Frankenstein's Army: Film Review
Friday, July 26 (MPI Media, Dark Sky Films)
Karel Roden, Joshua Sasse, Robert Gwylim, Alexander Mercury, Andrei Zayats, Mark Stevenson, Hon Ping Tang
The mad scientist's grandson builds monsters for Nazis in Richard Raaphorst's found-footage horror flick.
Der Fuhrer enlists the services of Viktor Frankenstein's grandson in Richard Raaphorst's Frankenstein's Army, which watches as a handful of Russian soldiers discover the madman's secret laboratory and fight to get out alive. More a filmed haunted house than a movie, the pic is in love with the cobbled-together monsters on offer and will engender similar emotions in many horror buffs. Lacking enough of a story to sustain it in theaters, though, it will reach most of those fanboys on small screens.
Taking a mock-doc approach, Raaphorst views everything through the camera of Dimitri (Alexander Mercury), a fresh-faced recruit making propaganda films about soldiers doing recon on the German front. The picture invests ample scene-setting time at the start, not so much developing characters as establishing a credible atmosphere of deprivation and exhaustion among the men.
Digital manipulation gives DP Bart Beekman's footage an enjoyable antique flavor, though Raaphorst's gestures toward authenticity don't extend to the running time or synch-sound limitations Dimitri's little 16mm camera would have suffered. Dimitri captures as much of the action as he would have with an always-on video camera, but few viewers likely are to balk at the anachronism.
Dimitri is alone noticing strange corpses in the woods, one of whom spurts briefly into life for the camera, but soon it's undeniable that something bizarrely wicked is afoot: A church has been retrofitted as a strange laboratory, within which an icky, naked semi-human thing -- covered in scars and attached to electrical wires -- disembowels the sergeant.
Led by a local into a labyrinth of tunnels beneath the church, the soldiers find themselves stalked by a menagerie of human/mechanical obscenities: reanimated corpses with scythes jutting from their forearms, power drills mounted in menacing mouths, slice-and-dice airplane propellers where their heads once were. The beasts are slow-moving and seem nearly mindless but inflict a surprising amount of damage on our sentient heroes. How exactly does a beast with four-foot lobster claws instead of hands open doors to chase its quarry?
The script, by Chris W. Mitchell and Miguel Tejas-Flores, provides barely enough information to justify its spookhouse structure: Moving through bogeymen instead of away from them, the soldiers watch as each new creation of SFX supervisor Rogier Samuels (a vet of Peter Jackson's Middle Earth films) lumbers around the corner with arms -- or what used to be arms -- flailing wildly.
This action will inspire more bursts of giddy, incredulous laughter than jolts of fear -- a mood that only intensifies when we meet the mad scientist himself, played with midnight-movie gusto by Karel Roden. "I can end the war by creating a new being!" he declares at one point, bisecting the brains of a Nazi and a communist and combining them crudely into a single corpse's skull. If the film had played up this type of satire-friendly theme and offered a little humor to balance its initial wartime realism, Frankenstein's Army might have been sufficiently re-watchable to attract a small cult following.
Production: MPI Media, Dark Sky Films, XYZ Films, Pellicola
Cast: Karel Roden, Joshua Sasse, Robert Gwylim, Alexander Mercury, Andrei Zayats, Mark Stevenson, Hon Ping Tang
Director: Richard Raaphorst
Screenwriters: Chris W. Mitchell, Miguel Tejas-Flores
Producers: Nick Jongerius, Daniel Koefoed, Todd Brown, Greg Newman
Executive producers: Badie Ali, Hamza Ali, Malik B. Ali, Nate Boltin, Nick Spicer, Aram Tertzakian
Director of photography: Bart Beekman
Production designer: Jindrich Koci
Costume designer: Hana Rambova
Editor: Jasper Verhorevoort
Rated R, 83 minutes