For low budget filmmakers, found footage camerawork seems to be the go-to option of the moment, and whilst it’s quickly becoming clichéd and many bemoan it as a jaunty distraction sometimes it works (V/H/S, Paranormal, The Blair Witch), and on this occasion first time feature director Richard Raaphorst has made a fine effort with the resources at his disposal. Though Frankenstein’s Army is by no means perfect it has some fresh ideas and is exactly what it intends to be – a gruesome, innovative gore-fest with some of the most ingenious monstrosities this side of Hellraiser, it’s even surprisingly humorous in places – if you’re into that kind of thing.
As far as plot goes… well there isn’t one really, and that’s okay as the film works as just a primary vehicle for Raaphorst’s delightfully twisted imagery. We are not told who has found the footage, or when or how, all we know is that at some point towards the end of WWII a squadron of Russian soldiers set off to find some fallen comrades whilst making what they believe is a propaganda film, unintentionally stumbling across a near-deserted village whose inhabitants either fled or were taken by an elusive doctor who has used their body parts to create an army of half flesh/half steel zombie super-soldiers.
The doctor in question is the Frankenstein of the title, a demented Dr. Heiter-esque character portrayed by Hellboy’s Karel Roden, grandson of THE Frankenstein who was not overly impressed with how his heir planned to continue his legacy. The soldiers themselves are a mixed bunch of not particularly likeable characters, sometimes downright detestable – with one (or two at a push) exceptions. Though there is little in the way of character building it is safe to assume they have been desensitised by war and just want to get back to their homeland without getting bogged down by fighting off a madman and his hoard of metal un-dead. However it is when these creations make their way onto the screen that the film really comes to life, having recently won Total Film’s Best Creatures Award for this year’s Frightfest and making it no surprise to learn that Raaphorst is also a celebrated storyboard artist.
The film does slip into video game territory on occasion, with a Bioshock/Silent Hill feel, and it’s difficult to determine if that nausea you’re feeling is caused by the bucket loads of body parts or just a side effect of the shaky cam, however Frankenstein’s Army fares much better than some of its counterparts and if you’re a horror fanatic this will be 84 minutes well spent.
This piece is many things – Outrageous, ridiculous, superficial, over the top and unexpectedly good fun. There has been some criticism that the camera used in filming would not be suitable for the setting or that it’s unlikely this would be in colour if it was an actual 1940s film – however I don’t think realism was high on the filmmaker’s priority list when depicting Nazi monster-zombies wreaking havoc upon eastern Germany.
If blood, guts and gore are on your film check list then this should be right up you’re street, if not steer clear – although it’s probably safe to say a film entitled Frankenstein’s Army would not appeal to those looking for a deep experience. Plot? What plot? There’s a human headed teddy bear and involuntary brain transplants – what more could you want?
Frankenstein’s Army got its English premiere at Frightfest 2013 and is set for DVD release on the 30th September