He doesn’t mind if you shoot him. He said he’d rather be shot by real men than be ripped apart by those things out there!
Director : Richard Raaporst
Cast : Karel Roden, Joshua Sasse, Robert Gwilym, Alexander Mercury and Luke Newbury
I mentioned recently that there were times when you are automatically attracted to a film just by it’s poster and without a doubt, as soon as I saw this one, I was interested. I soon switched to the trailer and I don’t use this phrase lightly, it was one of the most unusual and unique films that I have ever seen a trailer for. I’ve literally never seen anything quite like this.
Whilst there have been a few films about zombified Nazis, such as Dead Snow or Outpost, to name just two, I can’t say I’ve ever seen one quite like this and that’s what I love about films, there’s always expansion to explore something that hasn’t been touched upon before. Directors and writers can literally let their minds go crazy and come up with something new. More often than not it doesn’t work, but when it does then it can be fantastic.
On this site I may give a lot of flack to a lot of the films, but the one thing I would say about most films that I do review is that they’re unlike most of what I have watched, and for that the writers and directors will always have my respect. But anyway, enough of me waffling on trying to fill three paragraphs of vaguely related information about the film I’m about to talk about.
During World War Two a group of Russian and Polish soldiers are wandering the countryside and stumble across a church with a group of dead nuns outside of it. Once they enter the church they realise it’s actually a factory of some kind, and inside they find an unusual creature. Upon touching it, the create comes to life and kills Novikov (Gwilyn). It is eventually taken down but the group are understandable disturb by what they have just seen.
Further investigations into the area sees them locate a farmer and after a very brief and violent interrogation, he agrees to take them down to where there are supposedly a group of Russian survivors of what killed the nuns. However, upon following the farmer, it becomes evident that he has tricked them into an underground maze that is full of creates similar to the one previously encountered.
The group are gradually killed one by one before it emerges that the camera-man, Dmitri (Mercury) actually knew this would happen and was using the group purely as test subjects. The group soon abandons him down a shoot for dead bodies, and he must survive on his own, but he soon encounters the man behind it all, Viktor Frankstein (Roden) and experiences his experiments first hand.
The first thing that I have to say is that it is presented in a found footage style, but given the setting of the second World War, it is impossible to take seriously in that sub genre of horror. Don’t get me wrong, it’s awesome to see a new time period being used in the found footage style of film, and the footage is edited well in the sense that you’re constantly getting lens errors, flares, spots and very old fashioned film mistakes, not to mention the constant (and I do mean constant) noise of the roll of film constantly moving, making it feel authentically old, but it’s hard to just “accept” that the quality of cameras back in the early 1940s was that good.
Other than that obvious problem with the time period, the film looks fantastic and all of the buildings, clothing and countryside look time appropriate, other than the occasional telephone pole making it’s way into the picture. Nothing is glamorised like in other World War Two era films, near enough everything looks time appropriate and it is nice to see a film using that technique.
This helps with the atmosphere and you are constantly left with a feeling of being on edge, especially in a scene outside of a church early on in the film as a group of nuns have been killed but by an unknown force, although obviously the soldiers that the film follows believe it to be the Nazis. In that scene you’re not once at ease and this is exactly what the characters must have felt at the time, and that is what makes a film, especially horror films, relate-able. If you are generally left feeling what the main characters feel, and this continues as they enter the church and eventually discover the first monster.
The monster moves in a very creep way, almost like you would expect from an assembly of dead bodies being reanimated for the first time, and the movement reminds me a lot of the scene with the nurses in the first Silent Hill movie. The characters look on in bizarre bewilderment, and I was the same. I was not sure what to make of the first monster, although obviously you know it’s not going to be a good thing. The way that the monster awoke and the sound effects were fantastic. Bones moving for the first time, the gas bubbles in the body popping and the body parts moving around for the first time was creepy and brilliant that the same time, and the sound editing throughout was incredible.
In many ways the monsters in “Frankenstein’s Army” are amongst the most dangerous and terrifying that I have seen in a London time as they are exceptionally dangerous, can easily creep up on you, have odd body shapes and because they’re already dead, they are exceptionally hard to stop permanently. I would liken their threat to the Nazi zombies encountered in films such as Dead Snow or Outpost, the latter of which is an unstoppable force that overwhelms the protagonists and subsequently win.
Some monsters do look ridiculous and rubbery, for lack of better words, but the ones that they took their time on do feel genuinely unsettling, and the unsettling feeling isn’t restricted to just the monsters that are pursuing the characters, but also the potential characters that you see being built, including a woman who has been decapitated and yet is kept alive, only to be then mechanically and surgically attached to a teddy-bear. It does make you genuinely curious what they were going to end up doing with her and that is just as exciting and creepy as it gets.
Later on in the film you are introduced to the mad-scientist that is creating these creatures and you see an entire laboratory of people being worked on, and you are left wondering exactly what they are doing to them as you see people’s spinal cord being several just above the way, breasts being fitted with drills coming out of the nipples and various other oddities, it is quite unsettling, but also intriguing at the same time.
I have often criticised films on this site for poor pacing, especially horror films, but “Frankenstein’s Army” has done surprisingly well in that sense as you never feel bored when action scenes are happening, but you alternatively never like you’ve been overwhelmed. Action sequences are used relatively sparingly, and in between it gives a nice break to recover and think about what you’ve seen, whilst almost moving the plot along relatively smoothly.
The main antagonistic style character in the group, Vassili, is very interesting and intriguing to watch, but it is certainly something that can’t be said for most of the rest of the group. Vassili is power hungry, willing to do what no-one else wants to (such as kill the captain when he is clearly suffering) and isn’t afraid to take control of a situation with violence. He is comfortably the most interesting character amongst a group of otherwise bland and undeveloped characters.
However, it’s not all positive and the character development is absolutely terrible, infact, if suffers a lot from what I like to call “Hobbitus”. Those that read my review of my favourite films of 2014 will know that I wasn’t keen on “Battle of the Five Armies” due to many reasons, but one of them was what plagued the entire series, there were too many characters that you knew nothing about. Seriously, there were 13 dwarves in the company of Thorin (yeah, I’m a nerd) in the Hobbit trilogy and although I could tell you the names, for some I couldn’t tell you what name applied to whom, or indeed anything about the character because even over the space of three films, they failed miserably to even start to develop at least half of the dwarves. How am I supposed to care about half of the group when I don’t know a single thing about them, and that’s a problem with “Frankenstein’s Army”.
The problem doesn’t end with a lack of character development though as there are far, far far too many simple errors with the film, including continuity, anachronisms and the Viktor experimenting on a dead soldier and clearly saying “You can see that the body is no longer breathing” before he pulls his head away and the body is quite clearly still breathing. It’s such a simple error, if you’re going to claim that the character isn’t breathing, don’t have a living person playing the supposed dead body, especially when the body has already been mangled, changed and cut to pieces. It’s such a basic error that it’s hard to ignore.
Other than the issues with character development and getting the basics right, “Frankenstein’s Army” was a surprisingly enjoyable film.
I was genuinely surprised how much I enjoyed “Frankstein’s Army”. It is remarkably unique and does a great job of telling a story, unsettling you and making you want to turn off, but you don’t, and that for me is a success.
The film has a lot of flaws and I can see why it didn’t get a main-stream release, but if you’re into anything gothic, cyber-punk or anything of a similar nature, then I think you will enjoy this film. I’m not going to lie though, I don’t think it appeals to the masses and I can see in many ways why it does have a fairly average rating across numerous sites.
Whilst the monsters, in the majority, don’t look believable, the film-makers have tried something relatively new and you have to applaud them for that, and if you have a spare 80 minutes and feel the need to watch something unusual, well this is for you.