Review: Frankenstein's Army (Fantasia)

Frankenstein's Army (Fantasia)
6 10

PLOT: Towards the end of WW2, on the Eastern Front, a platoon of Russian soldiers answer a distress call only to find themselves trapped in a secret Nazi lab run by the Grandson of Dr. Viktor Frankenstein. There, he's built an army of undead soldiers, combining human flesh and machinery, in the mad hope of using his creations to take over the world.

REVIEW: More than anything, FRANKENSTEIN'S ARMY is a major calling card for director Richard Raaphorst, who's an art department veteran, having worked on films like Paul Verhoeven's BLACK BOOK. Reportedly made for a low budget, FRANKENSTEIN'S ARMY looks anything but cheap. The VFX and creature design work is exquisite, and whatever Raaphorst lacks in resources, he makes up for in imagination. On a purely visual level, it can't be denied that FRANKENSTEIN'S ARMY works.

Otherwise, FRANKENSTEIN'S ARMY is only so-so. As is the fashion with most lower-budget genre movies these days, this one uses the found-footage angle, with a communist party official being sent along with the Russian troops to make an 8mm propaganda film for Stalin. Of course, the movie never looks like real 8mm, with the crystal clear DV visuals only marred by intentional cigarette burns and CGI grain to make it look film like aged film. Like most found-footage movies, it's a mixed bag, as it's always hard to suspend disbelief and imagine that even if faced with dozens of murderous, freakish zombie robots, you'd keep filming. Then again, a concession to this is made when it's revealed that the soldier who's been ordered to make the film has his parents locked up in a party work camp, giving him some kind of motivation for filming.

Raaphorst has clearly designed FRANKENSTEIN'S ARMY to work on the midnight movies circuit, and like most of the best movies of this kind it never overstays it's welcome, only running a little over eighty minutes. Still, even though the premise is clever and the steam punk inspired zom-bots are awesome, I'm still not sure the premise sustains a movie, and after awhile I started to wonder whether it was supposed to be some IRON SKY-style joke, or a proper horror-action film. Luckily it leans towards the latter, although it's biggest fault is that other than Karel Roden as Frankenstein, the rest of the characters aren't especially memorable. Other than Joshua Sasse, as the Polish volunteer whose wife is in a Nazi concentration camp, and Dimitri (Alexander Mercury) the party documentarian, the rest of the soldiers are pretty tough to tell apart, or invest in too much.

Then again, you don't go see a movie like FRANKENSTEIN'S ARMY for story or dialogue. Rather, you go so that you can see some cool monsters, and in that regard this definitely delivers. There's all kinds of gruesome monsters, including one particularly memorable zom-bot with a propeller for a face. The gore level is also ratcheted up to possibly NC-17 levels, with a brain-surgery scene that makes the brain-eating in HANNIBAL look positively tame by comparison.

In the end, FRANKENSTEIN'S ARMY was a perfectly decent midnight movie (probably more effective at a festival like FANTASIA than anywhere else), although again, it feels less like a full-fledged film that a short movie stretched out to feature-length, or a calling card to Hollywood big-wigs. Raaphorst may well be the next Tommy Wirkola, who also parlayed a nazi-zombie movie into a major Hollywood career (coming off HANSEL & GRETEL- WITCH HUNTERS). On the visual merits alone, this should be enough to turn some heads.



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