsy dramas. He made a zombie movie. He bonded with fellow film student Keith Bell over their shared love for The Evil Dead. Soon after their time in that film course, Marshall had an idea for a werewolf movie. He would eventually describe this idea as “Saving Private Ryan with werewolves”… but when it first occurred to him, Saving Private Ryan was still years away. Marshall took the first notes on Dog Soldiers in 1995. He wrote the first draft in 1996. He pitched the idea to Bell, and they wrote out an informal contract on a napkin: one day Marshall was going to direct a werewolf movie called Dog Soldiers. And Bell was going to produce it. This was the first step in what turned out to be a six year process of getting Dog Soldiers made and released.
The problem was, the British film industry didn’t have any interest in a project like this. They wanted the next Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels. The next Notting Hill. They didn’t want to make a werewolf movie. It was also difficult to get support for the project because Marshall was a first time filmmaker. So he shot a teaser trailer and a ten minute short called Combat to prove that he could direct. They were able to get some producers and executives attached, including Hellraiser producer Christopher Figg. But they couldn’t secure enough funding. Until they met an American financier named David E. Allen. Who had made millions in the spinach business and was now looking to get into film production. Coincidentally, he was hoping to make a werewolf movie. Once Allen and his money got involved, Dog Soldiers was on the fast track.
The story Marshall wrote centers on a squad of British soldiers who are dropped into the wilderness of the Scottish Highlands. They believe they’re on a training exercise, firing blanks in a match-up with members of the Special Forces. But as it turns out, they’re being used as bait. Hikers and campers have been going missing in this area. Leaving behind nothing but shredded tents and blood. The Special Forces team has been sent to capture the beast that’s responsible: a werewolf. The other squad was just meant to unwittingly draw the creature out into the open. And probably be its victims. But there isn’t just one werewolf. There’s a whole pack of them. And they wipe out the Special Forces team first, leaving the ill-informed squad to fight for survival. They catch a ride with a local woman, who takes them to a nearby cabin. Where they spend the rest of the night trying to fight off the werewolves. Hoping to find a way to escape.
Our hero is Private Cooper, and he proves he’s a hero in his first scene. He’s trying out for the Special Forces team himself, and he would have passed the test if not for one thing. He refuses to shoot a dog for no reason. And since he won’t kill the dog, Special Forces leader Captain Ryan rejects him. After killing the dog himself. That’s quite a way to get an audience to side with Cooper and make them hate Ryan right from the start. The first actor to be cast as Cooper was Jason Statham, at the time best known for Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels. But the search for funding took so long, Statham started getting other offers. And, with Marshall’s encouragement, he took one of those offers: the chance to star in the John Carpenter movie Ghosts of Mars. That didn’t turn out as well as Dog Soldiers did, but Statham’s career took off anyway. Producer Christopher Figg suggested Kevin McKidd as the replacement for Statham, having worked with him on Trainspotting. And McKidd was hired.
The rest of Cooper’s squad consists of Sergeant Wells; Corporal Bruce Campbell – yes, Marshall made his love of The Evil Dead that obvious; and Privates Joe, Terry, and Witherspoon, who everyone calls Spoon. Marshall’s first choice for Wells was Jason Isaacs. But while Isaacs read and liked the script, his schedule was too full to do the movie. So he suggested Sean Pertwee for the role. The best suggestion anyone could have possibly made. Marshall offered the role of Spoon to Simon Pegg. But Pegg was developing Shaun of the Dead with Edgar Wright at the time. Wright didn’t like the idea of Pegg appearing in a different horror movie before they made their zombie horror comedy. So Pegg had to decline. The role went to Darren Morfitt – whose real-life boxing skills came in handy when he had to fight the werewolves. Chris Robson and Leslie Simpson were cast as Joe and Terry. Thomas Lockyer as Bruce. Craig Conway lost the role of Terry because he was tied up with a theatre contract. But he got the chance to play a camper that gets attacked in the opening scene. Tina Landini plays the camper’s girlfriend. The first person to get torn apart by the werewolves in this movie.
