Frankenstein's Army [Blu-ray]

Actors: Karel Roden, Joshua Sasse, Robert Gwilym
Directors: Richard Raaphorst
Format: Blu-ray, NTSC, Widescreen
Language: English
Region: A/1
Aspect Ratio: 1.77:1
Number of discs: 1
Rated: R (Restricted)
Studio: Dark Sky Films
DVD Release Date: September 10, 2013
Run Time: 84 minutes




If you’re a horror fan, you probably live for movies like Frankenstein’s Army: a minor gem arriving unannounced amid the glut of direct-to-video sludge. It’s not for everyone, but the welcome surprise it represents – the sense of finding something cool and kind of special in the most unlikely of locales – helps keep this genre alive. It also allows the movie to overcome a few wonky aesthetic choices that might have scuttled a less creative effort.

And “creative” is the key word here. It’s made by people with a keen idea that they’d like to express, rather than a cheap calculation of how much they can earn for how little. Indeed, most of the film’s shortcomings come with the realities of a limited budget and the need to focus on the important things, which in this case are some of the extraordinary monster effects unleashed on our hapless heroes. They’re entirely practical – costumes, make-up and prosthetics assembled with the enthusiasm of true fans – and their presence here pretty much sells the movie single-handedly.

They belong to monsters, of course: the unholy creations of a German scientist (Karel Roden) tasked with saving the Nazis as the curtain falls in 1945. Oh, and did we mention that said scientist was the grandson of Victor Frankenstein and inherited the old man’s capacity for playing in God’s kingdom? Throw in a squad of advancing Soviet troops, unleash the beasties and pass the popcorn.

As scenarios go, it’s pretty straightforward, but once those clanking steampunk monsters come lurching out of the corners, all other considerations fade. The film plays like one of those elaborate Halloween haunted houses, with the Russians moving through various cramped corridors, only to have some unthinkable horror come charging at them in a rush. Thanks to director Richard Raaphorst, the basics never get old, though the film takes its time getting going and only really fires on all cylinders after the thirty-minute mark or so.

The other central issue involves use of the found footage format: a stylistic choice that felt old almost as soon as it arrived. By now, it’s long since lost whatever charms it held, but Frankenstein’s Army insists on using it despite its wild inappropriateness for the historical setting. The cinematographer takes pains to make it “accurate,” using the premise of a hand-cranked camera and moving only in an appropriate manner. Even so, the color footage and over familiarity of the format do some serious damage, turning the film from a potential cult classic into a novel curiosity.

As a flaw it’s still forgivable, however, especially since Frankenstein’s Army does so much with so little otherwise. The gore factor is being heavily hyped, but it’s actually not as intense as one might fear. It reflects a sense of ghoulish fun rather than the need to shock us, and while a few heavy-duty shudders show up, they come with an ebullient passion for the medium instead of the sneering nihilism we’re used to.

The best part is that it arrives with absolutely no expectations whatsoever. This could have easily been a Syfy original movie, cranked out by a squad of chimps and left to rot beneath the tattered remnants of the squandered concept. Instead, it reflects the filmmakers’ heart and soul, paired with ambitions that they treat with utmost seriousness despite their limited means. It does far more than it has any right to and in the process earns our heartfelt respect. In a horror year as bad as this one, we take our victories where we can find them. Frankenstein’s Army gives us a big win… wrapped in a very unassuming package.

THE DISC: A decent transfer and a couple of behind-the-scenes features mark a very stripped-down disc. This was never a movie that would score a lot of bells and whistles, but the documentaries are fun and informative.

WORTH IT? For what it offers, absolutely. You have a pretty good idea of what it’s like by looking at the box, and if it intrigues you at all, the contents won’t be disappointing.

RECOMMENDATION: Horror fans should have a ball and even non fans may find some modest pleasures on display here.

- Rob Vaux



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