Movie of the Week: Deathwatch

War is hell, no matter how you spin it. Private Charlie Shakespeare knows that all too well. At sixteen years old, he has lied about his age and enlisted in the military. As a British soldier he finds himself in a trench on the front lines facing the onslaught of German artillery. And his squad is about to go over the top.

Charlie does not want to go over the top into No Man’s Land, full of barbed wire, bombs, bullets and lots and lots of dead soldiers. He is scared to death, rightly, and when he refuses to go, a senior officer puts a gun to the boy’s head. Deserters are to be shot. He has the choice of dying a hero for his country, or dying a coward in the trenches. Sergeant Tate steps interrupts to have a word with young Charlie. Tate convinces him to climb the ladder and storm the battlefield.

Once out of the dangers of the British trench, the battalion surges forward to try to capture a German trench (it seems kind of like jumping out of a frying pan into the fire and then trying to jump into a second, equally incinerating, frying pan– I refer you to the first sentence of this article). Soldiers are mowed down and blown up no sooner than their feet touch the blood drenched ground. Tate becomes ensnared in barbed wire and Charlie is paralyzed by raw fear and panic.

Then comes the gas and the real chaos ensues.

In the fog of war and germ warfare, Charlie’s squad becomes lost from the fray. When daylight shines, somewhat, they stumble upon a German trench. This trench is full of dead Germans, and the ones who are still alive have not fortified themselves against the attack of Allied forces, they are defending against some unknown presence in their trench.

Once the small group of Brits have taken the trench, they don’t know what is lurking in the labyrinth with them. None of them speak German, and Charlie and the one German captive can only communicate effectively through French. All he can discern from the captive is that something evil is in the trench and they are all going to die.

Most of the Brits regard the warning as a load bollocks until some strange things start to happen like phantom battle sounds erupting throughout the trench. They also take things more seriously once their numbers begin to dwindle due to unexplained deaths. Whatever is haunting the trench wants to drive the soldiers crazy just as much as it wants to raise the body count.

I have previously professed my interest in World War II tales of the macabre, and my predilection extends to the First World War as well (the American Revolution and the American Civil War included; and the English Civil War; pretty much any horror themed war/military story). Deathwatch is one of my favorite entries in the, surprisingly crowded, historical military horror subgenre. It’s the kind of thing a horror fan enjoys: digging through cut-rate coal and discovering a rough diamond.