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Frankenstein’s Army

tn_frankensteinsarmyLooking to get a fake Stalin-era propaganda anthem stuck in your head forever? The FRANKENSTEIN’S ARMY menu, opening and end credits are here to help! This low budget, high on practical effects English language Dutch-American-Czech production tells a simple story about a group of Soviet soldiers who encounter a Nazi scientist’s enclave of steampunk zombie cyborg monsters. And that’s about it.

Tbfh (to be frankly honest) I don’t really get this fascination with adding Nazis to zombies or aliens or mad scientists or whatever. I’m not against it, I just can’t really relate to the people that get so excited for IRON SKY or DEAD SNOW or whatever. I think maybe genre + swastika is shorthand for ’40s pulp aesthetic. And it seems like it’s usually these low budget grassroots people dealing with period detail and style that they can’t really pull off convincingly. This one does better than many I think, even if it has HELLBOY’s Karl Roden in it to remind you how not-fresh the Nazi/Russian/mad science triangle is.

mp_frankensteinsarmyThe problem – and this is a major one to me – is that it’s done found footage style. One character is filming it all for propaganda footage or something. They do avoid that usual problem of using found footage as an excuse to never show anything. No, this is all about showing stuff, and I really respect that. But more than any found footage movie I’ve seen it’s a constant distraction because it just doesn’t even remotely make sense. I can forgive the unjustified in-camera edits, and maybe the endless camera running without accounting for all the times they would’ve had to change the film. But I just could never shake the difficulty of accepting this as real footage filmed during World War II. It doesn’t look like that era to us because there’s no film like this from that era.

They show the small hand crank camera it’s supposedly filmed with, and a character points out that he’s never seen a camera with a microphone for recording sound. That old loophole that if you point out it doesn’t make sense then that means technically it does make sense so fuck you we win shut up leave me alone. The force field of self awareness.

But man, it looks so clear, so non-flickery. And there are a whole bunch of quiet scenes! No camera rattling away. I wondered if they would claim the futuristic camera was created by the Dr. Frankenstein that created this army, but he’d never be able to make it either because all his shit clanks and putters and ticks.

And the sad thing is it looks really good. If they shot it traditionally, or even in similar long takes but non-subjectively, it would seem like a real movie. And I’d have no problem with other artistic license like Russian soldiers speaking English. Pretending to be actual footage makes legitimate storytelling techniques into blatant cheats.

What they’ve made is not so much a movie as a Halloween horror maze. And by those standards it is very impressive. It’s mostly a walk through a place seeing different monsters pop out. Guys with white eyes (sometimes that explode), guys with drills and hammers and things for hands, stitched up ladies, a guy with a bear trap for a head that slams shut on another guy’s head, big lumbering guys that push around mine carts full of body parts or force feed soup to guests. There’s a guy with a propeller for a face. There’s a guy that looks like Gestapo Edward Scissorhands. There’s a guy with a snout and stilts like a giant mosquito. They have hooks and claws and army helmets and diving equipment and motor chests and landmine heads. The end credits list a ridiculous number of monsters and “zombots,” I wish I counted how many ’cause they’re not on IMDb.

My favorite one looked like a potbelly stove with legs. You don’t even notice him until the mad scientist suddenly yells “HANS!” and he comes running like an excitable dog when somebody’s at the front door. If he didn’t have a big ol’ swastika painted on him he’d be adorable. He’s like a Nazi R2-D2.

Alot of them are less friendly. They suddenly jump out and chase like the pyramid-headed individual in SILENT HILL. But this doesn’t have nearly the atmosphere or eery dreaminess of that one. It’s missing some of the qualities I enjoy in a horror movie, but at least has much more than what is customary in a found footage picture. In the effects and costumes and stuff there is a high concentration of elbow grease, if not in the script. (By the way you guys this shares one writer with REVENGE OF THE NERDS.) More than any I’ve seen it’s like a series of magic tricks, things they really had to plan and practice and set up and time well. It seems like a pain in the ass to do instead of the usual insultingly simple. And purists will appreciate that there’s very little that’s digital. I think only one effect that I remember.

