Sunday, April 6, 2014

Horror Film Review

Frankenstein's Army (2013):  Ever wonder what would happen if Hellraiser's cenobites were given the steampunk treatment and then let loose in Nazi Germany?  Awesome, in theory.  The reality is disturbing, odd, and so very wrong (just look at the movie poster).  Weirder still, it was shot single perspective, documentary style.  Did handheld cameras exist in 1945 that filmed in color with perfectly synched sound? 

A Russian reconnaissance squad with a filmmaker (Alexander Mercury) in tow works its way through the German countryside.  They're to call in enemy positions but the radio is on the fritz (so to speak).  A sudden SOS call from another squad leads them to a village where they find a pile of barbequed nuns, empty graves, and a church crammed full of bizarre equipment...but no squad in danger.  Not too much goes well for the recon squad after that.  They are attacked by a number of abominations (the movie poster gives you an idea) and inadvertently herd themselves deeper into a hellish labyrinth where every new discovery is more horrifying than the last.  We eventually learn that Dimitri the filmmaker has a separate, secret bring the doctor (Karel Roden) responsible back to Mother Russia, preferably alive.  Yeah, that doesn't work out for either of them. 

A great many things bothered me about this film.  No one in the recon squad is likable (they kill German women and children just for the hell of it).  I think their accents are supposed to be Russian.  Hard to tell.  As for the zombots (yes, the creatures are credited as zombots), the majority are too silly to be scary.  The "mosquito" has a three-foot drill for a nose.  "Propeller Head" has a, well, propeller for a head.  And for reasons passing understanding, the slave girl Jabba the Hutt feeds to his rancor in Return of the Jedi makes an appearance.  There's a scene in which the squad essentially feeds a 10 year-old boy to a zombot.  If I've said it once, I've said it a hundred times:  don't kill kids.  Even if they are Hitler Youth. 

As for the film's title, the doctor is a descendent of Dr. Frankenstein and based his work on the original experiments.  Thing is, this current doctor was so batshit crazy, his father had him committed.  As for the work itself...let's just say any neuroscientists who watch this film will have eye strain from rolling them so much.  I can't deny how jarring it is initially to see these grotesque mutations chase after the squad members.  Add a klaxon into the frenetic action and it's pretty damned effective.  For a while.  Once Dimitri navigates his way into the doctor's inner labs, we're simply overloaded with nonsensical gore that I'm sure was intended to appall and disgust.  Unfortunately, my thoughts were, "Oh, more severed limbs.  Oh, a few dozen dead folks hanging from hooks.  Oh, one of the squad's being used as food.  Oh, he turned the 10 year-old boy into a walking tool box."  Doesn't help that Roden plays the doctor with the subtlety of a cement truck.
Ultimately, I just wanted them all dead. 

The Skinny

Acting:  I mentioned Roden.  The others won't win any awards, but the performances won't make you cringe either. 
Story:  It's well-known the Nazis flirted with all manner of insane schemes in WWII.  From that standpoint, the idea is intriguing.  The end product here, though, just seems goofy.
Direction:  It's an 84-minute film that feels too long.  Action revolves around a single conceit which wears thin fast.  Once the novelty of the zombots runs its course, there's not much left to do. 
Production Values:  Filmed in the Czech Republic, the exteriors are gritty and realistic.  The interiors are properly creepy.  You won't for a minute buy that it was filmed with a handheld, though. 
Gore/FX:  Yes, yes there is.  Whoever built the zombots must have had the time of their lives.  If there was CGI, I didn't notice.
Scares:  One or two zombot startle-scares. 
Ending:  Unbelievably, the one person I felt was the least evil lived.  That never happens.
Verdict:  Should you see Frankenstein's Army?  I couldn't get past the silliness of the zombots.  They make Doctor Who's daleks look hi-tech.  I think I would have liked it better if the filmmakers had either gone for total camp or toned down the goofiness and shot a for super-scary, found footage movie. 

Rating:  2 out of 5

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