Country: Netherlands, USA, Czech Republic
Director: Richard Raaphorst
Writers: Richard Raaphorst, Miguel Tejada-Flores, Chris W. Mitchell
Cast: Robert Gwilym, Hon Ping Tang, Alexander Mercury
“My father said, men will be more efficient if they have hammers and screwdrivers instead of fingers.”
If someone like Guillermo Del Toro had been directly involved in 2013’s Soviet World War Two film “Frankenstein’s army”, it would probably have been critically lauded and referenced endlessly. The story would have been padded out with better dialogue, delivered by a stronger cast in a much more atmospheric way… Alright, it almost certainly would have been a better film. But that’s not to take anything away from “Frankenstein’s army” – Which against all odds and expectations is a surprisingly good (ish) and bloody enjoyable film.
The premise is simple. A not so merry band of Soviet soldiers at the end of World War two are advancing into Germany. The Nazis are in retreat. The end of the war is in sight. These chaps are seeing it out, but circumstances have forced them into one last bizarre mission – To investigate and retrieve “weapons” from Nazi doctor Frankenstein’s factory, which naturally is buried in deepest darkest woodland. Without any radio communication, our ragtag bunch isn’t sure what to expect, but hey, what can possibly go wrong?
The first thing to say about this film is – as far as I’m aware – it’s the first “Found Footage” world war two film – I’ve never seen one before anyway. That’s probably because the technology physically didn’t exist for there to be any possible way that a found footage film could possibly have existed in the 1940’s – “I’ve never seen a camera like that before” declares one character to explain it all away. Found Footage as a gimmick is now a common part of contemporary cinema – Personally, I’m not “found Footage’s” biggest fan; in fact I think (Blair Witch aside) it’s a cop out used to mask a lack of cinema craft. But, at least this film doesn’t take itself seriously in any way. Its premise is out there, so there’s no point quibbling over the technique used – In for a penny, in for a pound I guess.
Our lead (sort of) is the “cameraman”, who has been directly tasked by, believe it or not, Josef Stalin himself to document this glorious mission for the fatherland. The rest of the troops are hard grizzled soldiers who have no time for the cameraman, preferring he didn’t keep getting in the way all the time. Why does he keep getting in the way? What exactly is he up to? Why is he here?
It’s no surprise to tell you that this is a monster movie, and thankfully you don’t wait that long for the fun and games to kick in and, oh my days, when it does start its bloody good fun. Full disclosure: I was rather drunk when watching this film, but even sober I’d still enjoy it. The “Monsters” are superb. There isn’t just one Frankenstein Monster as normal – There’s a whole production line of them! There some hilariously hotchpotch, others terrifying, some fast and violent, others slow and mechanical. All of the monsters are hybrid – Part human (Made with body parts farmed from captured/dead soldiers) and part Industrial mechanisation. Frankenstein himself states “Men will be more efficient if they have hammers and screwdrivers instead of fingers”.
I guess that if Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein novel (To which this film bears absolutely no relation!) had been written after World War Two, it would definitely have had Nazi overtones. Hitler’s atrocities are repeated fodder for cinema, because they are so dehumanising. The Frankenstein message is the opposite, a message about giving life itself – Literally humanising a monster. Though the message really isn’t driven home at any point, is it beyond reason to suppose Hitler wouldn’t (or didn’t?) turn to a “scientist” like Frankenstein to make his imprisoned masses more mechanical and useful? Probably yes.
Anyway, that’s what happens here, and it’s all the better for it as it introduces some utterly bizarre but massive enjoyable fight scenes. When the monsters do appear the scenes owe more to games like “Bio-Shock”, “Fallout” and “Resident Evil” than any other horror films.
The fight scenes could just as easily have been quick time events in a game. Rapidly tap triangle to escape the clutches of the chainsaw monster! Kick the face of the Lobster clawed demon currently grabbing your leg! Run away from the diving helmet clad monstrosity hammering away at your friend’s skull! Maybe that’s why I enjoyed this nonsense film – The affinity to today’s audience, rather than the stock horror clichés we all groan at rather than get scared of. In this regard it’s all the better for being found footage – Although you’d still put the camera down and run away wouldn’t you?
That’s about it really. Once you get to Frankenstein and the Monsters the film just plays itself out with all the necessary gore and grizzly deaths. I’m struggling to think of anything more to put in this review worthy of comment – It is what it is. You should know what to expect with a film called “Frankenstein’s army”. The acting is second rate, as it should be. The dialogue is sparse but heavily clichéd, as it should be. The whole film is short, sweet and with just the right amount of stupidity, as it should be.
Get yourself a few beers and enjoy this on a dark winter’s night. Just watch it and enjoy it for what it is – Enjoyable nonsense. Ideally watch it before it becomes “cult” if indeed it ever does. I think it probably deserves to, but then again I was drunk!