Emma Cleasby was cast Megan. The local who gives Cooper and his squad a ride to the cabin. Then hangs around to draw the viewer’s suspicion. Is she helpful, or is she hiding something? Liam Cunningham was offered the role of Captain Ryan – but turned it down because he didn’t think the script worked. Marshall did some revisions and sent the script back to Cunningham… and this time the actor signed on.
Marshall did several rewrites in the years it took to get Dog Soldiers made. He has said that he wrote eighteen drafts of the script. Going back to it again and again to refine the story. Build up the characters. And make sure there’s some good set-up and payoff. For example, you see a character being gifted with an item made of silver in the opening moments. And you can rest assured that this item will be put to use in the final moments. Marshall also had to do a rewrite when Allen came on board. The financier requested that the Megan and Ryan characters have a prior connection. Marshall complied, but ended up removing most of the moments that dealt with that connection.
The challenge for any werewolf movie is to make sure the creatures look cool. It’s an intimidating challenge, which is probably why we don’t see a lot of werewolf movies. And of those we do get, many have underwhelming monster effects. But it’s a challenge Marshall was willing to take on, and he wanted to make sure his movie had “big, kick arse creatures”. In the book Sausages by Janine Pipe, Marshall is quoted as saying, “An American Werewolf in London has the best transformation scene, but a very animalistic looking wolf. Then The Howling has amazing creatures, but you hardly ever see them. I wanted mine to be hyper real, a combination of wolf and human. A hybrid, bipedal seven foot monster.” His friend Simon Lang created a sketch of the werewolves, which were then designed by Dave Bonneywell. Bonneywell thought of giving the creatures a more demonic appearance, but Marshall insisted they have the heads of regular wolves. Marshall hired a couple dancers and a stuntman to wear the werewolf costumes. And they had to walk on stilts inside the costumes to make sure these monsters would be huge. Effects artist Bob Keen was the makeup director on the film. And also provided some leftover bodies from the filming of Event Horizon to play the werewolves’ stash of corpses.
Since the movie is set in the Scottish Highlands, Marshall originally planned to shoot there. But filming logistics moved the production to Luxembourg. The cabin in the woods didn’t even exist. The crew only built the front and one side of the place. It’s all movie magic. The interior scenes were filmed on sets that were built inside a steel mill. Which was still functioning while Dog Soldiers was being made in there. Since the cabin rooms get wrecked during the werewolf action, the film was mostly shot in chronological order. It all builds up to the cabin exploding, an effect that was accomplished with a miniature.
The cast and crew had some complicated action to bring to the screen. But filming went well, despite snowfall causing some delays. McKidd broke a rib while training with a military advisor, and that sounds like it could have been a problem. But it didn’t cause much trouble, because McKidd kept his injury secret for the first week of filming. He wanted to make sure he was in enough footage that Marshall wouldn’t fire him when he told him he had a broken rib. Marshall was understanding about the injury anyway. And did his best to make sure McKidd wouldn’t get hurt any worse.
Dog Soldiers secured theatrical distribution in the United Kingdom. It was released on three hundred and thirteen screens in May of 2002. Competing with the likes of Panic Room, About a Boy, Bend It Like Beckham, and Star Wars: Attack of the Clones. Made on a budget of two-point-three million pounds, it earned three-point-five million from its global theatrical screenings. It may not have been a major hit, but it did immediately earn cult classic status. This despite the fact that it didn’t even get a proper theatrical release in the United States. There, it was sold as a Sci-Fi Channel premiere.It’s a shame that Dog Soldiers didn’t get more theatrical play. This is an awesome movie to watch in a packed theatre with a receptive crowd. An audience that laughs at all the right places. And cheers loudly when our heroes battle the monsters. But Dog Soldiers is now on DVD, Blu-ray, 4K, and digital for rowdy watch parties at home.
