Directed by Richard Raaphorst
Distributed by Dark Sky Home Entertainment
Of all the “classic” monsters offered to us by page and screen (Dracula, The Mummy, Jekyll/Hyde, etc.), this writer’s favorite is undoubtedly Frankenstein and his Creature. Mary Shelley’s original 1818 novel told the tale of a man playing God by stitching together a corpse culled from various bodies and reanimating it – creating new “life” essentially, only for his hubris to be rewarded with madness, tragedy and death. That basic, brilliant idea has not only spawned countless cinematic adaptations, but several variations on the tale which have transplanted Shelley’s thematic concerns into various eras and locales with varying degrees of success.
Case in point: Frankenstein’s Army, a gruesome new film which sees the oft-told story relocated to Nazi Germany, with Frankenstein’s Monster reimagined as several living dead-powered robots (dubbed “ZomBots” by the film’s makers). One imagines the young author could never have foreseen her creepy fable transformed into a gore-strewn war pic – but though the film is as far removed from its inspiration as one imagines is possible, it doesn’t make this excursion into white-knuckled terror any less enjoyable.
The film opens in 1945, finding a group of Soviet soldiers discovering a hidden Nazi bunker holding a terrifying secret: within its walls, numerous monstrosities lurk – undead corpses brought back to life, and refashioned into robotic atrocities (the aforementioned “ZomBots”). Before long, the soldiers are thrown into a battle for their very lives, even as they discover the cause for this madness might stretch back to the previous century – to one Victor Frankenstein, whose work has inspired his Nazi-collaborating grandson Viktor to build an army of the undead to further the Reich’s cause and hopefully turn the tide of war to their favor. What follows is a jaw-droppingly gory and violent ride to Hell, punctuated by loads of wonderful practical effects and all captured as a found footage film (the entire film is viewed through the lens of a Soviet documenting his group’s adventures).
It’s a neat idea, and a great showcase for director Richard Raaphorst’s crazy, monstrous creations. Raaphorst, who first earned some notoriety for his Worst Case Scenario project (an ultimately abandoned film project glimpsed in a couple of promotional trailers), designed all of the ZomBots himself, crafting numerous iron nightmares to populate what is essentially a first-person shooter flick (I’m not the first one to make mention of this, but Frankenstein’s Army really should be a video game). These creatures are easily the highlight of the film, though it must be noted that the film’s cast of characters are compelling in their own right. Rather than simply being cardboard targets, each member of the Soviet unit is interesting enough, while the performances from each actor are commendable.
However, while the movie is often engaging (and intense, and eventually completely absurd), its wonky pacing occasionally lags at times even as the movie falls into a kind of episodic rhythm (soldiers sneak about, discover a ZomBot, fight, recover, sneak about, discover a ZomBot…). In addition, the movie’s use of the found footage conceit is occasionally troubling. A WWII-era soldier toting a camera which records sound and shoots in color raises an eyebrow (indeed, even for one of the characters), while each of the Soviets speak in perfect English (even as some of the Germans are given onscreen subtitles). It’s hard enough to buy the POV trick in most movies, harder still when the film in question seems to rage against its chosen form. One wonders why the film couldn’t have simply worked as a typical narrative feature. Ah, well.
Frankenstein’s Army makes it to disc with good looking transfer capturing the film’s gritty, grimy image. The picture boasts nice detail throughout, and though the film itself is meant to look imperfect (in keeping with the film’s vérité aesthetic), the quality of the Blu-ray’s transfer never seems to be at fault. The provided 5.1 DTS track is suitably thunderous and unnerving, assisting the movie in sinking its claws into viewers and dragging them along helplessly into the depths of Frankenstein’s bunker. All in all, a nice presentation for an impressively made film.
Sadly, the bonus features section is a bit light, though not entirely without merit. There is the film’s fun red band trailer, a collection of brief “Creature Spots” (fifteen second glimpses of the individual creatures, presumably used in the film’s marketing), and a thirty-minute making of doc. It’s the doc that’ll be most interesting to fans of the film, providing a nice look at the movie’s production. In addition to some interviews with the cast and crew, we get a neat look at the film’s location before it was redressed (the zombie factory our heroes stumble across was originally an abandoned coal mine), along with some of Raaphorst’s beautiful creature designs. If you dig the flick, be sure to give the doc a look.
For all its problems, Frankenstein’s Army left this viewer grinning ear to ear throughout. It’s a fun, furious, goofy and gory good time for those who fondly remember 80s creature features. If you find yourself in a forgiving mood, and you need a second film to complete a double feature with Re-Animator, do yourself a favor and give this flick a chance. Doubt you’ll be disappointed.
– Director Richard Raaphorst
– Cinematographer Bart Beekman
– Production Designer Jinrich Koci
– Unreal FX Team
– The Frankestein’s Army Actors
– Burnt Match Man Creature Spot
– Mosquito Man Creature Spot
– Propellerhead Creature Spot
– Teddy Bear Woman Creature Spot
– Razor Teeth Creature Spot
3 out of 5
2 1/2 out of 5
Film: Three Knives
Special Features: Two and a Half Knives