"Chilling and wickedly funny" the spooky camp-fire story is The Best Bit in Dog Soldiers

What is it?

A modern-day horror story told around a campfire.

Where can you watch it?


(Spoilers for Dog Soldiers follow)

The idea of a ghost story seems terribly old fashioned nowadays. And the notion of six grown military men, lounging around a campfire, trying to gently terrify each other doesn’t exactly seem like a recipe for a chilling horror scene. Yet… that’s exactly what happens in Dog Soldiers, when Sergeant Wells is asked what scares him the most, and he regales his squad with one of the creepiest monologues in all of cinema. Check out the entire thing below.

The speech is a wonderful microcosm of the movie as a whole: it’s a dirty, dark tale of everyday horror with a hint of the supernatural and a handful of sharp, funny one-liners thrown in for good measure. It showcases Sean Pertwee at his finest, and really helps you buy in and feel like part of the movie’s tight-knit squad of reprobates. 

It takes place after Wells’ squad is sent to the Scottish Highlands on what they think is a routine training exercise. Of course it’s not that simple - they’re used as bait by a special ops unit to draw out a pack of werewolves that have been terrorising hikers and campers in the area. Hey, it’s not meant to be smart. What makes the film so compelling is the snappy banter of the dialogue mixed with director Neil Marshall’s ability to turn on (and, crucially, off) the gore-hose when required. It’s a movie buff’s dream too, as cinematic references and smart pop culture in-jokes are scattered as liberally as the squad’s bullet casings.

The story itself is told before anything weird or spooky actually happens, and serves as a wonderful piece of build up - helping the viewer cross that bridge between serious action movie and slightly silly horror romp. The whole scene starts off innocent enough: a bunch of mates making jokes around the fire and discussing what scares each of them the most. It’s classic lad humour, deliberately clumsy next to the sharp piece of writing that follows.

When he begins, Sgt Wells even kicks off with a bit of humour and humanity, and the squad are happy to keep the jokes flowing. This monologue works so well because it’s so grounded to both viewer and in-movie characters. Crucially, it feels like a tale they’ve heard thousands of times, about a fellow squaddie doing something stupid on his first tour of Iraq. Eddie Oswald - who the narrative concerns - is one of them, as Bruce notes: “I remember Eddie - he was a stocky hardcase with a broken nose and a bong-eye” to which Wells replies “Yeah, that’s him. Good looking fella, big hit with the ladies”. Interestingly enough, Eddie Oswald is a recurring character in Neil Marshall’s movies, always referenced but never actually seen, so the speech itself is one big in-joke for those in the know. 

Like all good horror, though, there’s a sudden but barely perceivable shift between normality and menace. When Wells talks about how Eddie was “Just gone” and all that was left was “bits and pieces”, the music slowly kicks in to the background, and everyone is suddenly very silent. Like the rest of the squad the viewer is now gripped, which is the perfect time for Wells to dig into the grisly details (“I’ll tell you something lads, it really puts things in perspective when you have to scoop your mate up with a shovel and stick him in a bin bag”) and deliver the denouement of the tale. What works so well in this particular speech - and again in horror generally - is that a joke suddenly becomes something much more dark and menacing. The laughing devil tattoo is now more than just a drunken whim, and takes on a whole new level of significance. It’s a perfect switch from red herring to dead herring.

Wells finishes off the monologue by saying “Boom, boom”. It’s a clever way to round off his speech because it leaves everyone uneasy and shrouds the story in even more mystery. Is he trying to say it’s a joke? Is he piling on the dark comedy by referencing the sound of the anti-tank mine and passing it off as a gag? Is he saying that the futility of life is just one big joke? Is it a Basil Brush reference? Hmm, maybe not that last one. It’s not until the squad has toasted Eddie Oswald that they - and the viewer - can breathe and start to relax again. It’s a neat touch that Spoon decides to look around the group to assess the right time before telling another funny… one he doesn’t get to finish, as Marshall throws a more physical horror element into the mix. 

For me, this whole speech is a brilliant piece of storytelling, using one of the most old-fashioned tricks in narrative. It’s a modern ghost story, addressed to the viewer as much as the actors. The setting, the cast, the timing, and the script are all near-perfect. Regardless of how you feel about the remainder of the movie, with its genuinely funny one-liners, gruesome deaths, and slightly ropey creature models, this scene will stay with you long after the credits roll. Boom, boom.

The Best Bit focuses on the special moments, scenes, and details of movies and TV that make them worth watching. It arrives every Wednesday at 0900 PST / 1700 GMT. Follow @gamesradar on Twitter for updates.

Andy Hartup