It’s true that the whole Nazi zombie angle has already been explored by Norway’s horror comedy Dead Snow, but first time director Richard Raaphorst is looking to one-up Tommy Wirkola’s snow-covered slaugtherfest with his own take on undead Nazi soldiers – Frankenstein’s Army. Opting not to challenge Wirkola’s zombie theme, Raaphorst instead created his Nazi monsters around the work of Dr. Frankenstein, a man who became obsessed with sewing together the leftover parts from dead corpses and reanimating them. I’m honestly not really sure what’s scarier: cursed Nazi zombies who want to eat you, or maniacal undead mutant soldiers who want nothing more than to pulverize you. Shit, I didn’t think Nazis could get any more evil.
Set during WWII, Frankenstein’s Army is a found-footage flick told from the perspective of a group of Russian soldiers, but mainly through the cameraman Dimitri’s (Alexander Mercury) point of view. Responding to a mayday call from another Russian squad, our heroes rush to their aid, but find only a desolate town full of dead bodies. Investigating the ghost town further, our squad finds a local farmer who says he’ll lead them to their Russian comrades who called for help, but instead leaves them for dead in an underground hallway system full of grotesque killing machines. Realizing they’ve stumbled upon some secret Nazi outpost creating super-weapons of some kind, the truth about their mission comes out, and what started as a rescue mission turns into a fight for survival – against undead Nazi monsters who respond only to their creator, Viktor (Karel Roden).
On the originality and creativity scale, Frankenstein’s Army is off-the-charts mesmerizing. Raaphorst’s monsters didn’t have a uniform feel or generic costumed look, as he made each one like a uniquely crafted, murderous snowflake. These Frankenstein creations turn out like some steampunk-inspired Nazi monsters that are a hybrid mix of person and machine, combining body parts with machinery such as propellers, claws, electrified equipment, and drills. As our Russian soldiers encounter more and more of Viktor’s army, there’s a childlike giddiness that excites the horror fan in all of us, curious to see what evil combination Raaphorst can come up with next. My personal favorite is the burly fellow whose body is literally a giant propeller, as he charges forward at full speed. Although, I have to admit, watching a Nazi monster with giant razor-sharp hands goose stepping towards the camera was rather entertaining as well.
With that said, I was never actually terrified by Frankenstein’s Army. While the undead creations were brilliantly conceived and provided so much differentiation throughout the film, their actions often came off as silly, and their attacks weak. While watching Raaphorst’s film, I couldn’t help but imagine I was watching someone recording one of the attractions at Universal’s Halloween Horror Nights on their cellphone, running through some haunted maze and having these creatures chase you. It was always more or less just a cat and mouse game, and whenever our cameraman got caught, it seemed like they were just grabbing him and shaking him a bit, no matter what weapon was attached. It would appear as if Dimitri is being sliced up by giant blades or claws, as the monster swings violently past the camera, but he always escaped unscathed. There was a serious lack of tension and scares, as Dimitri couldn’t even get a rise out of me while swinging his camera around numerous times only to find a brand new beast lumbering his way.
The rest of the film is occupied by a rather brutish group of soldiers, shown pillaging and taking advantage of anyone they can. Not only that, but their thinking always seemed steered by laughably poor judgement, even for simple Russian soldiers in WWII.
The best performance from the whole cast comes from Karel Roden, who plays the mad scientist Viktor, a man completely in love with his human science experiments. His actions and speech were just crazy enough to fit the Frankenstein name, and his confident demeanor adds a bit of intrigue to a man essentially playing God. The rest of the characters don’t bring the film down in any way, I just would have expected better tactical knowledge from a squadron of soldiers. You know, like not blindly going into a tunnel system that is obviously a trap.
But while the plot is paper thin, you have to remember that Frankenstein’s Army was created on a shoe-string budget (for the type of movie it is). If you keep repeating that phrase while watching Raaphorst’s demented baby, you’ll continually be impressed with the visuals he’s able to achieve, making the film quite a remarkable feat. Kudos, herr director.
Frankenstein’s Army is a found-footage monstrosity sporting a script that’s been sutured together with hapless care, but after Raaphorst hooks it up to his magical generator, it starts high-stepping and showing itself with wonderfully vibrant life. Getting tangled up with these undead Nazi creatures up-close-and-personal proves to be an exciting adventure, mainly because of the unparalleled creative thinking that went into each and every death-dealing creation. You’ll always be wondering what comes next, and that’s a testament to the masterful craftsmanship our fearless director utilizes. The script may absolutely leave much more to be desired, but once Frankenstein’s Army turns into a full-fledged creature feature, you start caring less and less.
Seriously though, whoever brought these creatures to life in the costume department deserves the highest recognition, as Raaphorst’s mission would have been all for naught without them at his side.
While our story leaves much to be desired, the fantastical creature work in Frankenstein's Army is too creatively ingenious to ignore, making these steampunk undead monstrosities worth the watch alone.