Hon Ping Tang
Since the 1999 release of The Blair Witch Project the found footage sub-genre of horror has never really gone away. While Blair Witch was not the first to adapt the particular style of film-making (1998’s The Last Broadcast was a similar concept and far superior film) it was the first to have massive success. It showed that anyone with an idea and little money could now make a horror film. For better or worse, the genre has been inundated with found footage flicks ever since, most notably The Last Exorcism and the incredibly mediocre Paranormal Activity films. I will not lie, I tend to try and avoid these types of films simply because very few of them are any good. They trade in the creation of genuine atmosphere and creepiness for jump scares and musical stings. Which is made even worse by the fact that none of these films should ever have a musical score!
When it came to Frankenstein’s Army I had become a little intrigued. First of all, anything referencing the mad doctor or his creation has my attention, as Frankenstein has always been one of my favorite movie monsters, and is most certainly my favorite classic monster. Add in the fact that reviews were not incredibly negative, and I had actually heard from a few trusted sources that it was good, I figured what the hell, might as well take the plunge. After all, even some of the worst horror movies can have their moments, and this had the potential to at least fall in the “so bad it’s good” category.
The basis of the film revolves around a troop of Russian soldiers in the dying days of World War II. They are lost in an enemy territory and soon discover an abandoned building where they find a test subject of a type they’ve never seen. It turns out that a mad scientist (is there any other kind?) has gotten his hands on the journals of Dr. Victor Frankenstein. He has started creating a kind of super soldier using the bodies of fallen soldiers in what is used as a Hitler approved last gasp at winning the war.
The concept is an intriguing one, and I could surely see it being revisited in the future in other films. At times, the found footage concept lends itself well to the plot, most notably in an interrogation scene early in the film, while at other points it is clear that a traditional format would have been more successful.
In terms of the acting, it seems quite decent for the type of film. Once all the troop is introduced you will soon begin to despise the character of Vassili, played with absolute dickish glee by Andrei Zayats. He is without a doubt the standout of the cast, taking full advantage of every chance to make you hate him more. I should also note that he bears a slight resemblance to Cillian Murphy from the Batman films and 28 Days Later. The only other notable performance comes from Karel Roden as the mad doctor Viktor. In the current millennium the “mad scientist” trope is not used as much, and Roden does a phenomenal job playing it seriously without it becoming a joke.
Now to touch on what most people like to look at a film like this for…. The gore and creature effects. This is where the film truly delivers, more on the creature side but the gore is no slouch either. All of the Nazi creatures have some kind if weapons built into their new bodies, ranging from bayonets and drills right down to crab-like claws. Very few of the creatures I saw could be considered disappointing, many of them seeming like the type of things that any monster loving kid would come up with. This adds immensely to the charm of the film, and why I think there is a general sense of admiration from the horror community. As for the gore, while it is nowhere near being a Lucio Fulci it does a lot better than most recent films that don’t fall into the “torture-porn” category. A big highlight for me was the removal of one of the soldier’s helmets, which came with a bit of a head-splitting surprise.
While it certainly may have helped that I went in with low expectations, the film does have its moments which make it passable. Unfortunately, once the film shifts focus away from the soldiers to the mad doctor it loses a lot of its momentum. It almost begins to feel like a different film with the same story. But you could do much worse, especially in the found footage sub-genre of film. As a creature feature it works, and the use of prosthetic effects as opposed to CGI earns enough points to recommend to any lover of horror. One big issue which may bother some people is that when it is supposed to be live footage that everyone, both the Russians and Germans, all speak fine English. Not a deal breaker, but something that may take some out of the film.
Frankenstein’s Army is currently available for instant streaming on Netflix.