Director Richard Raaphorst’s Nazi zombie project has been in the works for more than ten years. It started out as Worst Case Scenario, a film about a zombie invasion of the Netherlands by Germany after the German team loses the soccer World Cup finale. They actually began shooting and a trailer was released in 2006, but eventually the film was abandoned due to financial difficulties. Raaphorst then channeled his energy to a new incarnation of the project, with a new story set near the end of World War II. Frankenstein’s Army finally had its world premiere earlier this year at the International Film Festival Rotterdam and this Friday the movie will be released in the United States.
I was lucky enough to see the film at IFFR, before the trailer was out, and from what I had seen of the Worst Case Scenario promo material and some unreaveling teasers for Frankenstein’s Army, I really didn’t know what to expect. Spoiler: It’s awesome.
***Warning: spoilers ahead!***
I was surprised to learn that the movie is actually a found footage film, shot entirely from the first person perspective. The images we see are recorded by a film student in the Red Army who is tasked by Stalin to document the Soviet advance into Germany towards the end of World War II. The squad he’s attached to gets a backup request over the radio from a nearby group of Russians so they head out to aid their comrades. At first the found footage approach and the hokey Russian accents may make the movie come across as a little cheap, but don’t let that give you the wrong impression! I got used to the accents and the first person perspective turned out to work really well.
As the group moves through the rural landscape and abandoned villages they encounter emptied graves and bodies with weird implants and modifications. Among the ruins they stumble upon an old man who lures them into an abandoned laboratory. Inside they find horribly disfigured bodies and learn that the old man is an insane scientist who uses the dead to create an army of half human, half mechanical monstrosities. From that point on the movie is a hilariously disturbing rollercoaster ride of gore and insanity.
The found footage element actually turns out to be one of the coolest aspects of the movie, because it’s so cleverly used. For example, a soldier will be talking to the camera facing down and the viewer will see one of those deformed monsters jumping into the shot before the characters realize it. It’s the camerawork of a great horror movie, but because it’s done with the camera that’s “actually there” it makes sense for the story. It jumps from calm to chaotic and it works really well. It’s just awesome and probably the most creative way I’ve seen the found footage thing done in a film.
Karel Roden, who you’ll probably recognize from Hellboy or RocknRolla, is amazing as the deranged scientist Viktor, and the soldier’s encounters with him and his creations are as funny as they are disgusting and frightening. The doctor’s “Zombots” range from guys with lobsterlike machete arms, to Nazis with pneumatic drills instead of limbs, to a zombot with a full sized working proppelor where his head should be. I don’t think I’ve ever had as much fun while watching a movie this disturbing.
For an exploitation film (I really dislike that term because movies like this are much more than that), the plot is actually pretty good too. Some characters aren’t who they seem and as the movie goes along this makes the story a lot more interesting. They’re not just there to be randomly picked off for a gory end. Once the carnage starts the movie still goes in directions you won’t entirely expect, aside from the mayhem you do expect of course.
Frankenstein’s Army has the grittyness and “realism” I wanted in Iron Sky (and I still very much enjoyed that movie, so go figure), but includes all the weird fun stuff as well. The camerawork is great, Karel Roden is fantastic and the monsters are creative and ridiculous. 4.5 Nerdskulls!
Frankenstein’s Army is out in the US this Friday (26th of July) in select theaters and on video-on-demand.
Check out the trailer!
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