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, handheld camera shot, 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 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 to herald 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 of fight and flight 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 tinker: 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 even more oblivious Dr. Frankenstein is nothing short of a hoot to watch.
Everything about this film is pretty endearing. Once you pull yourself past the student project feel and settle into its carnival of horrors, you start to enjoy it for what it is; an ambitious 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 effects and set-design department and above all a good eye for humour. Frankenstein’s Army is cult classic material.