Tag Archives: Dog Soldiers

RetView #22 – The Descent (2005)

Title: The Descent

Year of Release: 2005

Director: Neil Marshall

Length: 100 mins

Starring: Shauna MacDonald, Alex Reid, Natalie Mendoza, Saskia Mulder

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Following the runaway success of Dog Soldiers, British director Neil Marshall was inundated with offers to make films in a similar vein. Anxious not to be typecast, he was initially reluctant but finally agreed to make The Descent because the two projects were, “Very different.” He did, however, insist on making drastic changes to the script to make them even more different. The film was originally to feature a mixed cast, but realizing how common that is, Marshall opted on an all-female cast instead. The decision proved to be a masterstroke, winning the film plaudits and instantly setting it apart from many of its contemporaries. Discussing the film after its release, Marshall says, “We wanted to show all these terrible things in the cave: dark, drowning, claustrophobia. Then, when it couldn’t get any worse, make it worse.”

In a bid to overcome a recent tragedy in which her husband and young daughter are killed, Sarah (MacDonald) meets a group of friends. They decide to go caving together in the Appalachian mountains of North Carolina. Not my idea of a fun time, but ya know. No sooner are they underground, then a cave-in traps them there. Then it transpires that the cave system is unmapped, and that one of their number, Juno (Mendoza) had led them there deliberately so they could become the first people to explore it. This means rescue is impossible, and they are going to have to find their own way out. Whilst seeking a way out they make several discoveries that would indicate that all might not be as it seems, among them cave paintings, a mass of animal bones, and some old climbing equipment. So far, so weird. Things then take a turn for the gross when one of the girls takes a tumble and breaks her leg. I don’t know why open compound fractures (where the bone sticks out of the shattered limb) are so common in movies, but they are and the rest of us have to stomach them. While the rest of the girls are debating how to get themselves out of this mess, Sarah spies a pale, humanoid creature drinking from a subterranean pond. This, my friends, is our first glimpse of a ‘Crawler.’ Hideously deformed, carnivorous, cave-dwelling creatures who were once people, we are led to believe, but have been underground for so long they have mutated and evolved differently to the rest of us. Blind, they have enhanced senses of hearing and smell to compensate. They’re sprightly little fuckers, too. A bit like a cross between the inbreds in the Wrong Turn series and mini-golems. They aren’t very friendly, either, and soon attack our little group of transgressors. Suffice to say, it doesn’t go well for the girls. Juno accidentally stabs Beth (Reid) in the neck and leaves her to die, before later running into Sarah and lying about the whole thing. It is also revealed that Juno had an affair with Sarah’s husband before his death. After a confrontation, Sarah leaves her nemesis at the mercy of the Crawlers and makes good her escape, finding a way out of the cave and back to civilization. Except, in a brilliant twist ending, her ‘escape’ as actually a hallucination, and when she wakes up she’s in just as much trouble as her friends. More, in fact.

Whilst it is set in North America, The Descent was actually made in the UK. The exterior shots were filmed in Scotland, and the interior at Pinewood Studios, as it was deemed too expensive, problematic and risky to film in a real cave system. I don’t know what this says about different audiences, but it is interesting to note here that the US version ends with Sarah’s escape, leaving out the part where she wakes up still strapped in the caves. It was suggested in Entertainment Weekly magazine that this was done because after such an emotionally draining cinematic experience, American audiences wouldn’t appreciate the ‘uber hopeless’ finale. Evidently, however, British audiences prefer their endings to be uber hopeless. The more hopeless and depressing the better. Something else about this film that fucks with your head a little is the depiction of the Crawlers, who count females and vulnerable-yet-still-nasty children amongst their number which obviously means they’ve been multiplying down there. The Descent was followed in 2009 by a sequel, again staring Shauna MacDonald. However, despite having a much bigger budget, this was a comparative failure and struggled to break even.

Trivia Corner

The film’s marketing campaign in the UK was disrupted by the London bombings of July 2005. Advertisements on the city’s public transport system had included posters carrying the quote, “Outright terror… bold and brilliant,” and depicting a terrified woman screaming in a tunnel. The posters were recalled, and the campaign reworked to exclude the word “terror” from advertised reviews of the movie. The distributor’s marketing chief, Anna Butler, said of the new approach, “We changed tack to concentrate on the women involved all standing together and fighting back. That seemed to chime with the prevailing mood of defiance that set in the weekend after the bombs.”

