Over the past few years there’s been a real peak in the impact of fan-boy fantasy on cinema, especially horror. We’ve seen some truly nutty visions being realised on the big screen and, for better or worse, that trend shows no signs of stopping. The recent sub-genre of Nazi zombie films is creatively tackled in first-time-feature director Richard Raaphorst’s endearingly titled, found footage, B-movie extraordinaire Frankenstein’s Army.
How, may you ask, is a film set during WW2 shot on hand-held camera? By the genius of a specially selected film student chosen to tag along with a Russian platoon in order to film some propaganda. This surmises the bonkers logic to most of Frankenstein’s Army. A good section of the film is spent getting to understand the characters and what the Russian involvement in the war was, and before we get anywhere near the fateful dwelling of Baron Frankenstein, there’s a breadcrumb trail of bizarre carcasses hinting that the good doctor has extended his research to animalistic steampunk zombie monstrosities.
There’s a charming sort of referential stupidity involved in how unperturbed most of the Russians seem about finding these creatures. But that’s a key part of the film; it doesn’t take itself too seriously and by doing that makes itself far more effective as a horror film. By slotting the ridiculous alongside the drab hopelessness of the incredible sets and creatures, there’s room for some genuinely horrible moments of tense action and fear. Like the end of Blair Witch meets Silent Hill via Stuart Gordon. Camera handling dwindles sometimes during panic-driven moments to unfortunately leave some sections of film messy and nonsensical, which is a shame when such care has been taken to make the visuals so striking.
Even if the film is operating on a budget, it appears not to be too hindered: sets have been carefully selected and then dressed up to fit the period and aesthetic, creatures have been formed with a mind to dodging the traditional concept of zombie. This time, Frankenstein’s monsters are exactly the kind of industrial horrors you’d expect from a post WW1 corpse tinkerer: hulking metal and robotics, grey flesh and black leather, ridiculous appendages for the decimation of allied forces. And Karel Roden’s (Hellboy, Rocknrolla) fantastic turn as a madcap. particularly oblivious Dr. Frankenstein, is nothing short of a hoot to watch. Camp horror villains don’t come much better than this.
Everything about this film is pretty endearing. Once you pull yourself past the student project feel and settle into its carnival of horrors feel, you start to enjoy it for what it is; a Nazi-zombie flick. There’s no pretence here, no whimsical story, just a good old-fashioned monster film with some well-deserved scares, a great production department and- above all- a good eye for humour. Frankenstein’s Army is cult classic material.
Director: Richard Raaphorst
Stars: Robert Gwylim, Hon Ping Tang, Alexander Mercury, Luke Newberry, Joshua Sasse, Karel Roden