Friday, 10 August 2018

Werewolves, pyschos, zombies and robots. The many ways training missions can go wrong

So you and your team need to go out in the field to practise some of the skills you’ve all been learning. To make the exercise feel as realistic as possible, the location is somewhere remote and inhospitable. You get out there excited and ready to tackle the new challenge, but it soon becomes apparent that everything is not as it should be. Something somewhere has gone badly wrong and the feces is starting to hit the fan.

Are those live rounds? How badly is that person hurt? What do you mean they're dead?

The situation has escalated at lightning speed, the ante has been upped, the stakes have been raised, and you’re going to have to seriously step up your game if you want to survive.

Now if you can only manage to do that vital thing and get to that crucial place...

Here are five films of varying genres where the teams of unwary protagonists find themselves neck deep in doodoo creek, and sh*t out of paddles.

Dog Soldiers (2002)

This werewolf movie, written and directed by Neil Marshall (who also wrote and directed the terrifying, potholing, horror film, The Descent (2005)) does a great job of making the creatures look scary. They aren’t those werewolves that simply look like big dogs, going around on all fours, but the more fantastical, unknowable, Minotaur-like, half-man, half-wolf, upright monsters: lithe, yet muscular, big, strong, feral, but perhaps possessed of human level intelligence. Like something out of a nightmare. Proper scary-ass bad guys, that pose a serious, and co-ordinated threat to the people they hunt. And in this film those people are a unit of strung-out British Army soldiers, inventively swearing their way to oblivion, as they hole up in a remote cottage somewhere in the Scottish Highlands.

Severance (2006)
Before Danny Dyer was famous for pulling pints in The Queen Vic, or having his daughter win Love Island, he was a bona fide, Essex boy geezer, and something of a Mockney movie star. In this film he plays one of a group of office workers from an arms manufacturer on a team-building exercise in the mountains of Hungary. For my money Severance achieves the tricky feat of striking a delicate balance between co-worker comedy and genuine pyscho-killer horror. Very much a product of its time, it’s probably as much an anthropological dig into outdated lad culture as it is a gory and disturbing black comedy.

13 Eerie (2013)
One day I’m going to write about the Great Zombie Invasion of Movies. About how every conceivable movie idea has been adapted and remade to feature the living dead. You take a film like Jurassic Park (1993), replace the genetically engineered dinosaurs with the gruesomely enigmatic dead and remake it as The Rezort (2015). Or take a classic Jane Austen novel and set it against a rampant zombie plague to create the period costume action horror, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies (2015), or take a teen romance and swap out the chiselled male lead for a similarly high-cheekboned ghoul to create a zom rom com like Warm Bodies (2013). 13 Eerie is the ‘undead instead’ version of a training mission gone wrong. A bunch of forensic students go to an abandoned facility on a remote island to examine staged murder scenarios, recreated with real bodies. But in a twist that is in no way unexpected, the dead don’t stay dead for long.

Kill Command (2016)
So we’ve had werewolves, slashers, and zombies, but in this film it’s state-of-the-art military robots that are causing all the havoc. And by havoc I mean the ruthless murder of most of the team, simply to advance the learning curve for the robot’s AI. If you watch these films in the order I’ve presented them here, then, by this point the premise might be wearing a little thin, but the cool robot design and military hardware still make Kill Command a worthwhile watch.

Southern Comfort (1981)
This could be the primogenitor of our little micro-sect of movies: the superior film that helped spawn all the others. It was written and directed by Walter Hill, who also wrote and directed The Warriors (1979), and 48 Hrs. (1982) and was one of the creative driving forces behind the Alien franchise. Said to be an allegory for the Vietnam War, this action thriller stars Keith Carradine and Powers Boothe as members of a U.S. National Guard squad on manoeuvres in the Louisiana swamps, where they get accidentally caught up in armed conflict with Cajun trappers. Tense and inventive it not only determines many of the tropes from the later films on this list (last men standing, facing nasty death traps, out of their depth against a superior force), but also manages to explore some intriguing scenarios many of the other films avoid (like the sliding scale of decency among 'good' guys leaving us questioning who is actually at fault, and what could happen if one of the enemy is captured). If there's one film off the list to watch, this would be my recommendation.

That's it for now. As usual, if there are any films you feel should belong on this list, please leave a comment below and I might even try to dig up a photo.

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