by Steve Habrat
Over the past several years, the horror movie market has been flooded with “found footage” movies made on the cheap. It’s easy to see why Hollywood loves producing these kinds of films, as they can be made with a small pile of cash and when they are finally dumped on the market, they can turn quite a profit for the studio. While a good majority of these films are garbage, every so often one turns out to be worth your while. Take director Richard Raaphorst’s Frankenstein’s Army, another “found footage” horror film that doesn’t necessarily break any new ground with this particular subgenre. While it might not get too creative with it’s style, Frankenstein’s Army manages to sneak by as a winner due to its must-see creature effects, all of which were achieved without the aid of rubbery CGI. Where most horror films drop the ball when they reveal their boogeymen to the audience, Frankenstein’s Army actually finds its momentum in these lumber abominations. And you know what? They are stunningly creative and absolutely terrifying. Sadly, they are the strongest part of the film, as the storyline and most of the performances fail to live up to the how-the-heck-did-they-do-that? special effects.
Frankenstein’s Army tells the story of a battalion of Russian soldiers, who are fighting through enemy territory during the final days of World War II. Among the group is Dimitri (played by Alexander Mercury), who claims to be filming a propaganda film for the Russian government. As the group pushes through the German countryside, they stumble upon a small town that is seemingly deserted. After finding a number of charred bodies and bizarre mechanical skeletons strewn about, the soldiers begin investigating the empty buildings, but as they push underneath into the town’s catacombs, they come face to face with a slew of nightmarish creatures that are half human and half machine. With their numbers quickly dwindling, the monsters closing in, and their options limited, the soldiers make a push to flee the town, but in the process, they meet Viktor (played by Karl Roden), a distant relative of the infamous Victor Frankenstein and the demented creator of these hellish monstrosities.
The early scenes of Frankenstein’s Army force the viewer to spend time with a bunch of two-dimensional soldiers as they shoot, bicker, and stomp through the scenic German countryside. Probably the only interesting moment of the first twenty minutes is a pit stop in a small German village, where our heroes decide to terrorize the frightened villagers like a pack of ravenous dogs. After a while, you fight the urge to take a nap, but rest assured that things are going to get very twisted very fast. Things finally pick up when the boys stumble upon the smoldering corpses of what appears to be nuns and twisted remains of some sort of mechanized terror. When the “Zombots” (the title their maker has bestowed upon them) finally decide to make their presence known, you’ll have a difficult time getting enough of them. They come in various shapes and sizes, one more horrific than the next. One has a plane propeller for a head while another struts around on what appears to be stilts with a drill for a head. There is even one Zombot that goosesteps towards his prey like an oversized tin soldier from Hell! They are absolutely fantastic in all their menacing steam-punk glory, made all the more horrifying through the idea that these were all created without the use of distracting CGI. It’s best not to say too much about them because most of the fun comes from being on the edge of our seat over what may come charging at us next, but just know that they are the best and most suspenseful part of the entire movie.
With Raaphorst placing all the attention on his magnificent monsters, the rest of Frankenstein’s Army begins to feel a bit rickety. The opening is dreadfully slow and he does very little with the “found footage” gimmick that he uses to tell his story. The plot itself is very thin and riddled with flaws in logic (How the heck is Dimitri still holding onto the camera—let alone, alive—when the Zombots take their swipes at him? What type of camera is he using to get a picture this good?), making it feel like we’re playing a video game rather than watching a feature length movie. As far as the film’s performances go, everyone is mediocre except for Roden, who is unhinged treat as the maniacal Viktor. For you gorehounds out there, Frankenstein’s Army delivers plenty of the red stuff. Zombots wheel around carts of bloody body parts, dead bodies dangle from the celling, and people’s heads are peeled open to reveal their gooey brains. Overall, while the “mockumentary” approach is uninspired and the entire project feels like a mash-up of Wolfenstein and Call of Duty, Frankenstein’s Army manages to milk plenty of entertainment from its ingenious monsters and Roden’s screw-loose performance, making it a horror gimmick that is worthy of your precious time.
Frankenstein’s Army is available on Blu-ray and DVD.