“Original” isn’t a word often used in association with found footage films. Dull, repetitive, monotonous and generic are the adjectives you’re more likely to see used as descriptors for the sub-genre. There are stand-outs of course including the first two [Rec] films that rise above the tedium, but more often than not you know exactly what you’re going to get.
Frankenstein’s Army isn’t interested in playing the typical game though. Instead of being set in a haunted house populated with ghosts or zombies it moves the action to World War II. Even better, the monsters at the heart of this POV nightmare are man-made monstrosities that resemble the twisted love children of H.R. Pufnstuf and the Saw franchise.
It’s late in the war, and Hitler’s desperation is growing. Russian soldiers pushing deep into enemy territory discover a secret lab housing an array of experiments. Sergei has been tasked with filming the unit’s movements into Germany, but his camera captures the unexpected in a variety of hybrid creations made from dying soldiers and dangerous hardware. Creatures armed with spinning blades, crushing jaws, giant knives and more roam the bunker’s halls searching for fresh parts. The team is witnessing Hitler’s last, mad grasp for victory, and it’s up to them to stop the Fuhrer’s dream from becoming a reality.
Director Richard Raaphorst’s feature debut is the very definition of a midnight movie thanks to a frequently entertaining mix of thrills, laughs and gore that at no point takes itself too seriously. The script from Miguel Tejada-Flores adds genre name recognition to the tale by having the Nazi scientists base their work on a journal written by the legendary Dr. Victor Frankenstein. It’s his madness they’re following, and we all know how that ended.
As mentioned above the creature design is the real star here. Robotic zombies clad in leather and Nazi paraphernalia pop onscreen to lumber after the good guys, and each one is more wonderfully ridiculous than the next. They’re obviously more exciting to watch then invisible ghosts or poorly designed sasquatches, and just when you think they’ve reached the limit of creativity a small mechanical table comes walking out on little boy’s legs. These Nazis are heartless bastards.
One of the found footage elements the film can’t escape is the need for excess downtime between monster shots. Wisely though the movie front-loads the slow stuff leaving the film’s second half free to toss a creature into the frame at any and every opportunity. Sure there’s no possible way these one-ton zombots could sneak up on anyone, but that doesn’t stop it from happening repeatedly.
The second issue, and the more damaging one, is the lack of characters for audiences to care about or even really follow. This again is common for the sub-genre, and it makes the film less affecting and memorable. To be clear, you won’t forget the lumbering death dealers any time soon, but even minutes after exiting the theater you’d be hard-pressed to name a single one of the soldiers. This is exacerbated by the slow build-up as we’re essentially asked to follow a beige band of brothers through some uneventful exploring until the good stuff starts.
The story is simple, but its fresh monsters and uncommon setting make Frankenstein’s Army relatively unique in an overcrowded field. Even better, it’s a fun, fast watch that will have you looking forward to seeing what nightmarish yet amusing creation he can build for us next.
The Upside: Very cool monster creations; unique setting for found footage; strong mix of fun and scares
The Downside: None of the characters ever become all that interesting and are instead interchangeable; conclusion gets a bit jumbled
On the Side: The term “zombots” isn’t used in the film but instead comes from Richard Raaphorst’s own description of the monsters.