“If you guys are so evil, why don’t you just… EAT THIS KITTEN!” The Forehead (one of Chairface Chippendale’s henchmen) delivers this line while waving the adorably mewing proposed snack in the face of the mighty blue Tick. See, the Tick (a superhero, if you are tragically unaware) is in disguise as a villain, and if he’s a villain, he should be willing, if not downright eager, to prove his evil bona fides. He, of course, refuses, and violent action ensues. I’m pretty sure Batman has been unmasked in much the same way. The moment this scene aired it became shorthand in my group of friends for that staple of bad writing: an act that is evil only for the sake of being evil (also known as Doin’ It For Darkness). How did Sauron initiate Saruman? Eat this kitten. How would Vader have proved Luke’s allegiance to the Dark Side? Eat this kitten. How would Wes Mantooth welcome new members of the Channel 9 Evening News Team? Eat this motherfucking kitten.
Eat This Kitten popped into my head while watching this week’s movie, 2002’s Dog Soldiers. Private Cooper (Kevin McKidd, a.k.a Lucius Vorenus) has spent the last twenty-two hours evading capture. His final test to enter Special Forces, as explained by Captain Ryan (Liam Cunningham, recently cast as Davos Seaworth in Game of Thrones) explains that the goal is not to run but to remove the enemy’s capacity to hunt you. He then orders Cooper to shoot the dog that tracked him. It’s not quite an Eat This Kitten moment, since the goal of the order isn’t to prove how evil Cooper is, but how readily he’ll follow orders. And maybe a little of the evil thing, since a kind-hearted SAS soldier is pretty useless, considering how adorable most terrorists are. Cooper refuses, because he knows he has to establish himself as the hero and to make his future actions deeply ironic. He spends the rest of the film desperately trying to figure out how to kill canines that just. Won’t. Fucking. Die.
The plot of Dog Soldiers is basically Alien. A bunch of working class stiffs get used as sacrificial lambs by the higher ups to snag a biological superweapon. In this case, it’s a squad of British regular army sent on a training exercise in the Scottish Highlands where campers keep vanishing. The higher ups, personified by Captain Ryan and his Special Forces team turn out to be even tastier than the intended prey. Only Ryan survives, and he’s in bad shape. Cooper’s squad then flees to a local farmhouse with the assistance of handy zoologist Megan (the woman-of-science trope I touched on in Them! is alive, well, and apparently milk-complected), holes up and it turns into an extended Night of the Living Dead riff. As the title hints, the monsters are werewolves, and no one thought to bring silver bullets. So the soldiers are in for a long night.
Dog Soldiers is Neil Marshall’s first film, and in some ways a warm up for the superior Descent, the masculine precursor to the feminine masterpiece. The Descent was mostly concerned with family and resilience in the face of tragedy. Exploring a cave system modeled on the human body as a symbolic journey into oneself, then killing morlocks. You know. Girl stuff.
Dog Soldiers is about guy shit. Duty, honor, responsibility. Football (the lame European kind, but still). The importance of dogs. DIY home improvements. Shrugging off cripping injuries. MacGyvering the living shit out of problems. Highland claymores. Improvised explosions. Remaining calm and awesome in the face of extreme terror. Having a fistfight with a werewolf because why the fuck not. And guns, guns, guns.
The film speaks to male fears as well. When the soldiers first deploy, they are armed for a training exercise, meaning that their weapons are loaded with blanks. Later, they get their hands on live ammunition, but unfortunately this is just as useless against werewolves. In other words, the long, hard weapons of the alpha male bad ass soldiers are totally impotent against the enemy. Even the claymore that sticks through the abdomen of one of the lycanthropes does little but give a handy identifier, the serial killer version of a Hello My Name Is badge. In fact, the only weapon that is remotely effective is a comically small silver letter opener that robs a werewolf of its regenerative powers once it penetrates the beast’s flesh. In this age of hyper aware people, I shouldn’t have to say what all this means. But I will. It’s dicks. The guns? Dicks. The sword? Dick. The letter opener? Dick.
But why is it so important for the formerly impotent hero to put his dick in the big bad wolf? Because it signifies the reclamation of masculinity after a rape. In the beginning of the film, the letter opener is a gift from a woman to her man, a symbolic, “here’s your penis, and you may now use it on me.” This isn’t that kind of film, so he plans to use his actual penis on her, which is better for all concerned. But as they prepare to have sex in their tent, the werewolves show up for a little snack. It’s difficult to miss the intentional visual parallel between the woman’s spread (but clothed) legs, and the vertical zipper of the tent slowly opened. She’s dragged out first, emasculating him by demonstrating his inability to protect her. Later, the fortified farmhouse could be viewed as the defense of hearth and home (i.e. girl stuff), but the fact that the farmhouse is invaded, conquered and fortified marks this as masculine. The soldiers fear that the ersatz fortress they claimed will be penetrated by the ravening savages outside.
The link between women and werewolves is impossible to ignore, and the film clumsily acknowledges it in a third act speech that reeks of rough draft syndrome. Yes, werewolves have a time of the month just like women. Yes, female wolves are called bitches. Yes, the entire film could be read as alpha males being fearful of empowered women striking from traditional sources of feminine power. But this muddies the water and appears only in passing. Meanwhile, a werewolf spends at least twenty minutes with a sword sticking out of his belly like the world’s most terrifying erection. He then, (and this werewolf is explicitly male) no shit, forces the main character to fellate the blade. The werewolves are not feminine here. They are masculine. Hyper-masculine bisexuals out to kill or convert anything in their path. Were it not for the unselfconscious way the soldiers treat one another, Dog Soldiers might have turned into a homophobic screed. As it stands, it’s about the destructive power of male sexuality and about how maybe, just maybe, we shouldn’t fuck everything we see.
Here I am coming to a close and I haven’t even mentioned Spoon, the best character in the movie. Better let him be a pleasant surprise, as he was for me. Check out Dog Soldiers, a fun little action horror film from one of the most fun directors working today.