Director: Richard Raaphorst
Starring: Karl Rodden, Joshua Sasse, Robert Gwilym
Frankenstein’s Army is a strange beast to say the least. Like the titular Dr. Frankenstein it sews together different parts of other movies and tries to breathe new life into some of horror’s more polarizing sub- genres. Mixing together the ‘found footage’ and the ‘Nazi Zombie’ movie is a risky proposition, but one that sounds just crazy enough to work.
Set during the final stages of the Second World War we are introduced to a group of Russian soldiers in search of a missing unit. The mission is being documented as they go and soon enough things begin to get strange. The discovery of weird, mutated remains leads the group to a rundown farmhouse where they encounter a weird human/machine hybrid that has every intention of killing them. Disgusted and confused the group find themselves up against several of these demented creations and the usual tensions arise. Fuelled by a mixture of testosterone and misplaced duty, they find that they are in the middle of a deranged plan to create mutant machines that could win the war.
Frankenstein’s Army has a lot of good ideas at its core and its mutant creations are fantastically inventive. So it’s doubly sad that the resulting film doesn’t come together, and is at times downright frustrating. At its core it is simply a retelling of Shelley’s Frankenstein story where a doctor warped by his experiences of death tries to create a world without it. Moving the focus from someone’s personal and private grief, to the ravages and the psychological damage of war is inspired and should have given the film makers plenty of material to work with. However, they choose instead to stick to a rather straight forward formula that doesn’t have much in the way of depth or surprises.
The films biggest problem is the decision to go ‘found footage’. The constant pulling away from the action and the wonderful mutant creations left me almost shouting at the screen. Don’t get me wrong, I’m a big fan of found footage when it’s done right. The Rec movies and Deodato’s brilliant Cannibal Holocaust are examples of how well these kinds of movies can work. Here, however it is a huge misstep that pulls the viewer out of the experience rather than draw them further into it. It isn’t helped by the fact that many of the characters are simply annoying, leaving the viewer with no one to really root for. Dr. Frankenstein himself is the most interesting character here, but neither his motivations or his creations are really given the screen time they deserve.
It isn’t all bad and it does drop some gutsy, almost jaw dropping shock moments here and there, and it also takes a little time to look at the darker side of patriotism and duty. But what really kept me watching until the end was the mutants themselves. Brilliantly realised steampunk, Nazi grotesques that deserve a better movie. So much effort has obviously gone into creating them that its seems tragic that they are wasted here.
Ultimately, this isn’t a terrible movie just a frustrating one that only scratches the surface of its premise. It offers glimpses of what might have been, but always pulls the viewer out of the moment and directs them elsewhere just as things look like they are going to get interesting.