(Netherlands/USA/Czech Republic, 2013)
All I ask in a horror-thriller is it to be inventive and unique, and though Frankenstein’s Army is far from perfect, first time director Richard Raaphorst and writers Chris W. Mitchell and Miguel Tejada-Flores have created something original to a genre filled with rehashed ideas and remakes.
In Frankenstein’s Army, we’re in theory seeing segments of a filmed mission in sequential order with shaky-camera work and rough splices. However, it cannot truly be called a “found footage” film because the film contradicts itself with having been shot in a 16×9 format, in color, and with perfectly synchronized sound, all of which were not available during that time period.
Through the camera of young cinematographer Dimitri (Alexander Mercury), charged by Josef Stalin to document the heroics a Russian reconnaissance squadron, we watch a group of weary soldiers as they scout the German front in advance of the Russian Army pushing through Nazi Germany in the final days of WWII.
On their journey through the war ravaged countryside we see this rag-tag bunch of bickering men answer a distress call from Tiger Bear 303, a squadron of their comrades who are under attack and urgently need reinforcements. Their location is a remote mining village, but when they arrive they find the town abandoned, a pile of burnt bodies, and a church that has been converted into a strange laboratory.
The group’s first mistake is to turn on the laboratory generator, which revives a humanoid like creature that immediately disembowels their commander. Their second error in judgment is to do a thorough search of the town instead fleeing. Finding a lone animal caretaker, they demand answers to what happened to the people of the village and of Tiger Bear 303. The man tells them that everyone is either dead or has run away from the things the doctor has created. Refusing to tell the soldiers where the doctor is, an old-fashioned information extraction technique is used – chopping a finger off. The man agrees to take the squad to the underground lair of Vicktor Frankenstein, the grandson of Victor Frankenstein, who has been recruited by Hitler to create a new type of soldier.
In a labyrinth of tunnels beneath the church the squad encounter several of the doctor’s creations, creatures pieced together using human body parts and mechanical parts (airplane propeller, drill, saw blade), that were designed with a singular purpose – to KILL!
The Red Army soldiers are mostly stereotypical, the beleaguered team leader, the grizzled sergeant, the psychopathic who wishes to ruthlessly rape and kill everyone, the young frightened newbies, and the caring soldier that volunteered. We are given enough information to tell the characters apart, but not enough to care about them once the carnage begins. But then again this isn’t about them. It is about the menace behind the mayhem, and when the madman who created the monsters finally makes his appearance, he is most convincingly portrayed by Karl Rodan (Hellboy).
The bleak wintery landscape and monotone cinematography sets the tone from the opening scene, and though the beginning of the film is slow and in need of some trimming, the second half is well worth the wait with its cleverly designed Steampunk style monstrosities and practical special effects that helps kick up the gore factor.
Frankenstein’s Army may have its issues, but it is still a unique and entertaining film. A film that is as weird and creepy as it is clever and original.
Directed by Richard Raaphorst
Written by Chris W. Mitchell, Richard Raaphorst (story) + 3 more
Cast: Danny Trejo, Anthony Michael Hall, Mickey Rourke, Dina Meyer, Richard Dillane, Emil Hostina, Colin Mace, Ovidiu Niculescu, Ronan Summers, Edward Akrout and Radu Andrea Micu
Run Time: 100 minutes
Release Date: October 22, 2013