Frankenstein's Army (2013)
Directed by Richard Raaphorst
If Frankenstein’s Army were treated as an event film and there was actually a market for it, a first-person shooter game would exist featuring the marvelous zombot monstrosities as they lumbered and click-clacked towards the virtual you with their blades wielded. Collector cards might even be printed of each ungodly creation: the beetle-armed stormtrooper Machete, the Locomotive Medic, and Ivan Zombie would probably be the most popular among kids. There’s also a reanimated cyborg corpse that settles the argument of what RD-D2 would have looked like as an undead Nazi.
Seeing as we might be waiting awhile for the non-existent video game to become a bestseller, luckily director Richard Raaphorst and writer Chris W. Mitchell (Mary Shelley, too) have sewn together a found footage funhouse horror film that, at times, feels so interactive and engaging you’ll swear you’re holding a controller. Although there are bound to be dozens of other secret Nazi labs that have yet to be uncovered (sequel!), the band of Russian soldiers introduced are nearing the end of World War II when they stumble upon an underground bunker where the Nazis have been conducting unthinkable experiments based on the journal of Dr. Victor Frankenstein (yes, that Victor Frankenstein).
The camera remains on as Dimitri (Alexander Mercury), the grunt ordered to shoot footage for a potential propaganda film, captures everything from the group’s initial discovery to the chilling last gasp. Eventually, Viktor (Karel Roden), a descendant of the original mad scientist, assumes control, documenting his unthinkable research. Viktor’s goal is to end the war - one of his solutions is to combine the brains of a communist and a fascist in the hopes of making diplomatic inroads - and Roden plays him as a mad nobleman that’s lost in a world of his own creation, a little like J.F. Sebastian in Blade Runner.
Roden gives an unhinged performance that makes the proceedings immeasurably more entertaining, but it’s his heinous, electrically-charged undead underlings that truly steal the show. From the mind of director Raaphorst himself, each character design is forged on a demented assembly line and they each have a personality all their own. They’re still individuals, but they exist only because of Dr. Frankenstein’s vision. Towards the end, as every creature from the factory bombards the ragtag group, the proceedings tilt towards the ridiculous; but instead of becoming silly, it actually raises the intensity and the fun meter needle hits the red.
Point-of-view sequences that usually don’t work for an extended amount of time are much more exhilarating in Frankenstein’s Army because of the manic energy and inescapable feeling that there’s probably something even worse than the attacking Propellor Head Zombie coming around the next corner. Yes, the POV style is a gimmick, but Raaphorst and company know it’s still all about what you put inside the frame. You can’t just shake the camera around a lot.
The small army that worked on Frankenstein’s Army have definitely proved the found-footage conceit still has life in it as long as you’re inventive and not afraid to put the most insane thing you can think of on screen.
3 out of 5