 


The Top 10 British Comedy Horror Films!

Everyone does lists of their Top 10 Horror films. I wanted to do something special for you instead. How about a Top 10 BRITISH Horror Film List? Not special enough? Well, taking it to the next level, you know how us Brits are renowned for our unique, irreverent, occasionally wacky yet sophisticated sense of humour? No? Well, we are. Sometimes it can be as subtle as an autumn breeze. Other times it can be fast, bloody, and brutal. Like a good bout of period sex. So… how about a Top 10 British COMEDY Horror Film List? Yeah, let’s do that.

10: I Bought a Vampire Motorcycle (1990)

Once upon a time, in a faraway land called 1980s Britain, there was a very popular comedy drama TV series. Boon was its name, and it was about a courier service-cum-private detective agency. It was so popular that at its peak a shrewd production company hired its two main stars, Michael Elphick and Neil Morrissey, to appear in a riotous low-budget horror romp in an attempt to capitalize on its burgeoning success. They only partially failed. In the beginning there are satanic rituals and rival biker gangs, climaxing in a motorcycle getting possessed and then purchased by an unsuspecting Noddy (Morrissey) who, coincidentally or otherwise, is a courier by trade. And then, people start having terrible ‘accidents’ and it appears the motorcycle is to blame. This is like Boon with the gloves off and the volume turned up, with blood, gore, dismemberments, swearing, lewd behaviour and even a talking turd. I shit you not.

9: Inbred (2011)

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This late-night Horror Channel stalwart sees a group of thuggish inner-city young offenders taken to an isolated Yorkshire town to do some community service. During a run-in with a group of local louts, one of their carers, Jim, falls and cuts open an artery in his leg. In a panic, the young offenders take him to a nearby pub to get help. Unfortunately, the locals (aka, ‘inbreds’) don’t like strangers in them parts. Not at all. They quickly decapitate poor Jim with a meat cleaver and lock the young offenders in the cellar, until they are taken out one by one to provide the village entertainment. Daft, disturbing and deeply offensive, the most puzzling thing about Inbred is just how far the makers managed to stretch a measly £109,000 budget, which is about half the cost of the average house in the UK.

8: Doghouse (2009)

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It’s got Danny Dyer in it, and it’s about a boy’s night out gone terribly wrong. Therefore, you just know it’s going to be crude, filthy and unashamedly misogynistic. What did you expect? At its core, it’s a parody of lad culture riffing on men’s supposed inherent fear of women. Luckily, it’s funny enough to compensate for all the Cosmopolitan schtick. Dyer, helped out by Noel Clarke, Stephen Graham and a few other less famous faces, head to a fabled town where women allegedly outnumber men 4-1. When they get there, they realize this is by no means a good thing as every female in sight has fallen victim to a biological toxin that turns them all into frenzied, blood-thirsty zombie types. It’s a battle of the sexes for sure.

7: Carry on Screaming (1966)

Apparently, very few people outside Britain have heard of the legendary Carry On films. Quite frankly, this appalls me. The films (all 30-plus of them, including such gems as Carry On Teacher, Carry On Behind and Carry On Doctor) are a British institution. Where else are you going to get fart jokes and edgy one-liners about hard-on’s and knockers on terrestrial telly at Sunday tea times? This particular outing is a parody of the Hammer Horror films, which were peaking in popularity at the time, and tells the story of a series of mysterious disappearances in the English countryside, which ultimately leads police to a mad doctor in a castle and a monster called Oddbod. Admittedly, the plot is a bit thin in this one, but the gags are timeless.

6: Lesbian Vampire Killers (2009)

Before James Corden became a late-night TV host (or got his driving license) he starred in films like this. The critics hated it, with some bloke from the Times calling it an, “Instantly forgettable lad mag farce.” But that isn’t really saying too much. This was an era when it was fashionable to lamblast lad mags at every opportunity and besides, the Times don’t like any films. Even today it’s rare to see a film get more than two stars out of five, unless it’s an artsy fartsy French drama you need multiple degrees to understand. Personally, as far as low-brow humour goes, I thought this unofficial companion to Doghouse was a riot. When Jimmy (Mathew Horne) is dumped and Fletch (Corden), is sacked from his job as a clown for punching a kid, the duo decide to escape for the weekend to an idyllic village in Norfolk. A village which, unbeknownst to them, has been cursed, leading to a sizeable percentage of lesbian vampires. And you thought Eastern European immigrants were the problem.

5: Grabbers (2012)

This is one of the more slick, big-budget entries on this list. Most of the time you just wouldn’t think it, which I guess is the point, as self-defeating as that is. Grabbers is essentially an alien invasion creature feature, the comedy aspect fuelled primarily by the fact that alcohol is found to be toxic to the invaders, which encourages the inhabitants of a small Irish village to lock themselves in the pub and get rat-arsed as a defence mechanism. Think of this one as Father Ted crossed with the Blob and garnished with a liberal sprinkling of Cloverfield. It’s not a feckin’ lobster!

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4: Severance (2006)

Severance mixes humour, bravado, and some of the most brutal body horror this side of the Saw franchise to great effect, making it one of the stand-out Brit Horror films of the past two decades. The plot revolves around a group of office staff who are sent to Hungary on a team building exercise. As you would find in any office, the cast is made up of an eclectic and varied group of characters, all living up to certain long-held stereotypes. Danny Dyer pops up again, playing everyman caner Steve, who sees the getaway as the perfect opportunity to get off his tits. He’s munching magic mushrooms and puffing on a spliff in the toilet before the coach even stops (“Have I pissed meself?”). All in all, Severance comes off like a mash-up between Hostel and The Office. Brill.

3: Dog Soldiers (2002)

There haven’t been many British horror films over the past decade or two more worthy of praise than Dog Soldiers. From the opening scenes, when a couple camping in the Scottish Highlands are ripped apart by a ferocious beast, you’re left in little doubt that this is a werewolf flick. If you like your horror bloody, funny, and gore-tastic, you can do a lot worse than this. You’re probably never going to see another northern bloke holding a flare aloft and singing, “Come and ‘ave a go if you think you’re ‘ard enough!” to a group of rampaging lycanthropes ever again. That man, incidentally, was played by an actor called Chris Robson, and he’s a French teacher in the north of England now. One of the few genuine, undisputed cult classics. Miss it at your peril.

2: An American werewolf in London (1981)

Some films you see during your impressionable formative years make an impression on you. Others scar you for life. For me, An American werewolf in London belongs firmly in the latter category. The subway chase scene gave me nightmares and years later when I first moved to London I remember going out of my way to incorporate Tottenham Court Road station (where the scene was filmed) in my daily commute. It never failed to give me chills, largely because the only thing about the station that has changed in the past 35 years are the fucking posters on the walls. The story goes that when director John Landis first started touting it, he had trouble securing finances with most would-be investors claiming the script was too frightening to be a comedy and too funny to be frightening. Eventually, PolyGram Pictures put up the $10 million, and were glad they did when it went on to become a box office smash and win an Academy Award for its special effects (Rick Baker went on to win six more from eleven nominations. A record). The story? It’s about an American werewolf in London, innit?

1: Shaun of the Dead (2004)

Could any other film really take top spot in this list? Not on your nelly. This, the first instalment of Edgar Wright and Simon Pegg’s so-called Three Flavours Cornetto trilogy (the others films being Hot Fuzz and The World’s End) is a bona-fide modern classic. Whilst dealing with feuding housemates, a demanding girlfriend and a shitty job, Shaun (Pegg) wakes up one morning with a hangover to find he’s in the midst of a zombie apocalypse. We’ve all been there. Naturally, the only place to go to wait for the world to restore order is the local pub. Brilliant performances by the cream of noughties British comedic talent and commendable special effects, topped off by a hilariously witty script. The perfect introduction to a positively booming sub-genre.

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Honourable Mention:

Cockneys Vs Zombies (2012), the Cottage (2008), Sightseers (2012), Stitches (2012), Boy Eats Girl (2005), Horror Hospital (1973), Nina Forever (2015) Stag Night of the Dead (2010), The World’s End (2013), Ibiza Undead (2016)

While you’re here, why not check out the Japanese Horror Movie Marathon?

This post first appeared on the Deviant Dolls website

My latest release, Human Waste: A Short Splatterpunk Story, is out now on Deviant Doll Publications.