So there you go. Trick or treat I guess.

VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.

This entry was posted on Wednesday, February 11th, 2015 at 10:07 am and is filed under Horror, Reviews. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

14 Responses to “Frankenstein’s Army”

  1. This was one of the more unwatchable movies I’ve seen in recent years. Once you figure out within the first ten minutes or so that nothing that occurs in between the monster attacks has any narrative or cinematic value at all, you can just zone out and do a crossword or something when no one onscreen is screaming. What a horrible waste of some excellent practical effects. Note to aspiring filmmakers: when your visual approach requires more exposition than your plot, you’re doing it wrong.

  2. I might be wrong but I think I heard that this movie was only found footage because when they tried getting funding for it the investors said they’d only pay for a horror film if it was found footage.

  3. “Tbfh (to be frankly honest) I don’t really get this fascination with adding Nazis to zombies or aliens or mad scientists or whatever. I’m not against it, I just can’t really relate to the people that get so excited for IRON SKY or DEAD SNOW or whatever. I think maybe genre + swastika is shorthand for ’40s pulp aesthetic.”

    Sometimes I wonder, what if the film industry was predominantly run by Native Americans? Would Nazis still be the go to default embodiment of evil in cinema, or would it be the evil European settlers that brought brought death and genocide to the shores of America.

  4. I dug this one, it has awesome visuals, loved the nazi zombie creatures but as you point out it has plotholes, but I was willing to overlook them because of the films aesthetic. They achieved so much with so little. One of the better nazi zombie films.

  5. I have to agree with Majestyk, it’s really too bad they wasted such great creature design and effects on an unwatchable piece of shit like that.

  6. Goddamn you, found-footage. Goddamn you to hell.

  7. Sounds to me like someone hoped that the mix of Nazis in a horror movie and practical FX alone would make this a guaranteed cult movie. Seems like he was wrong.

  8. The hangup on nazis in horror movies is mostliy about the uniforms. Let’s face it, those guys had some cool uniforms.

  9. I don’t know, I watched one about nazi dragons and clearly they didn’t put much effort into getting good nazi uniforms. I think it’s mostly because adding “nazi” to a stale, overused trope makes it sound cool and “wacky” again. Dragons? There’s like a new shitty dragon movie on Syfy every other week, so, who cares about dragons anymore. But nazi dragons? Wow dude that’s just sooo wacky, it’s gonna be one of those “so bad it’s good” movies right? Sadly, no, it’s just another shitty movie about shitty CGI dragons, but they’ll always find idiots like me to be like “yeah, I guess nazi dragons could be fun” and watch anyway.

  10. If anyone’s wondering, NAZIS AT THE CENTER OF THE EARTH is shitty too, btw.

    Now that I think about it, since Full Moon studios probably still have nazi uniforms in their closets from the PUPPET MASTER days, it’s kind of surprising that Charles Band hasn’t made a nazi Gingerdead Man or a nazi Evil Bong yet.

  11. I came into this film with absolutely zero expectation, so I was able to enjoy it on a modest level… I really liked the Nazi zombot monsters, the setting design was pretty rad, and I kind of liked some of the beats and reveals. The sequence in that maze of tunnels was cool.

    It won’t change anyone’s life or anything, and the found footage aspect is ridiculous, but I went in thinking I’d turn it off in ten minutes, and ended up getting to the end and thinking, “Huh. Okay.”

  12. Seriously it takes about 5 minutes (or a look at the cover art) to realise you’re watching this for the cool monsters. On that level, it’s fucking great.

    I’d love to see these monsters show up in a good movie some time but this will do for now.

  13. Pegsman – I think you have something there. I remember reading a bit of film criticism where the author claimed that the Nazis may have failed as a governing force and as an ideology, but they have thrived as an aesthetic signifier.

  14. “I’m not against it, I just can’t really relate to the people that get so excited for IRON SKY or DEAD SNOW or whatever”

    And they specifically get excited about how they think it’s going to be dumb or cheesy or incoherent. I dunno man, in my opinion there’s plenty of inspired lunacy in genuinely good films, and Iron Sky at least wasn’t nearly inventive enough to number among them.

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