Criterion’s April titles include Coppola’s Rumble Fish and Wim Wenders’ Buena Vista Social Club https://t.co/1PmfiylRaB
Release Date(s)2013 (September 10, 2013)
Studio(s)Dark Sky Films
One of the first horror movies ever made, if not the first, was the Thomas Edison Studio’s 1910 version of Frankenstein. Since then, there have been hundreds of adaptations and variations of Mary Shelley’s classic creation. With the territory so thoroughly mapped out, it’s getting harder to bring a really new and unique twist to the material. But director Richard Raaphorst finds a way in the dementedly entertaining Frankenstein’s Army.
It’s World War II and a squad of Russian soldiers receives a distress call from a fellow unit. Their search brings them to an abandoned village that’s been transformed into the laboratory of Dr. Viktor Frankenstein (Karel Roden), grandson of the original mad scientist. Viktor is carrying on the family business, creating monstrous super-weapons for the Nazis. But even though the Germans are footing the bill, Frankenstein’s agenda is entirely his own.
The worst thing about Frankenstein’s Army, and the one aspect of the film I suspect will cause some people to pass on it entirely, is that it’s a “found-footage” film, although I’m not sure that term really applies here. Most found-footage movies like The Blair Witch Project and Paranormal Activity make some sort of attempt, no matter how half-assed, to persuade the audience that the events are real. Raaphorst doesn’t bother with that. It’s more accurate to call this a “first-person-shooter” movie, since the cameraman is a character in the film. And while the movie eventually provides a justification for the technique, it’s still kind of irritating to deal with the shaky movement and whirring camera sound effects. I’d have liked the movie even more if it had been filmed like a classic World War II epic.
The reason to watch Frankenstein’s Army, and it’s a damn good reason, is to see Raaphorst’s insanely imaginative monsters. The creatures are Nazi steampunk nightmares come to life and a tribute to the eternal glory of practical effects over CGI. The cast is fine, although their characters are so thinly sketched they aren’t given a whole lot to work with. They aren’t really expected to do much other than fire guns and die. The sets and the effects are the real show and they’re pretty spectacular. The movie has about as much substance as a Halloween theme park attraction. But Halloween theme park attractions can be a lot of fun when they’re done well and Frankenstein’s Army is a great deal of bloody fun.
It’s a little hard to judge the video quality of Dark Sky’s Blu-ray release. The worn, faded look is intentional, meant to mimic grainy 16mm footage. But it isn’t a very convincing con job. It always looks like what it actually is, digitally manipulated images, rather than what it’s supposed to. The 5.1 DTS-HD audio, on the other hand, is terrific, creating a very active and dynamic soundscape and totally ignoring the fact that surround sound makes the movie feel even less like a vintage 16mm film. Extras include a slightly better than average making-of documentary that runs just over half an hour and includes lots of interesting behind-the-scenes footage. The disc also includes the trailer and five “creature spots”, short bursts of viral marketing mayhem focusing on some of the individual monsters. The documentary mentions two internet promos made prior to the film itself and I have no idea why those weren’t included on the disc.
Frankenstein’s Army provides a welcome shot of adrenaline to the oft-told Frankenstein story. It’s a grisly and exciting flick with some of the most inspired creatures to lurch across the screen in a long time, well worth any horror fan’s time.
- Dr. Adam Jahnke
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