Neil Marshall’s past few years have seen him working on television shows like Game of Thrones, Constantine and an upcoming episode of Hannibal, but he’s best known for the four features he’s directed. The Descent is understandably referenced most frequently and fondly, but his first film, Dog Soldiers, is much beloved as one of the better werewolf movies to grace the screens. Now thanks to Scream Factory it’s getting a new life on Blu-ray.
In addition to a newly remastered picture ‐ which, while grainy as hell, looks quite good for a film originally shot on 16mm ‐ the disc includes a thorough making-of, a short film and a newly recorded commentary track.
Keep reading to see what I heard on Neil Marshall’s commentary track for Dog Soldiers.
Dog Soldiers (2002)
Commentators: Neil Marshall (director)
1. The film was shot in 2001 and released (in the UK) in 2002, but its origins began the decade prior. Marshall was involved in a film titled Killing Time back in ’95 alongside his friend, Keith Bell, and the duo decided that they should direct and produce (respectively) a film of their own. They drunkenly drafted a contract on a bar napkin and began crafting an idea involving soldiers vs werewolves with the result being Dog Soldiers.
2. They shot in Luxembourg thanks to various tax credits that partially financed the film, and Marshall credits producer Christopher Figg with finding additional sources of funding. They brought elements of it to the American Film Market and “By pure chance a spinach magnate named David Allen” was there and immediately interested in investing in a horror film.
3. Jason Statham was actually cast in the lead role for the year leading up to production, but he dropped out in order to shoot John Carpenter’s Ghost of Mars and was replaced by Kevin McKidd. Bad call Statham, bad call.
20th Century Fox
4. Unlike the rest of the film, the helicopter landscape shots were actually done in Scotland.
5. The wide shots of soldiers exiting the helicopter feature members of the crew working as body doubles. “I think there’s like a production manager and a gaffer and who knows what.”
6. Marshall aimed for authenticity with his “squaddies” in part because his father and grandfather were both in the military. He says most of that comes through in the gallows humor they display.
7. “According to Wikipedia this film was developed under the working title of The Last Stand. Um, that’s not true.” He says he’d never heard that before and that it was always called Dog Soldiers from the very beginning. One of the producers lobbied for a title change to Night of the Werewolves, but Marshall and others fought against it.
8. The badge they all wear on their shoulders is a wolf’s head with a spear through it. Marshall designed it and points it out as it’s not that easy to spot.
9. Marshall says this new Blu-ray almost didn’t happen as they struggled and failed to find original film materials in all of the usual places ‐ lab, distributors, etc ‐ before finally lucking out with someone at Pathé who sent him two prints. “Unlike the studios in L.A. that have libraries and look after their content, these things don’t exist for independent features, and there is a really good chance that unless stuff is archived or transferred to HD as soon as possible that it may be lost forever.”
10. Marshall points out the reference to “Eddie Oswald” that he’s added into all of his features so far. He’s never an actual character and instead is only mentioned in dialogue or signage.
11. The budget was £2.3 million which at the time was a low budget film, but Marshall thinks these days that description wouldn’t apply. “Now obviously you can shoot on digital and edit on your home computer, things can be done a lot cheaper.”
12. Contrary to online speculation, the character of ‘Spoon’ Witherspoon was not named specifically to set up the third act reference to The Matrix with “There is no Spoon.”
13. The subplot involving Capt. Ryan (Liam Cunningham) and Megan (Emma Cleasby) was added against Marshall’s wishes. “I didn’t think it was necessary, I didn’t think it added to anything, but I kind of had to go along with under the circumstances.” He says he cut as much of it as possible out of the film, but there are still remnants of it throughout the film.
14. The farm house is actually two builds ‐ on location they built a front wall, side wall and rooftop for exterior shots, and then they crafted the house’s interiors on a set.
15. The dog’s real name was Acer, and he was “very lovely but kind of the worst trained movie dog” Marshall’s ever encountered.
16. The script originally called for the dog to pull at the wounded soldiers exposed intestines, but Marshall changed it to pulling the bandage instead. “But the reaction is that people ether think it’s the intestines anyway or they think that the bandage is bad enough and they’re still grossed out.”
20th Century Fox
17. Marshall says they had to do several takes of the soldier throwing up on Cunningham’s head, but his laughter makes the “had to” part of it all suspect.
18. The bit about Super Glue being created in an effort to patch up soldiers wounded in the field is actually true.
19. Sean Pertwee asked Marshall if he could have a few drinks before shooting the scene where his character, Sgt. Wells, gets drunk and bandaged up, and the director said yes. “I don’t know how many ‘a few’ was, but it’s way more authentic drunk acting than you often get in movies, so I was happy with that.”
20. Simon Pegg was offered the role of Spoon, but he passed because he had promised Edgar Wright that his first film role would be in Shaun of the Dead. “It seemed to work out well for him.”
21. There’s a clock on the wall in some scenes that almost guaranteed continuity issues, so Marshall smashed it to ensure the hands were always in the same spot and thereby not causing problems.
22. McKidd cracked a rib in the first few days of shooting, but he hid it from Marshall for fear of being replaced. He eventually decided the pain was too much and revealed the injury at which point Marshall replaced him with Jason Statham.
23. Marshall chose to use dancers as the werewolves instead of the typical stuntmen in order to highlight their grace and elegant movements. The set was also designed size-wise to force the creatures to have to bend a bit upon entering thereby highlighting their statuesque physiques.
24. He was understandably disappointed that the film didn’t receive a theatrical release in the U.S. and instead premiered on The Sci-Fi Channel. (This was before the name change to Syfy.) “I think that was partly a lack of courage on the part of the producers that they took the first deal that was offered to them.” Marshall says it did get a one-week run at L.A.’s Egyptian Theater, and he’s happily run into several people who actually saw it there.
25. 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.”
26. Chris Robson (who plays Pvt. Kirkley) made a confession to Marshall on the night they were set to shoot a 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.”
27. They were on the 17th or 18th draft of the script when it finally came time to shoot the film.
28. Marshall believes Zabriskie Point features “one of the greatest cinematic explosions ever.”
29. The barn explosion left Marshall reeling from the shock wave, and he burst out laughing. “I kind of forgot we were running the cameras. Luckily it wasn’t sound dependent, but I just thought it was awesome.”
30. Spoon’s demise was filmed and by all accounts rather gory, but Marshall felt that seeing him torn in half with his innards spilling out across the floor would have killed the high of his punchline (“I hope I give you the shits.”)
31. The photo Wells looks at before dying is actually of Marshall’s sister, Sue.
32. Some of the corpses hanging around in the basement were originally created for and used in Event Horizon.
Best in Commentary
- “I never did like that title [screen], always something about it that looked cheap.”
- “This movie is absolutely loaded with references and homages to other films. I think I got completely carried away.”
- “Pretty much what I remember about Luxembourg is that it was all covered in mud.”
- “Classic soldier behavior, make a cup of tea. That’ll sort everything out.”
- “I don’t know if it still is, but it was for a long period of time the most watched movie by British forces out in Afghanistan and Iraq.”
Marshall’s first feature holds up as an entertaining action/horror hybrid, and his commentary shows his own fondness for it remains. He offers up a mostly consistent mix of anecdotes, information and memories making for an engaging listen. It and the interview-filled ‘making of’ help make Scream Factory’s new Blu-ray a must-own for genre fans.