What does it take to scare people? It’s a question at the heart of any good horror film, much less a great one. First, there has to be some kind of frightening premise, and what’s more frightening that to see people essentially void of any trace of humanity? Sure, there’s the mechanization of men and women – think of it as the ‘Borgification’ of mankind (if Trekkers, Trekkies, and general Trek enthusiasts will pardon the usage) – but it’s the gradually blending of man and machine that’s much scarier (in most cases) than the finished product. For my tastes, the more flesh, the better … that’s because human flesh always serves to remind me that I’m watching what was a former human being now turned into something else … something bizarre … something decidedly unlike me … and that’s what instills true horror.
In the past two decades, one of the more effective diversions within all of filmdom – especially where horror films are concerned – has been the phenomenon of the ‘found footage’ film. It essentially started with THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT, and it’s found a few interesting riffs or variations … but none might be so inspired, so brazen, and so zany as what director Richard Raaphorst has done with a script (in part) of his own invention, FRANKENSTEIN’S ARMY.
And what an invention it is!
(NOTE: The following review will contain minor spoilers necessary solely for the discussion of plot and characters. If you’re the kind of reader who prefers a review entirely spoiler-free, then I’d encourage you to skip down to the last three paragraphs for my final assessment. If, however, you’re accepting of a few modest hints at ‘things to come,’ then read on …)
Near the end of World War II, a crack squad of Soviet soldiers are making their way across occupied territory on a secret mission to locate a deranged Nazi scientist – Dr. Frankenstein (intended to be the son of the one featured in the original FRANKENSTEIN) – who’s known to be secretly conducting some of the most bizarre genetic experiments ever conceived.
And, seriously, that’s probably all you need to know going in to FRANKENSTEIN’S ARMY, a variation on the ‘found footage’ format film as our lead character/narrator is fundamentally tasked with capturing their mission on tape of the era. In fact, one could argue that knowing only this tiny fragment of what the film is about could conceivably be too much; part war-time road trip but equal part war-torn mind trip, ARMY is a balls-to-the-wall delight in all things bizarre.
Sure, one would be hard-pressed to warn the uninitiated that this is destined to be a cult film. It certainly has all of the makings, but first and foremost is the consideration that you seriously do not want to think too hard about ARMY. When you do, yes, much of it comes crashing apart. Like the thrill-house fun-ride, ARMY is about ‘the experience.’ When you think about it too deeply, you realize it couldn’t-wouldn’t-shouldn’t work in any probable fashion, but for the purposes of a cult flick, it works exactly the way it was probably always intended.
I’ll admit that the first twenty minutes of this (or so) was a bit of a slog, but I’d be hard-pressed to figure out where and what to cut because, as it stands, ARMY plays out as a lean, mean less-than-90 minutes carnival ride. Like most other cult films, I’d want to leave it just as it is; otherwise, losing the slow parts would mean having a theatrical experience running at about one hour, and that would no doubt reduce its effectiveness.
FRANKENSTEIN’S ARMY (2013) is produced by Dark Sky Films, Pellicola Films, and XYZ Films. DVD distribution is being handled through MPI Media Group. As for the technical specifications, the film looks and sounds about as solid as one would expect from a World War II era ‘found footage’ flick would be, so you can expect a reasonable but artistic amount of faulty images and soundtracking – rest assured, it’s all a part of the package. Lastly, there’s a wonderful little ‘making of’ short and several creature highlights that emphasize how deeply these artisans involved with the project truly love the art of filmmaking. Enjoy.
HIGHLY RECOMMENDED. FRANKENSTEIN’S ARMY is probably destined to be a cult classic someday, and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that. There’s so much going for it in the crazy, zany department that I’d imagine an entire school of film-nerds will find plenty to love about it. It’s a kinda/sorta mash-up of so many fringe cinematic styles, all of which are captured in the ‘found footage’ style, making it feel very much like a “Wartime Home Videos of the Damned.” Part punk, part splatter, part horror, part nihilistic nightmare, this was a macabre road trip I had no problem making.
In the interests of fairness, I’m pleased to disclose that the fine folks at MPI Media Group provided me with a DVD copy of FRANKENSTEIN’S ARMY by request for the expressed purposes of completing this review.