Written by guest contributor Brian Roe
There are times when it is perfectly acceptable to be a film snob. When you’re discussing truly great films or even mediocre films that could have been great in an attempt to peel back all of the layers of symbolism and sub-text to truly discover the exquisite core of shared experience that is only possible through the sublime medium of film, then being a snob is fully justified.
Other times it makes you a jack-ass that is incapable of enjoyment because you’re too busy trying to engorge your own ego because you’ve secretly realized that you’re a jealous, embittered failure.
Frankenstein’s Army needs no great critique. It is a carnival ride that delivers the goods in such a fast paced and constant way that it never stops to allow you to ponder too much on what is actually happening. It keeps moving and that is one of its strengths.
Russian advanced scouts invading Germany near the end of World War 2. You’ve got the kind but tough leader, the noble guy, the rapey guy, the silent but deadly sniper guy, the tough bad-ass barbarian guy, and the kid. And behind a constantly running camera, a documentarian intent on recording all of the action even if it means taking truly ridiculous risks to get the shot. You’ll be looking through this camera for the next 84 minutes so it’s a blessing that it seems to be held steady most of the time.
The Russians soon find themselves in a seemingly abandoned town that has some odd corpses and weird rusting weaponry lying around. Some of the atrocities shock even these hardened fellows but they keep going further into enemy territory in an attempt to help a besieged Russian unit. But all is not even close to how it seems and the soldiers soon find themselves neck-deep in weird war strangeness when they run across a disturbed doctor from the Frankenstein family and his chop-shop menagerie.
First person films can really be a pain to watch but director Richard Raaphorst and cinematographer Bart Beekman keep things moving but not nauseating. The camera view helps to make this an exciting ride in other ways. It conveys a sense of claustrophobia in tight spaces, it creates a sense of detachment from the other soldiers, and it makes the viewer feel that they really have no effect on any of the battle scenes. This isn’t a first person shooter simply because you don’t have a weapon. Another important technique of the camera view is to sweep around a scene and just give a brief flash of a threat and then hide it again, until of course it comes thundering back into frame. It also has the inevitable forward motion of a ride like the viewer is being pulled along by an unseen chain. Instead of this being a distraction it actually makes it easier to just sit back and enjoy the craziness.
And one of the best parts of this craziness is the excellent monster design by Raaphorst himself that seems to have come from the fevered imagination of a kid with a bunch of monster toys and a box of military models and a lot of free time. Bits are swapped and chopped to create over-the-top creatures that seem both ridiculous and terrifying. Bits of Nazi iconography are skillfully added to the creations to really send the message that these are the bad guys. Combine these designs with some eerie set pieces and gut churning gross outs and it makes for a fun, practical effect filled horrorshow.
There is something a bit unsettling about Frankenstein’s Army that has nothing really to do with Frankenstein himself or any of his creations. It’s the way that the Russian soldiers, supposedly our protagonists, abuse and dehumanize the German civilians that they come across. For a group of men who seem obsessed with keeping their own families safe they also have no problem being big-huge bastards to everyone they come across. There is a bit of symbolism in all this. Who’s worse, the crazy scientist who chops up people and sews them back together like pieces of meat, or the violent ideologues who use their hatred to dehumanize the enemies of their own country?
Oh well, war is hell. Just sit back and watch the movie.
Director: Richard Raaphorst Writer: Miguel Tejada-Flores Studio: Entertainment One/Dark Sky Films Run Time: 84 Minutes