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Face-Off: Dog Soldiers vs. Dead Snow

Today we're kicking off a whole new year of Face-Offs, and we're doing so with some help from a reader: this Face-Off was suggested by Ben Mansfield, who wanted to see what would happen if Neil Marshall's 2002 werewolf film DOG SOLDIERS went up against Tommy Wirkola's 2009 zombie flick DEAD SNOW. Both of these films involve a group of characters getting attacked by a horde of monsters at a cabin in the woods, but which handles the concept in the more satisfying way? Let's find out.

CABIN DWELLERS

From the moment a British soldier named Cooper is introduced refusing to kill a dog at the order of Ryan, the leader of a Special Forces unit, it's clear that Cooper is our hero and Ryan will be the human antagonist. When the pair find themselves trapped in a cabin in the Scottish Highlands by a pack of werewolves, they're accompanied by a local woman and more British soldiers, who make for a likeable, entertaining group to spend time with - people we can root for as they fight for their lives. A standout among the bunch is Sergeant Wells, a good, supportive leader who has seen some terrible things in his day. Wells is badly injured early on, but he's still around for a lot of memorable moments. 

Seven college kids have chosen to spend their Easter vacation at a cabin nestled so deep in the snowbound mountains of Norway that it takes a 45 minute snowmobile ride to reach the place after their cars are parked. There's the horndog, the geek (whose presence allows for some annoying movie references in the dialogue), and several bland, forgettable characters. This isn't a great group, and most of them don't make an impression me. Notable characters include Martin, the med student who hates the sight of blood and becomes the film's hero, and the girl who seduces an unexpected partner while he's sitting on the toilet, putting his wiping hand in her mouth before he has washed it.

MARAUDING MONSTERS

Figuring out a design for werewolves that's functional and doesn't look too goofy can be quite a challenge, and as far as I'm concerned DOG SOLDIERS features some of the best werewolves we've ever gotten. This is my ideal version of the classic monster: tall, standing on two legs, the head of a wolf, the gripping hands of a human (but hairy and clawed). Quick, strong, and relentless, these things are quite a challenge for the soldiers they're after, even when the men are heavily armed.

The monsters in this film are zombies - but they're worse than the average zombies, as these aren't the shamblers you can sympathize with. These are Nazi zombies, evil creatures out to murder and devour anyone they cross paths with. Strong and quick, they still have some fighting skills and are able to use weapons. It's not often you'll see zombies that have retained the ability to use things like binoculars, but this bunch has. They may be in a goofy movie, but they're a serious threat.

SIEGE

More than an hour of this film is dedicated to the battle between the werewolves and the soldiers, starting out in the forest and moving into a cabin. Starting out with pistols and rifles, the soldiers are eventually reduced to having to use any household item they can get their hands on to defend themselves with. The action comes frequently, with brief moments to catch a breath between sequences involving werewolves trying to smash their way into the cabin or thwarting the humans' escape attempts. 

Roughly half of the movie is made up of non-stop action involving the Nazi zombies pursuing the college kids. There are explosions, gunfire (from a machine gun mounted on a snowmobile), and some chainsaw fu, and the snow soaks up blood as characters and creatures are torn to pieces. Limbs are lost, heads are split and smashed, guts are torn out... Bodies take a lot of damage, and there's even a scene where a wounded person patches themselves up with duct tape. There's some fun stuff in here.

TONE

DOG SOLDIERS is a badass action horror movie that I tend to refer to as "PREDATOR with werewolves", although it does take some inspiration from THE EVIL DEAD and NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD as well. The action is exciting, the creature attack sequences are intense, and there's just enough humor in there to relieve the tension with a laugh now and then. That humor comes from the banter between the characters, and the hysteria of the situation they're in.

DEAD SNOW is a horror comedy that owes a lot to Sam Raimi's EVIL DEAD films, but the humor on display isn't nearly as appealing to me as that in the EVIL DEAD movies. There's a laugh here and there, but most of it is not amusing to me. I don't enjoy the long stretches of banter between the characters, I don't laugh when the girl falls through the outhouse toilet, etc. I'm left wishing the film had taken the situation a little more seriously.

HISTORY OF EVIL

We don't get a lot of explanation for where the werewolves came from, we just learn enough to know that people are known to disappear in this part of the Scottish Highlands - they go hiking in the forest and never come back, although sometimes their blood-splattered belongings are found. Every month during the full moon, the werewolves hunt as a team and take down any person they happen across. Rumors that there are werewolves in the area are being spread about, but it's not something many people are likely to believe. That's all the back story the werewolves really need in this film; their origin doesn't matter, the only thing that matters is the fight the humans put up against them.

The back story of the Nazi zombies stalking the mountains is told to the college kids by an elderly doomsayer, always a good sort of character to have around. Director Tommy Wirkola and co-writer Stig Frode Henriksen came up with an interesting story of a man called Colonel Herzog and his soldiers, who terrorized the local villagers and stole all of their valuable belongings, gold and silver in particular. 3000 citizens then rose up against the Nazis, attacking them with knives and farming equipment, chasing them into the mountains. Herzog and his men froze to death out there... but they come back 70 years later when their gold falls into the hands of the college students.

DOG SOLDIERS

DEAD SNOW has its good points, but I really don't get a whole lot of enjoyment out of watching that movie. DOG SOLDIERS, on the other hand, is one of my all-time favorites... So I'm not surprised to see DOG SOLDIERS come out the winner in this battle. Wirkola's Nazi zombies cause a lot of trouble, but Marshall's werewolves are in the more entertaining film.

Do you agree with this outcome, or do you prefer DEAD SNOW over DOG SOLDIERS? Share your thoughts on these films in the comments section below.

Thanks to Ben Mansfield for suggesting this match-up. If you have a Face-Off you would like to see, you can send suggestions to me at [email protected].

Happy New Year!

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