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Frankenstein's Army (2013)
Dark Sky Films/MPI Media
Blu-ray Disc Released: 9/10/2013
All Ratings out of
Review by Mike Long, Posted on 9/4/2013
When you watch a movie, do you think about it's purpose? For most, this will sound like either a strange or silly question, because aren't movies there to entertain us? Well, for the most part, yes, but there are also other reasons. Obviously, movies are big business, so many of there are intended to make money. However, there is a subset of movies which are frequently referred to as "Calling Card" movies. These are films which are meant to show off a particular filmmaker's (or a filmmaking team's) specific talent in hopes that someone will hire them to make another, hopefully bigger budgeted film. We see this a lot in horror films and I don't think I'm off the mark by assuming that Frankenstein's Army falls into this category.
Frankenstein's Army takes place during the latter days of World War II and focuses on a group of Russian soldiers who are making their way into Germany. Sergei (Joshua Sasse), Novikov (Robert Gwilym), Alexei (Mark Stevenson), Vassili (Andrei Zayats), Ivan (Hon Ping Tang), and Sacha (Luke Newberry) all hike through the cold conditions, killing Nazis and helping villagers when they can. The mission is being filmed by Dima (Alexander Mercury), a film school graduate who was ordered by the government to document the mission. The group gets a distress call from another Russian platoon and they move to the location, where they find a church and a group of buildings. Once inside, they stumble into the lair of Dr. Frankenstein (Karel Roden), and meet the hellish creations he has made.
Just when you thought that the "found footage" sub-genre was dead, Frankenstein's Army comes along and puts a new spin on it. The entire film is comprised of the "footage" shot by Dima as he observes the activities of the soldiers. In most "found footage" movies, the camera is mounted or at least put down from time-to-time in order to shoot a scene. But, here, the vast majority of the film is shot with a constantly moving handheld camera, as Dima is either running towards or running from something. (We will leave the debate about the authenticity of a color film camera with a mounted microphone in World War II to a more scholarly group. There's also the question of how and when Dima was changing out film reels in the third act, but, again, we aren't here to get too technical.) I can say that there are some clear creative touches here, such as Dima's "lens change" being used to hide a cut.
This approach creates the first big problem with the movie. We've all seen reviews where the writer states, "It was like watching someone play a video game." Well, with Frankenstein's Army, it's just like watching someone play a video game. Once the group enters the buildings, we are right there behind the camera with Dima as he runs through corridors when monsters jumping out at him at regular intervals. It was just like watching someone play Doom. (Or, I imagine that it's like Castle Wolfenstein, but I've never played those games.) When the action does slow down a bit, it's like a cut-scene from a video game. Other than some moments from the very beginning and the finale, this rarely feels like an actual movie.
Of course, some video games today have very deep and detailed stories, so this is one place where Frankenstein's Army differs, as it has very little story. The soldiers are in Germany, they received the distress call, they get trapped in the labyrinthine buildings, and chaos ensues. That's about it as far as the story goes. A small attempt is made to give the individual soldiers distinct personalities, but once the mayhem begins, these have little meaning. There is a plot twist half-way through the film, but it's not very original and has little bearing on the overall story.
Thus, the film's rasion d'etre is to show off the monsters found in Frankenstein's lab. The latter-half of Frankenstein's Army is filled wall-to-wall with all sorts of bizarre creations, such as men with giant crab claws and a mosquito-man (Mansquito?). Co-writer/Director Richard Raaphorst designed the creatures and a team of effects artists built them and set them into motion, and there's no doubt that they are impressive. The sheer number of monsters shown here is enough to wow, but they unique designs really seal the deal. However, most of them aren't on-screen long enough, and for some, we only catch a glimpse. Getting back to the story issues, there is also the fact that some of the monsters are hostile, while others ignore the soldiers -- this is never explained. The monsters are great (especially the propeller monster and the bomb with legs), but do they justify watching the movie? For most, the answer will be no. The lack of a solid story and any real tension (the film never tries to be scary) will lead most viewers to be bored. However, special effects makeup enthusiasts or those who are looking for a new twist on Nazi movies may find this intriguing.
Frankenstein's Army never explains what that female monster is supposed to be on Blu-ray Disc courtesy of Dark Sky Films and MPI Media. The film has been letterboxed at 1.78:1 and the Disc contains an AVC 1080p HD transfer which runs at an average of 26 Mbps. Raaphorst has worked to give the movie an "authentic" look, thus the image is washed out and the colors aren't vivid. The film has a "blown out" look and the exterior scenes are overly bright. Again, this was most likely the director's intention. Given that, some scenes lack detail. The image shows a fine sheen of grain (most likely intentional). Some of the scenes in the lab are too dark. The Disc carries a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track which runs at 48 kHz and an average of 2.5 Mbps. The track provides clear dialogue and sound effects. As one would expect, given the video, there are artificial clicks and pops in the audio. The track makes good use of the interior settings, as we get stereo and surround sound effects which hint at the things which could be hiding throughout the lab. The gunfire and grenades offer minor bass effects.
The Frankenstein's Army Blu-ray Disc only contains a few extra features. "The Making of Frankenstein's Army" (32 minutes) offers an interview with Co-writer/Director Richard Raaphorst, who talks about the film's concept. We then hear from the actors and get a nice amount of footage from the location shooting. We see Raaphorst at work designing the monsters, which reveals some concept art. The piece also includes clips from the promo reel made to sell the movie. We then see how the monster suits were constructed and put on the actors. "Creature Spots" are five short (16 seconds) commercials, each of which spotlight a different monster. The final extra is the TRAILER for the film.
Review by Mike Long. Copyright 2013.