Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Movie Review: Frankenstein's Army

As you probably already know, I am a big fan of the Weird War concept. This setting combines World War II, the most iconic conflict of all time, and adds in elements of the supernatural and/or science fiction. So when I first heard of Frankenstein's Army, I was intrigued. After all, who wouldn't want to watch a horror movie about Frankenstein creating dieselpunk zombie monsters for the Third Reich?

Warning: This review contains spoilers, and also includes a fairly disturbing movie poster and trailer below the cut.

The plot of the film is simple: near the end of World War II, some Soviet soldiers stumble across a hidden bunker compound that contains the laboratory where Dr. Frankenstein's grandson, also named Victor Frankenstein, is creating horrible monsters for the Nazis. The monsters chase the Soviets. The Soviets mostly die horribly.

The film uses the "found footage" gimmick, as though the film we see were the film being shot by a Soviet propaganda cameraman accompanying a squad of soldiers following a squad of soldiers. There is a bit of hand-waving about how they have an advanced camera that can be carried by a person while also recording audio in 1945. When making a film called Frankenstein's Army, I don't think the creators were too worried about historical accuracy.

Take a look at the trailer here:

A lot of the film feels like walking through a house of horrors. Walk down a corridor, turn a corridor, oh no! It's a zombie! It's slashing at you with the blades built into its arms! Quick, turn and run back the other way! Oh no, another zombie just appeared and cut off your escape route! Take the side exit! More zombies are moving in to stop you, so run past them as fast as you can while they take swings at you! Whew, just made it. So on, and so forth.

The film's strength is the truly creative costumes for the monsters. A lot of imagination went into ways in which to combine blades, armor, industrial tools, and zombies. And of course everything is covered in swastikas, so that you can be sure whose side these zombies (or, as they are called in the Making Of feature, "zombots") are on. There are several distinct varieties of "zombots," from zombies with blades in their arms to zombies fully encased in walking armor.

The zombies are effective because, as grotesque as they are, they are not incredibly effective. Some of them can only manage a slow shuffle, or their weapons are horribly impractical, like one memorable "zombot" with a propeller built into his helmet over his face. These designs really sell the idea that Frankenstein is not so much a genius interested in creating a better class of soldier as much as a sadist cobbling together whatever twisted creatures his imagination conjures.

I rented Frankenstein's Army to see some dieselpunk Nazi zombies, and I was not disappointed. Still, I felt like the film missed some opportunities, and could have been better. The film is only 80 minutes long, and the first third of that is spent watching the soldiers walk around, patrol, sleep, argue, and raid a farm for chickens. I suspect that this section is meant to introduce us to the soldiers and establish a baseline of normal soldiering before things start getting weird, but the creators don't put much effort into identifying the different soldiers. We mostly get an impression of miscellaneous soldiers with a single trait each: the old one, the jerk, the Mongolian looking one, the one with the beard, the cameraman, the young guy who helps the cameraman.

If a horror film about dieselpunk Nazi zombies sound like something you'd like to watch, now you know what to rent. If not, then this movie doesn't have much else to offer.

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