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October 23rd, 2015


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09:55 pm - 31 Days of Halloween: Frankenstein's Army
I wish I could say that Frankenstein's Army surprised me, but no, it's exactly what I expected it to be. And that's fine--I watched it with my friend Gemma based solely on the fact that Netflix keeps telling both of us to watch it. You can already tell that this movie isn't going to get a positive review, but I'm not panning it either--it's hard for a film to be a letdown when you expect it to suck in the first place.

Frankenstein's Army opens in rural Germany during World War 2. Russian soldiers receive a distress call from one of their own, and they follow it to a small, deserted town. On the way, they encounter the aftermath of a small massacre and discover a dead German soldier with--well, they don't know what to make of it, but we would call them "cybernetic augmentations". The corpse lunges at them before lapsing back into death. We recognize this as foreshadowing, but they recognize it as another symptom of a long, long war.

As I said, the town is deserted, but they find a small handful of people who are hiding from the Nazis--or from the Doctor. We don't know much about the Doctor, but he has stocked this place with reanimated corpses with mechanical enhancements: buzzsaws for hands, neck-mounted machine guns... gruesome stuff.

Frankenstein's Army is a found footage movie, meaning that it's shot on a handheld camera, as if one of the members of the cast were making a film, and this is in fact the case: Young Dmitri has been sent with the group by their government to shoot footage for propaganda. Everyone is miserable as the movie starts, and nobody's very pleased to have Dimitri there; he's slow and weak and a liability, and not much help when the soldiers start being chased through dark hallways and eviscerated by the zombots. Eventually they discover that Dmitri has lied to them, and that there are no Russian soldiers in distress. Dmitri is on a secret mission to find the Doctor and bring him back alive if possible. The other soldiers respond by dumping him down a bloody chute which apparently leads to the Doctor's workshop.

The workshop is swarming with zombots performing mundane tasks with mutilated human bodies. This one separates the limbs, that one drills holes in skulls, the one over there removes the squishy bits that might otherwise get in the way. The Doctor is present as well, and is excited to have Dmitri documenting his work. He explains that he is Dr. Viktor Frankenstein, the great grandson of Victor Frankenstein, and that he has been creating these war machines for the glory of Germany, though like most insane Nazi movie doctors, he's in it for the science.

Frankenstein's Army is not a bad movie, but I did have some problems with it which boil down to personal taste, I guess. First, there's no one to root for in this film. All of the soldiers are war/zombie movie stereotypes (the tough guy, the loose cannon, the obsequious worm, etc.), and none of them is likable. A movie can get away with an unlikable cast if it provides an entertaining villain (Dr. Phibes, Freddy Kreuger, etc.), but there's just nobody here to rally around. Second, the found footage style is completely unnecessary here, and it's constraining because it prevents certain types of narrative development if the entire movie is presented from one person's perspective. On top of that, the found footage presentation strains credulity because the movie takes place at a time when the technology didn't exist to make the film we're watching. In fact, a conversation at one point addresses this: "I've never seen a camera like that before. Is that a microphone? Are you recording audio?" Nobody mentions that the use of color film is extremely unlikely...

There's no reason for the film to be shot in this style, other than to present action scenes that look like they belong in a video game. There are numerous shots of the camera barreling down a hallway, only to have something horrific pop out from around a corner. The minutes leading up to Dimitri's encounter with Dr. Frankenstein look exactly like something out of one of the latter Wolfenstein games, complete with the camera sneaking around at knee level on the gory factory floor as Dmitri hides behind crates and wheeled carts.

The video game comparison is pretty apt, I guess. There are so many zombots in so many varieties, and they're damned impressive--consider the spider-looking guy who stalks around on stilts while wearing a holocaust cloak and gas mask with a six-foot long drill bit where the mouth ought to be. This isn't the stuff of nightmares--nightmares happen on a lower budget with less dramatic sound cues. Unfortunately, the carnage is mindless and excessive, and there are no good characters and not enough story to drape it over. That's okay in a game, because a game is an active experience. A movie needs to hook its audience's attention. Frankenstein's Army might have been a good short film, but as a feature it's just a jumble of impressive practical effects. I like practical effects, but they should serve a story, you know?

Thank goodness Gemma was there to make fun of the movie with me. Here's the trailer:

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31 Days of Halloween: Frankenstein's Army - Garmonbozia for the soul.

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