The UK produced horror movie ‘Soldiers of the Damned’ takes us to the frontlines of the Eastern Front and to the edge of our seats in a gore-soaked tale which sees regular soldiers of the Wehrmacht forced into a doomed mission for the SS, whose objectives rivals the true absurdity and obsession of the Third Reich.
It’s the Eastern Front, 1944. The Russians are pushing the German Army back through Romania. Major Kurt Fleischer, war-weary commander of an elite troop of German soldiers, is ordered to escort a female scientist into a mysterious forest behind enemy lines to retrieve an ancient relic. As his men begin to disappear in strange circumstances Fleischer realises that the scientist is part of Himmler’s occult department and there is something in the forest that is far more deadly than the Russians.
The concept of Nazi based horror movies are nothing new, but let’s face it the madness of Hitler’s Reich gives plenty of scope from which to glean inspiration from. Whilst the Nazi zombie genre has pretty much climaxed with the Norwegian ‘Dead Snow’ franchise, director Mark Nuttall and writer Nigel Horne do well to lean towards the more Occult themes and exploits of Himmlers’ SS fanatics, more akin to movies such as ‘The Devil’s Rock’ and ‘The Bunker’ rather than rehashing current genre trends. It’s a sensible decision and the result is a movie which is both mysterious and as creepy as hell.
The movie begins by straddling the line between a war movie and exploitation horror. We are introduced to our characters through conflict, and their actions tell us most of what we need to know about them. The commander is battle hardened and cynical, the sniper has the usual ticks that you might expect from someone choosing a role so intimate with death, and the other troops show authentic comradery you would expect from a group nearing the end of a long, hard war. Now let it be known I am a bit of a WW2 nut, and so it was a delight for me to watch authentic looking costume, locations and weaponry in a horror movie! The initial battle sequences blew me away in both their visual quality and authenticity. I have seen war movies with less battle sequences in their entire run-time than what was shown in the first 15 minutes of this film! The cast do a fantastic job of making their plight seem as desperate as it must have been for the retreating Germans, and after the bombastic opener which shows several skirmishes and plenty of running and gunning I was very much behind them.
It is only, however, when they get back to field HQ that the true horror of ‘SOTD’ really gets going. Here Major Fleischer receives the orders and is told that his unit will accompany SS scientists and officers into the forest, with no option of failure. This is the second movie I have seen recently which makes the point of differentiating SS from Wehrmacht troops (the other being ‘Fury’). The actors who have the misfortune of playing the sadistic SS relish in their roles, and whilst they were perhaps a little embellished, there is no danger of any sympathising with their demise! The tone of the movie shifts here, and through skilful blending of storytelling and tension building, the introduction of supernatural threat generates a genuinely creepy atmosphere that builds slowly but effectively. The film benefits from truly eerie locations, and a stripped down military-esk score ensures the film maintains its war-themed context. Whilst SOTD could never be described as terrifying, there are a number of sequences which are guaranteed to un-nerve. The story plays with your mind a little bit, especially as it begins to introduce anachronistic elements to various events. The hints to the overarching storyline are delivered in bite sized chunks, with just enough information shared to keep the ‘buy-in’ into the stories strange set-pieces. SOTD is definitely more for those who appreciate a bit of mystery and slow-burn chills, and whilst I wouldn’t go as far as to describe it as a ‘thinking man’s’ film, the plot requires more commitment of thought that standard genre fayre.
That said, and as those of you who are familiar with BTG’s standard approach, atmosphere and mystery are one thing, but they still require a pay off in the gore department – here, once again, SOTD delivers. Whilst I won’t give too much away I will just say that the practical effects used in this movie look great! The gore is not gratuitous or OTT, but it remains brutal and in context none the less. There are plenty of well-placed kill sequences covering many of the favourites… exit sprays from bullet wounds, knife slashes, tanks getting dropped on people, oh, and a rather brutal ‘Russian’ execution which is particularly unpleasant! Along with the practical effects, there is also a fairly liberal use of CGI in the movie. I seldom get on-board with such effects as unless they are on a monster budget movie they always stand out from the reality. Here they don’t look too bad, and aside from a bit of enhanced blood spatter, the CGI is mainly reserved for the fantasy/supernatural side of things and some of the bigger war machines which is understandable.
Overall ‘Soldiers of the Damned’ is brutal and compelling. It has a great story line with plenty of bloody action and without a doubt a must watch for anyone into WW2 themed horror. Ambitious horror movies such as this always have some flaws, but in all honesty aside from a few scenes of hammy dialogue here and there SOTD has few. Soldiers of the damned is released in the UK August 2015.