Hello and Hallo-welcome to Hallowfest Octobfilm, and our first installment of Frankenstein Friday, where we explore films that riff off the characters and situations in Mary Shelley’s novel, Frankenstein. You join your bloggers, Andy and Lilly, on a dark and stormy night, perfect for bringing creatures to life!
Today’s Frankenstein Friday offering: Frankenstein’s Army
Lilly: Seriously, though. What if Dr.Frankenstein had worked for the Nazis? Or so I believe the conversation about the concept of this film started.
Frankenstein’s Army is the tale of Soviet soldiers on what was to be a simple reconnaissance mission that turns into a bloodbath. That isn’t a spoiler, this is a horror film, it wasn’t going to be successful, now, was it?
It stars literally no one you’d know, save Joshua Sasse (Galavant!), who is brilliant as Sergei, the Polish soldier who is the higher ranked but lesser human to the men in the group, because racism.
Andy: This doomed patrol gets a radio call from another group of the Motherland’s Finest, and set off to try and effect a rescue. What they discover instead is the grandson of Frankenstein, fusing the locals and various Nazi soldiers with machines to create an army of nightmarish creatures!
Lilly: And don’t forget the pile of dead nuns! They found that as well. A pile of them. Because Nazis are evil. Remember? Pile of dead nuns.
Andy: Frankenstein’s Army is Richard Raaphorst’s first feature-length film, and as most of his other credits are for visual and concept design, you’d better believe these creatures are awesome to look at. They’re definitely the main draw of the film – the plot does drag occasionally, but once things like the Human Mosquito and Clamp-Head turn up you’re eagerly awaiting the next weird and wonderful ‘experiment’ to turn up.
Lilly: I tend to not get into zombies, as you well know (see: every review of a zombie film we did last year), but the creatures in this were so creative and weird and clearly made by a mad man that I was actually excited to see what came next. Guy with a drill for a face? Yay! Weird clampy hands? Yay! What appears to be a cauldron with legs? Yay!
Andy: The trouble is the film has some other major flaws – the main one being the found-footage conceit. It’s distracting – firstly because the footage being produced is far too good for any portable cameras existing in 1944, especially the sound, and because it doesn’t really add anything to the experience. There’s some funny opening footage set to a bombastic Russian male choir of the soldiers ‘liberating’ areas of Eastern Europe, but I don’t think there’s any need for it the rest of the time.
Lilly: I think that the reason behind the found footage was a good enough one to keep the film rolling, which is not always the case–sometimes you wonder why they are bothering filming and not running for their lives, but this film covered that ground pretty decently. And I loved the Russian male choir reel. I think Russian male choirs should be the soundtrack to more things, honestly.
Andy: It does keep doing this extremely irritating thing where the camera keeps getting tinnitus from explosions, which is silly and distracting.
Lilly: Not to mention the flipping of the lenses or the weird red screen–I get it, film was not digital yet, but come on. It did use the ‘malfunctions’ well, however, I have to give it that. A flip of the lense, some fading to black, and BOOM, Nazi monster right there, sneaking up like it isn’t a bunch of metal on metal clanging. Which was my main pet peeve. The monsters kept sneaking up on them, as if, again, they weren’t mainly metal, clanking along on concrete floors. The Russian military really should do more thorough health checks of their soldiers because these men clearly all had hearing issues.
Andy: However, despite this fact, this movie is a lot of fun. It’s not for everyone – the humour is jet-black and the violence is gore-filled but also a tad slapsticky. If you don’t gasp and then laugh at a moment where a helmet removal goes badly wrong, this isn’t the film for you.
Lilly: It was the ‘sorry’ that was so very inadequate that came after that made me laugh, I swear!
Andy: I like it though. It’s certainly not in the top rank of found footage films; it’s nowhere near as good as, say, Trollhunter, but the sheer effort and enthusiasm that’s gone into it is obvious. And wouldn’t we all like to see more things made with a bit of passion, even if it’s passion in Dutch-American-Czech films about steampunk Nazi cyborgs?
Lilly: I forgot how much I liked it, actually, and rewatching it for this year’s Hallowfest reminded me of that fact. It’s fun! It really is. When the soldier’s walk into the deserted town and find dug up graves and what looks like a lightning rod-rigged tower, the Frankenstein fan in me went ‘oh ho hooo’, after all.
Also, I think it is something worth mentioning that the only woman we really meet in the film is a completely realistic German nurse who tries to help in the ridiculous situation the Russian soldiers find themselves in. She’s not there for long, but she isn’t misused as a damsel or as sexy eye candy. She’s another character you barely notice, and that is frankly pretty good for a horror film when it comes to young women.
Andy: Note to directors: Do This More.
Lilly: I also found it really interesting how the characters remained true to character–characterisation in some gore-fests is clearly not a priority, but in Frankenstein’s Army, it really seemed to be something paid attention to. From the very well done accents (Joshua Sasse’s Polish is so. Good.) to how the Russian soldiers acted towards the Germans they came across in Frankenstein’s lair, I actually was super impressed by the amount of thought that went into this. I mean, as mentioned above, this is a film featuring a guy with a drill for a face. You don’t go in expecting any master classes in acting…
Andy: …or an accurate portrayal of the Ostfront…
Lilly: … but the cast delivered. Dr.Frankenstein was one of the darkest, craziest characters I have ever seen on film, and he was just this middle-aged guy, doing his thing. His crazy, crazy thing. I am very happy to recommend this to anyone who can handle a whole lot of gruesome dismemberments and experiments in their horror.
Andy: Bonus fun: stick around for the credits. Some of the names of the monsters they’ve used in the cast list are absolutely hilarious.
Lilly: Not to mention the reveal of who the woman is that you meet in Victor’s rooms. Eep. Enjoy!