Frankenstein’s Army (2013)
Films don’t get much more fun than this. FRANKENSTEIN’S ARMY does something that most modern day horror movies don’t do: It’s fucking original!! When I sat down to watch this one I was dreading getting another film loosely based on the Frankenstein myth. Well we do indeed get a film based on Mary Shelley’s characters (she’s even given a writing credit), but the writers here, Chris W. Mitchell, Richard Raaphorst (also the director), and Miguel Tejada-Flores, run with this idea and create something unique, disturbing, gory, and fun. As if WWII weren’t horrifying enough with Nazis, atomic weapons, concentration camps, and death marches in the Pacific, Raaphorst has to go and add some hideously designed creatures created by borderline mad scientist to help assist the Nazis.
In FRANKENSTEIN’S ARMY we see the action (and horror) unfold from the perspective of Dimitri (Alexander Mercury), a young Russian soldier who has been “encouraged” to make a war propaganda film. If he does this then his captured parents will remain safe. We’re towards the end of WWII and Dimitri is accompanying a platoon of Russian soldiers as they push into Eastern Germany. This platoon is on a mission to find and if possible rescue a previous Russian squad who was sent into the same area and disappeared. The first thing you’ll notice is that we have no sympathetic characters here. Dimitri comes close, but he’s no angel. These are soldiers during wartime and they are all very unlikable. You’ll even find yourself cheering on their deaths in later scenes. When this platoon comes across a village they are anything but relief for the villagers. We watch as the Russians essentially raid the town doing pretty deplorable things. At one point the squad leader, Novikov (Robert Gwilym) even covers up the camera during the raid.
Eventually the platoon comes across a secret bunker where some German scientists were experimenting on creating some super soldiers (what the hell is it with the Nazis and their “Super Soldiers”??). And what are they using as the blueprint? The Germans have none other than Dr. Viktor Frankenstein (Karel Roden), the grandson of the infamous Dr. Frankenstein. Roden plays his role perfectly and creates a fantastic character that is easily the best in the film. We don’t get the typical bat shit crazy mad scientist bent on world domination. Viktor is conducting these experiments because he believes it’s the right thing to do for his country. That, dear readers, is more chilling than any Bond-esque, taking-over-the-world kind of villain any day.
The troops’ first contact with the doctor’s handiwork results in a few deaths but they managed to hold their ground. They soon find a family of survivors including a nurse, Eva (Cristina Catalina), and the dynamic of the group changes even more. As they explore the underground bunker they find that not only is it seemingly unending, but it’s filled with more horrors than a priest-run daycare center. This is when the fun truly begins. Once all of Viktor’s creations start to get screen time you’re gonna have a blast. We don’t get the tired old genetic experiments gone wrong explanations. What Viktor is doing is taking the body parts of dead German and Russian soldiers, using his grandpappy’s journal to fuse them together and bring them back to life, and then fixing them with various types of deadly weapons. Really nasty, ruin your day kinds of weapons. The creatures, designed by director Raaphorst and built by special f/x supervisor Rogier Samuels, are truly the contents of nightmares. Many, many nights of nightmares. These “super soldiers” are some of the best creature designs I’ve seen in a long time and are without a doubt the highlight of the film. They are disgusting, original looking, and just downright horrific. There’s also a steampunk-like quality to them that made them even more disturbing and nightmarish.
FRANKENSTEIN’S ARMY, though, is far from perfect. Even though the acting is good, I mentioned above how there really aren’t any characters to root for. A lot of the film is also done in the found footage style, seen from Dimitrti’s camera. This footage tries really hard to be footage from an 8mm camera, but it’s obvious that it was shot on a digital camera and the scratches, film discolorations, and jumpy edits were all added in during post-production. They should’ve either actually used 8mm film for those scenes or abandoned the entire found footage aspect altogether. Believe me; the overall movie would’ve been none the worse for not having any found footage in it. The movie also drags on in a few places most likely due to the thin storyline. At times FRANKENSTEIN’S ARMY feels like a short film that was stretched out to a full length feature. You’ll forget about the slow parts, though, once the creatures start getting screen time.
What’s also a little disappointing is that the creatures don’t always seem to be that threatening. At times they come across as rather clunky and aimless. Sure they have various big ass weapons on them, but there was more than one occasion when Dimitri has a creature swinging its bladed arms at him at point blank range and the blades simply missed him. The best way to fight these monsters, it seems, is to just stand still and they’ll mill around aimlessly swinging and missing. And I won’t get into the fact that all the Russian and German characters speak English. That shit doesn’t bother me and never has. I hate having to read subtitles in a horror film because you end up either missing dialogue or missing what’s going on on-screen.
Don’t let these few negatives turn you off. There’s a lot of fun to be had with FRANKENSTEIN’S ARMY. Besides the aforementioned creatures, the sets are also damn impressive. The underground Nazi bunker is truly a landscape of horrors. Amidst all the seemingly endless tunnels are rooms that just scream out death, pain, and torture. The set design really enhanced and amplified the horror elements. And returning to the Viktor Frankenstein character, just wait until he reveals his plan to help end the war. He plans on joining together the brain of a Communist with the brain of a Nazi, and he even shows us how!! Even when he tries to do something “good” (like end the war), he comes across as a horrible, horrible man.
FRANKENSTEIN’S ARMY, when ya get right down to it, is a good old fashioned monster flick. In this sense it succeeds. If it had even one or two likable characters in it and worked a little more on its pacing issues we’d for sure have a classic film on our hands. But as it stands, there’s a ton of fun to be had with FRANKENSTEIN’S ARMY, and the creatures you witness will have you rewinding and freeze-framing on them just to make sure your brain isn’t playing tricks on you. And besides the creatures, this film has some spectacular gore in it that’ll have you cheering. I’m definitely recommending FRANKENSTEIN’S ARMY, even with its flaws.
Check out more of the creature designs below.
Director: Richard Raaphorst
Plot: 3.5 out of 5 stars
Gore: 7.5 out of 10 skulls (this includes the creatures)
Zombie Mayhem: 0 out of 5 brains
Reviewed by Scott Shoyer
Here’s more of the creatures from the film: