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Simon Read [Celluloid 07.02.13] horror

Richard Raaphort's totally barmy action-horror hybrid Frankenstein's Army starts off a little shakily, as it follows a group of Russian soldiers on a reconnaissance mission on the Eastern Front during the last stages of WWII. Once the more fantastic elements of the plot come into play though, it reveals itself as a seriously strange and twisted work of genius. Much has been made of the fact that it's taken years to get this film from concept to completion but I think I can say it's been worth the wait. With wonderfully realized and creative creature designs, a narrative which twists all over the place and a superbly grotesque final act, it's a film which is assured an underground cult status.

We're introduced to a beleaguered squad of Russians who are documenting their progress on celluloid thanks to camera-man Dimitri and his seemingly endless supply of film. It's a familiar POV style only broken for the opening montage and credits, but crucially, thanks to the period setting, it doesn't feel too similar to other films which have employed the same technique. Dimitri fusses over which camera will work best with which stock, and tries to organize shots for posterity of the men walking in formation, but when the group discover the warped skeletal remains of a dead Nazi with sparks bursting out of its ribcage, they naturally stop messing around and a sense of order asserts itself.

Following a radio distress call from another unit the Ruskies come across what appears to be an abandoned church which has been modified into some kind of factory, and it's here that things get really freaky and the plot begins to spin into an Aliens homage in an underground bunker (there is a 'Space Jockey' nod early in the film which foreshadows this). It is also where the film announces itself as something rather special, and we get a really good look at what Raaphort has come up with for the 'army' of the title. From the first glimpse we're afforded of the creatures, all of which seem uniquely bizarre, the film really comes into its own. It seems a certain doctor Frankenstein has been busy working for the Third Reich, and his friends are coming out to play.

Given my limited knowledge of how special effects work I have no real way of telling which elements are practical props and what - if anything - is computer generated, but the feel of it is definitely old-school steam-punk. Try to imagine Nazi Borg but with implants made out of huge scythes and gas masks which extend into malevolent pointed spikes, or even lobster-like claws which seem to have mutated grotesquely out of the body. Several of these cyborg-like monsters were so wonderful that I wanted to spend more time with them than we're afforded, like 'Propeller-Head' whose head is a giant... well, you get it. The idea, of course, is that the scientist who has created these things has been forced to use whatever is lying around in the wake of a huge war, so the designs are just made-up of scraps. It's an idea that must have seemed great at the time, and luckily it works just as well in execution.

There's an old adage in film reviewing that if you're not gripped in the first ten minutes of a movie then you probably won't be, and this film would appear a notable exception. The budget is nothing spectacular and in fact the poster design is pretty misleading in it's suggestion of an epic scale (I don't remember seeing any zeppelins in the completed film) but it's the eventual slide into all out chaos that makes this film worth sticking around for. While the opening scenes make it appear like a cheap B-Movie using a shaking-cam to cover for a lack of funds, the meat of the film shows where the time and money was really spent, and there are some genuinely impressive set-pieces and fight-scenes.

Frankenstein's Army is well worth seeing on the big-screen if you can get the chance. All the better to enjoy the ride. While it's no masterpiece and has some moments of dodgy line-delivery and a few ragged edges, once the action starts you find yourself getting so involved that it's almost too much fun.

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Digger (8 years ago) Reply

Any word on VOD release?


Slangster (8 years ago) Reply

According to twitchfilm it hits vod on July 26th. So looking forward to it!

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