Review by Derrick Carter
Running Time: 1 hour 24 minutes
MPAA Rating: R for Bloody Violence and Grisly Images, and Language
Directed by: Richard Raaphorst
Written by: Chris W. Mitchell & Miguel Tejada-Flores
Starring: Karel Roden, Joshua Sasse, Robert Gwilym, Alexander Mercury & Luke Newberry
Every time I say that I’m done with the found footage horror genre, about three different projects come along that reinvigorate my interest in handheld scares. FRANKENSTEIN’S ARMY was one of these projects in 2013. The trailer looked neat and even though this was definitely a crazy idea to begin with, it looked like it might be a fun, gore-soaked thrill ride. I didn’t remember this film leaving much of an impression on me the first time around and decided to give a second go just to see if it was the mood I was in. Four years after my initial viewing, I walked away with almost the exact same impression, but I have reasoning for my mixed bag reaction. Is this found footage film worth watching? If you’re willing to forgive lots of problems, then my answer is kinda, sorta, maybe…
In the final stretch of WWII, a group of Russian soldiers receive a distress signal and decide to respond to it. This move is potentially deadly as it leads them behind enemy lines, but they take the risk anyway for their fellow countrymen. Upon arriving at the location, they discover a myriad of grotesque undead creations instead of Russian soldiers. These monsters all have various weapons attached to their hands and seem to be stitched together from decaying body parts. It turns out that Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein was not a fictional novel and his grandson is carrying on his legacy in the midst of WWII. We watch the footage as the soldiers begin to get picked off one-by-one.
FRANKENSTEIN’S ARMY is a film that asks you to extend your disbelief in a lot of ways. Obviously, there’s the insane set-up of Frankenstein’s grandson construction an army of bloodthirsty death machines in WWII. That idea is actually pretty awesome, but the film seems to ask even more of the viewer by executing its premise in found footage format. We’re supposed to believe that HD-level cameras existed back in WWII and that Russian cameramen were operating them in the midst of war. Sure, the film puts an occasional aged effect (film reel strip, the camera cracking, swapping the lens, etc.), but these seem like half-assed, last-minute additions in post.
This film’s found footage aspect is dumb, but it lends a walkthrough haunted house vibe to the material that would be lost in a traditional narrative. In this way, FRANKENSTEIN’S ARMY’s scenario was truly a damned if they do (found footage) and damned if they don’t (traditional narrative). The film’s acting is pretty horrible too as the main cameraman Dimitri (Alexander Mercury) is an unconvincing, unsympathetic douchebag from the get-go. He verbally abuses his comically inept assistant Sacha (Luke Newberry) in the opening scenes and he never gets much better from there. We’re supposed to feel something for Dimitri later on as a few convenient twists come to light and there’s a clichéd talking the camera confession, but I wanted him to die from the first minute I saw him on-screen.
The rest of the Russian squad aren’t much better. Andrei Zayats is beyond over-the-top as a hot-headed, torture-happy soldier. It’s like Zayats watched every scumbag character from other movies and then combined them into a single paper-thin performance. Robert Gwilym is okay as the head sergeant, but his character is a dumbass who makes one of the single stupidest decisions I’ve seen in a 21st-century horror film. Joshua Sasse is the most likable, well-rounded Russian soldier, but the competition isn’t exactly fierce. Meanwhile, Karel Roden crazily devours the scenery as Frankenstein’s demented grandson. Roden makes every one of his scenes fun to watch because he’s clearly having a blast as this WWII-era mad scientist.
The real stars of FRANKENSTEIN’S ARMY are the monsters and they are awesome. If for nothing else, these creatures are the sole reason you should sit through this film. These creations are all practical and brought to the screen with style. Giant propeller blades for heads, a “mosquito man” with a drill for a nose, a faceless monster that seems to have crawled straight out of SILENT HILL, and more freaky abominations lurk in the halls of Frankenstein’s secret base. These creatures are just plain cool to look at and dispatch the Russian soldiers in all sorts of gory ways. They even occasionally make for an effective scare and build tension as they come out of nowhere and swarm around the desperate characters. I would recommend checking out FRANKENSTEIN’S ARMY simply for the “haunted house” thrill aspect of seeing these creatures in a first-person POV.
FRANKENSTEIN’S ARMY is a monster movie that has dumb writing, far-fetched stretches in its storytelling style, and mostly terrible acting. However, the film delivers in its monsters and they almost single-handedly make up for the film’s many, many problems. These creatures are awesome to behold and effectively terrifying at points. To see them within the context of the film only makes them cooler to watch. This is a rare case where I’m recommending that you check out a film that’s lame in almost every category, but has one major saving grace: an army of bad-ass monsters. If this sounds like a goofy ride that you’d dig, then give this gory guilty pleasure a watch!