When Frankenstein’s Army (read BD’s first, positive review) was first announced, I was incredibly excited. It sounded like “Wolfenstein: The Movie,” which was something I’d been wanting for years! A Nazi horror film with strange, outlandish monsters and bizarre science? Sign me up! And as the first trailers were released, my excitement grew. Taking the stance of a found-footage film, the teasers had that 8mm look that promised to make the film have a very unique twist.
Knowing that the film was going to be playing at the Fantasia Film Festival, I planned to check it out. But as I told others of this, they vehemently shook their heads and tried to talk me out of it. My excitement plummeted and my expectations hit rock bottom as I heard all of this negativity towards the film. Still, I had to see for myself. I had to venture into the mad scientist’s laboratory and see if his demonic abominations bore any enjoyment for a horror fan. Alas, I should’ve heeded the warning of those who came before me.
The film follows a troop of Russian soldiers who are making an 8mm Soviet propaganda film during World War II. Let me begin by saying that not a single one of these troops is likable or even remotely worth an ounce of your empathy. So, from the very beginning, it’s hard to care about this movie because I don’t care about the characters. They’re boorish, loudmouthed, despicable people and I found myself actively cheering their deaths.
Then there is the fact that the characters don’t speak Russian. Now, I know that audiences wouldn’t want to read subtitles but there are clever ways to go around this (just look at how they did it in The Hunt For Red October).
The other immediate striking thing is that the film, which tries to be a found-footage 8mm print, is beyond obviously shot on a digital camera. The addition of some fake scratches, slight discolorations, and stutters between scene edits doesn’t dissuade from the fact that this film is shot on a very modern camera. It’s highly distracting and it should’ve made the filmmakers just shoot it like a normal film rather than trying to join in the found footage trend.
The set design is very nice, with an abandoned factory and its labyrinthine bowels serving as the main stage for all the action. The tunnels dizzyingly wind around and the various rooms exude pain, death, and gore. It often feels like the cameraman is little more than a rat in a maze.
The movie drags and drags until, finally, we get into the action and see the creatures that Dr. Frankenstein has built. Without a doubt, these creatures are the highlight of the film. They are unique, they are disgusting, they are horrific, and they are a blast. The character designs are taken right out of a Silent Hill game and then run through a junkyard, creating some of the most interesting looking villains in recent history.
But their looks are all that they have going for them. For as intimidating as these creatures look, they feel like they are no threat whatsoever. The cameraman has, on more than one occasion, a creature swinging its blade arms at him (at point blank range) and never makes contact. Honestly, it feels like the safest thing to do when the horde comes after you is to stand still and let them mill about aimlessly.
As the story progresses, it ultimately stretches itself, trying desperately to come up with new material to elicit a few more minutes out of the script. What could’ve been a moderately enjoyable 45 minute film is turned into a full length bore that doesn’t once scare or even cause a jump.
At the end of the day, the only saving grace this film has are the creatures, the plentiful and satisfying gore, and Karel Roden’s over-the-top portrayal of Dr. Frankenstein. Aside from that, this film had great potential but squandered it at nearly every turn.
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