Full Moon Features: Welcome to the Summer of Syfy!

Dog Soldiers (2002)Summer won’t officially be here for another month, but the summer movie season has already been in full swing for the past few weeks. Alas, we won’t be seeing any werewolves at the multiplex this year, but Syfy has our back with Battledogs, which our esteemed webmaster was kind enough to bring to our attention. Sure, it actually premiered back in April, but Syfy is giving fans another chance to check it out on Saturday, June 29, at 3 p.m. In the meantime, I figured it would be worthwhile to run down some of the other werewolf films the channel has seen fit to grace us with over the past decade and change.

It may surprise some to know that back in the Dark Ages, Syfy was the Sci-Fi Channel, and it actually gave Neil Marshall’s Dog Soldiers its US premiere. For those who have been living under a rock for the past 11 years, the film is set in the Scottish highlands, where an Army patrol on a routine training mission finds themselves up against a pack of werewolves (who are, I’m happy to report, almost entirely men in werewolf suits — and pretty good-looking ones at that). Sean Pertwee stars as the squad’s sergeant, who gets eviscerated by one of the beasts early on, leaving private Kevin McKidd in charge. This leads to some conflict with the Special Ops officer they run into (Liam Cunningham), who has a history with McKidd and knows more than he’s letting on about their furry foes. And the same goes for zoologist Emma Cleasby, who picks the soldiers up in her Land Rover and takes them to a remote country house where they hold up for the night.

Marshall may have gone on to bigger (and occasionally better) things like The Descent and Doomsday, but this was his feature film debut and he pulled out all the stops for it. His characters are well-drawn, their dialogue is snappy, the action sequences are exciting (and edited in such a way that you can tell what’s going on), and the special effects are much better than you would probably expect from such a low-budget film. Even given Marshall’s predilection for blowing shit up (which he indulges on a few occasions), I’ll take this over the much more extravagant Underworld films any day. It’s just too bad the proposed sequel has had so much trouble getting off the ground, but I’ll happily lap it up should it ever see the light of day (or night).

Like Dog Soldiers, 2005’s The Beast of Bray Road wasn’t produced by the Sci-Fi Channel (as a matter of fact, The Asylum is the company that holds that dubious distinction), but that is where I got to see it. You know you’re in for something different when you’re watching a werewolf movie and the first words that pop up on the screen are “BASED ON A TRUE STORY.” Thanks to the Asylum connection, my expectations weren’t very high going into The Beast of Bray Road (which is apparently based on actual werewolf sightings that took place in rural Wisconsin), but at least it had the good sense not to take itself too seriously.

Written, directed and edited by Leigh Scott, the film has more than a few parallels with Jaws. For example, star Jeff Denton is the new deputy in town who moved there from the big city for the peace and quiet, with Thomas Downey in the Richard Dreyfuss role as a cryptozoologist working on his Ph.D. who is attracted by internet reports of an unidentified wild beast. (Downey was something of an MVP on the film since he also served as production designer and stunt performer and did the special effects.) There’s even a budget-conscious sheriff who’s more concerned about selling hunting licenses and the tourist trade than hunting down the creature.

Speaking of the beast, it would probably be more frightening if it didn’t look like a guy wearing a collection of throw rugs, which makes it doubly confusing why the director would show it so fully and so early in the film. He also gives the new deputy a seemingly pointless love interest in local roadhouse owner Sarah Lieving (who could probably use a bouncer like Patrick Swayze), which I suppose is meant to heighten the drama at the climax, but it ends up seeming as random as most every other element in the film. Still, if all you’re looking for is a cheesy werewolf movie, you could probably do a lot worse than this one — and cheesy is definitely the word for it. What else would you expect from a film that is “dedicated to the Great State of Wisconsin”?

Next Up: Syfy goes the hybrid route, and I don’t mean they bought a Prius…