Frankenstein’s Army is the feature debut of director Richard Raaphorst, who’s worked as a concept artist and visualizer. A few years ago, he released some impressive teaser trailers for a planned film called Worst Case Scenario, which unfortunately never came to fruition because his financing fell through. Fortunately for us, he used many of those ideas in Frankenstein’s Army.
Frankenstein’s Army is less like a straight-up horror film and more like a home movie of a haunted house or a survival horror video game, but don’t let that scare you away, because then you’d be missing out on some incredible visuals.
First, the story: At the end of World War II, Russian soldiers discover the secret laboratory of one Dr. Viktor Frankenstein and are quickly overtaken by his cadre of murderous, monstrous creations.
Frankenstein’s Army is yet another addition to the found footage cadre of movies, and even though you’ll have to suspend some of your disbelief due to its World War II setting, it works remarkably well. The film has a grainy quality with lots of pops and scratches as well as the kind of jump cuts that suit such a conceit. (Those who get motion sickness from shaky cam should be forewarned that there is a lot of it in this film.) The effect of lenses changing on the camera is unique and adds a nice touch to the look of the film.
I don’t think I’ve ever mentioned a colorist in a review before, but Wouter Suyderhoud deserves a standing ovation for a superb, almost painterly visual palette. The bleak, burnt-out landscape of the setting of grey trees, green moss, and yellow lichens blends well with the army green of the soldiers’ uniforms and the sickly hues of the secret laboratory. At times the film looks like a tinted silent film, which makes for some breathtaking scenes.
Unfortunately, the characters in the film are essentially jerks, with the exception of Sergei and Sacha, so it’s difficult to find anyone to root for, which makes the film feel somewhat emotionally flat. I felt more sorry for Frankenstein’s monsters than any of the soldiers, especially the naked, Martyrs-like one the soldiers encounter first and the crawling, legless one I referred to as “Stumpy.”
Raaphorst’s creature design is impeccably crafted, instilling a sense of dread and wonder that one rarely finds in a genre film. One hesitates to use the word Steampunk as that implies at least some whimsy and there is nothing whimsical about these hideous things. The level of gore is also not for those with weak stomachs, which is a testament to the film’s talented practical effects team.
Karel Roden, whose creepy turn in 15 Minutes has stayed with me for over a decade and who also played Rasputin in Hellboy, portrays the titular doctor with scenery-chewing glee and provides the movie with a lot of its black humor. Keep an eye out, too, for his teddy bear creation, which will both amuse and horrify. The theme music is also darkly comical and helps set the tone in the beginning as well as the end of the film.
Although the story is promising, Frankenstein’s Army could have been truly terrifying if there were more emotional investment in the characters. Still, this is an auspicious debut for Raaphorst. He’s definitely a filmmaker to watch.
Frankenstein’s Army was released today on Blu-Ray today through Dark Sky Films. The disc includes “Making Of” and “Creature Spots” featurettes as well as a trailer.