The movie was so well-received, sequel talk started right away. In fact, Marshall had already been planning to turn Dog Soldiers into a trilogy. He wanted to follow Cooper on a three film adventure that would see him facing all sorts of monsters. And there’s even a set-up for a sequel in the film. There’s a moment where Megan cuts her hand on broken window glass. And it’s only in there to pave the way for a Part 2 that would’ve had a mad scientist angle to it. We’re talking werewolf clones. Marshall told Janine Pipe, “Cutting the hand was to do with finding Megan’s blood in a sequel and replicating it to make a clone of her. Planting some tenuous seeds. It seemed like a good idea at the time, but judging from the amount of blood splashing around I don’t think it would have really made much difference.”
The problem was, it wasn’t up to Marshall to decide what a sequel would be. To get the movie made, he had to give up the rights. And he and the rights holders didn’t agree on the path forward. Allen started developing his own follow-up without Marshall’s input. In January of 2004, he announced that a sequel titled Dog Soldiers: Fresh Meat would be filming soon. A script was written. Andy Armstrong, M.J. Bassett, and Rob Green were in the running to direct. The story involved Cooper meeting up with a team of American soldiers… who also happen to be werewolves. Monsters who conduct themselves like a trained military unit. And in the end, the leader of these Dog Soldiers would be seen battling a savage she-wolf. But Dog Soldiers: Fresh Meat never made it into production. Years, later Allen tried to get a web series called Dog Soldiers: Legacy rolling. But that didn’t get any further than the filming of a short teaser trailer that starred Allen family members.
Recently, Marshall has seemed hopeful that he might finally get to make his own sequel. But as of right now, Dog Soldiers remains an awesome standalone film.
It’s a fully satisfying viewing experience on its own. A blast for horror fans to watch. And also the kind of movie that action fans who aren’t generally into horror might also enjoy. It’s just disappointing that we haven’t gotten any follow-ups, because Marshall and his crew did succeed in making some of the coolest werewolves ever. And the movie leaves you wanting to see more of these creatures. They’re intimidating and agile. Every moment with them works. Whether it’s a quick attack scene or an extended fight scene. We should have seen these things tear their way through several movies by now.
The werewolves are the biggest selling point, but Marshall also did a great job writing the human characters. We come to like and care about the members of Cooper’s squad. The actors were each perfectly cast in their roles. And they formed a bond in real life that comes through on the screen. When the actors weren’t on set together, they were hanging out with each other in local bars. Every one of the characters gets their chance to shine. For one, their big scene might be an intense fight to the death in the kitchen. For another, it might simply be a moment where they vomit on Captain Ryan. But they all make their mark.
In the tradition of classics like Night of the Living Dead and Assault on Precinct 13, Dog Soldiers is a siege film. For most of the running time, the characters are in constant threat of being attacked. They barricade themselves inside the cabin with the werewolves lurking outside. Looking for a way to get in. This allows for multiple action sequences throughout. And the thrills reach a whole new level in the climactic moments. When the werewolves get into the cabin and the surviving characters have to make their last stand.
And it truly was the last stand, since we haven’t gotten a sequel. But Neil Marshall has done just fine without Dog Soldiers 2. He followed this movie with the very popular horror film The Descent. And has gone on to work on bigger projects: Game of Thrones, Constantine, Hannibal, Westworld, Lost in Space, Hellboy. More than twenty years and twenty directing credits later, Dog Soldiers still ranks highly as one of his best. So if you’ve seen too many bad werewolf movies and want to see one that’s awesome, seek out Dog Soldiers. Head out into the wilderness with Cooper and his squad. Watch them go to battle with the big, bad wolves. It might leave you howling for more.
A couple previous episodes of the Best Horror Movie You Never Saw series can be seen below. To see more, and to check out some of our other shows, head over to the JoBlo Horror Originals YouTube channel – and subscribe while you’re there!