 

 

 


RetView #6 – Dog Soldiers

Title: Dog Soldiers

Year of Release: 2002

Director: Neil Marshall

Length: 105 mins

Starring: Sean Pertwee, Emma Cleasby, Kevin McKidd, Liam Cunningham

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“It puts things into perspective when you have to scoop your mate up with a shovel and put him in a bag.”

So says Sgt Wells (Pertwee). There haven’t been many British horror films over the past decade or three more worthy of praise than Dog Soldiers. From the opening scenes, when a couple camping in the Scottish Highlands are ripped apart by a ferocious beast, you’re left in little doubt that this is a werewolf flick. The signs are definitely there, not least the inclusion of a solid silver knife, which the couple don’t use to defend themselves. Doh. Cut to a few weeks later, and a group black-clad SAS fellas on a training exercise. Whilst sitting around a fire telling war stories and complaining about missing the football, a mashed-up animal carcass somehow gets chucked at them. I think it’s a deer, but it’s pretty hard to tell. While investigating this strange occurrence, they stumble across their SAS adversaries. Except they’re all dead, the only survivor being a severely traumatised Captain Ryan (Cunningham) who is full of gory tales of his company being attacked and torn apart. Luckily, they left their guns and ammo, which our boys gleefully commandeer as they were only given blanks. I sense a plot hole here. I mean, if it really was a training exercise, how come one side was given live rounds? Anyway, moving on, it soon becomes apparent that what they are up against isn’t human. At least, not all the time.

Soon after they come under attack and Sgt Wells almost gets ripped in half. (“My guts are coming out!”). He doesn’t die, though. In fact, being mortally wounded just seems to piss him off. He keeps soldiering on and swearing at everyone. A passing zoologist called Megan (Emma Cleasby) saves the day when she drives up in a Land Rover and offers them a lift. Yes, please! She takes them to an isolated farmhouse, where they hope to regroup and radio for help. Obviously, things don’t quite work out that way, and a bloody battle to the death between soldiers and werewolves ensues. Can they survive until dawn? Will it make any difference if they do? Why is the SAS bloke acting so sketchy? And perhaps most importantly, who won the footy match they were all so concerned about?

The answer to that last question is England, as the match they are referring to is believed to be the World Cup qualifier on September 1st 2001 in Munich when they thrashed Germany 5-1. The best scene is when Sam the sheepdog keeps trying to eat Sgt Wells’ guts as they spill out of his body, one of the other guys sees it, and throws up on Captain Ryan’s head. Soon after, they perform some much-needed first aid on him with the help of a bottle of whisky and some superglue.

“How’re you feeling, Sarge?”

“Absolutely fucking top bollocks!”

Despite his woes, Sgt Wells makes a splendid recovery and outlives most of the others. Must have been the whisky. Or the fact that he’s slowly turning. The cast is like a who’s who of English acting talent as we see a pre-Grey’s Anatomy Kevin McKidd teamed up with a pre-Game of Thrones Liam Cunningham and a post-ID Sean Pertwee whose character is named Sgt Harry G Wells, a clear nod to the sci-fi writer HG Wells. Throughout the film there are also references to Zulu, the Matrix, An American Werewolf in London, and Evil Dead among others, making it an anorak’s dream. Even 90’s lad show They Think It’s All Over gets a tongue-in-cheek mention. The director, Neil Marshall, went on to be involved with The Descent franchise, Doomsday, Centurion, as well as episodes of Westworld, Hannibal and Game of Thrones. If you like your horror bloody, funny, and gore-tastic, you can do a lot worse than Dog Soldiers. You’re probably never going to see another northern bloke holding a flare aloft and singing, “Come and ‘ave a go if you think you’re ‘ard enough!” to a group of rampaging lycanthropes ever again. That man, incidentally, was played by Chris Robson, and he’s a French teacher in the north of England now. Famed for it’s (very) black comedy elements, upon its release, Dog Soldiers achieved cult status in the UK, but I have no idea how it was received in the rest of the world. A much-anticipated sequel Dog Soldiers 2: Fresh Meat was supposed to have been released in 2014 but wasn’t forthcoming. More’s the pity. The world needs more movies like this.

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Trivia Corner:

Although set in the Scottish Highlands, apart from a few aerial shots the movie was filmed almost entirely in Luxembourg.


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