Review: Frankenstein’s Army (2013)

A great idea poorly reanimated.

Frankenstein’s Army (2013)
Directed By: Richard Raaphorst
Written By: Chris W. Mitchell, Robert Raaphorst, and Miguel Tejada-Flores
Starring: Karel Roden, Joshua Sasse, and Robert Gwilym

2 Knives

I’ve got to hand it to Robert Raaphort and Chris Mitchell: the basic concept behind Frankenstein’s Army is a good one. Sure, the Nazi occult angle has been explored before in countless iterations of the Wolfenstein video game series, the 2007 horror film Outpost and its 2012 sequel, and, of course, Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark. But I thought the inclusion of the Frankenstein myth was a great addition to the concept: the idea that Frankenstein’s work survived into the twentieth century to be put to use by the Nazis had me immediately hooked.

I just as quickly became unhooked within the first few minutes of the movie. That’s when I found out the film was presented as “found footage.”

Now in theory, I don’t have anything against the found-footage conceit. I’ve always loved The Blair Witch Project and I enjoyed the Paranormal Activity, V/H/S, and Grave Encounters movies a lot. And Troll Hunter and Cloverfield were great. But some films can thrive while employing this method and others cannot. Frankenstein’s Army is one of the latter.

First things first. The plot is very scant: you’ve got a group of Russian soldiers on a reconnaissance mission in eastern Germany towards the end of World War 2. It’s never really explained what they’re searching for, but they run afoul of a secret Nazi laboratory conducting experiments on dead and nearly-dead German soldiers. Said experiments amount to Dr. Victor Frankenstein’s half-mad grandson continuing his grandfather’s work by stitching German limbs together with crude robotics to produce a race of undead, robo-zombies to turn the war in Hitler’s favor.

Where’s the camera come in, you ask? Well, conveniently enough, the Russian squad has a cameraman tagging along with them. For some reason. Look, this is the end of the second world war. Were handheld, color cameras available? I really don’t know, but regardless, the idea strikes me as completely ridiculous. The quality of the film is way above what could have been produced at the time, color or not. It’s just an absolutely ridiculous plot device and being that it comprises the backbone of the movie, it’s very difficult to put the concept aside and try to ignore it. The ideas within Frankenstein’s Army were good enough to warrant an actual movie. As it stands, the found footage angle makes everything look cheap and rushed. Rather than sucking viewers in (as this method is meant to do), director Raaphort uses it to get away with being sloppy. The camera is constantly wagging and dipping. There were more than a few times when I wondered how in the hell the camera guy wasn’t dead yet. Nothing is ever really resolved, or justified throughout the entirety of the movie, most importantly how the footage was ever found and developed.

This blatantly obvious corner-cutting and inattention to telling an actual story makes it extremely hard to care about any of the characters. The Russian soldiers are basically interchangeable and completely uninteresting. Karel Roden’s portrayal of Frankenstein’s grandson is perhaps the only redeeming performance in the movie. I guess I would’ve had a bit of empathy for them if any the characters spoke a shred of intelligible dialogue. But no, viewers are treated to a constant barrage of marble-mouthed, broken English. And this is Germany circa 1945. Why are the Russians and the Germans all speaking English? Absolute laziness. Sub. Titles.

It wasn’t all bad though. I did enjoy Frankenstein’s titular army. The creatures are very cool-looking, if a bit fantastical (and yeah, a few of them resembled cyborg lobster people). But there were a couple of genuinely scary-looking monsters that were well-realized onscreen (the gas-mask-wearing SS guy on the knife-stilts comes to mind). And the final confrontation with the mad doctor is a bit entertaining, but it’s not enough to dig Frankenstein’s Army out of the rut it’s trapped itself in.

It’s a real shame that Frankenstein’s Army turned out the way that it did. The whole film just feels like a missed opportunity. It’s very sad to see such a great concept executed so poorly. I’d skip this one unless you can’t get enough of Nazi occult, alternate-history fiction. And there’s a new Wolfenstein game out so you really might want to check that out first.

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  • Gilbert
    18 October 2014 at 8:29 am - Reply

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