Contains mild spoilers.
So two reviews in two that are for releases of the same month; I could kid myself I'm getting relevant and with the times, but I'm sure its just coincidence and I think after being so recently taken by the Nazi Zombie madness that was Outpost I was really just after more of the same.
Director and co-writer Richard Raaphorst's Frankenstein's Army is a riotous insight into the mind of quite the depraved visionary. It's dark, perverse and deeply disturbing, and the descent for Novikov (Robert Gwilym) and his unruly band of degenerate Soviet scouts into Frankenstein's lair is truly the stuff of nightmares. I loved it.
Viktor Frankenstein (Karel Roden) is the grandson of the same Victor Frankenstein Mary Shelley penned back in 1818. Released from a mental institute by an ever desperate Nazi regime facing onslaught from two fronts he has been given resources and moral exoneration to expand on his and his grandfathers ideas to create an army of super soldiers that could put a stop to their inevitable defeat. The band of Soviet scouts that stumble into the hive are the usual ragtag assortment of ne'er-do-wells, innocents and beleaguered, and their exploration the usual tailspin from cocky to utterly fucked as their numbers start to plummet.
WW2, Nazi occult, scientific, cyborg, morally repugnant experimentation; it's nothing we haven't seen before with each new iteration trying to out-do the one before with ever increasing depictions of cruelty and depravity. What stands Frankenstein's Army out from the crowd is the sheer lengths it's willing to go to become the new crowned king of in your face sick and repugnant and its use of 'reel' first person camera footage to capture the carnage, a la [REC] and Blair Witch.
I was in two minds, very much like how Sergie (Joshua Sasse) ends up under Viktors knife, as to whether to look at this as zombie film. Though my definition of zombie has gone through quite the period of reflection and relaxation this last year, I'm still pretty adamant that the synonymous Frankenstein's monster as penned by Shelley still doesn't quite fit the bill. While reanimation, slow ponderous movement, confused state and moral ambiguity are all obvious genre influences, it's the drive of the monster to always become the resurrected human he once was, that's the rub. I'm less concerned these days whether a zombie's deadness should be reduced to having a pulse or not; what interests me is whether there's still will, super-ego and ability to be autonomous and as is the case with the macabre monstrosities of Frankenstein's Army, whether they're entirely subservient to a master who has stripped them of all their self-defining facets. Viktor does reanimate them back to life with electricity and he does have to feed them once they're back on their feet but the people they once were are gone; there's no search for bringing back life, it's about the creation of robots, slaves and unquestioning killers, and in my mind this fits with zombies type.
It goes without saying they're also pretty twisted and unnaturally unpleasant to watch; and not that dissimilar in style from the nightmare creations in Clive Barker's Hellraiser. Viktor is indiscriminate whether the material for his bizarre flesh and steel fusion comes dug up, is recently deceased or even comes shrink-wrapped and alive and screaming. He's also quite the Henry Ford of monster making as once into his elaborate factory of recycling, r&d and manufacturing, conveyor belts of body parts are stitched and fused into quite the breathtaking original and elaborate array of creations by a workforce of equally unnatural zombie slaves. There's a definite anything goes approach to Raaphorst's freakish mis-creations, and wondering what he'll have come up with next is very much one of the highlights of the film. Such is the ludicrousness and excessiveness though that in some ways it does loose a little of the overwhelming fear that you feel should be there. In many ways I felt it all too quickly turned a bit comic book / video game-y as the first person camera ducked and weaved away from one bulking knife-wielding, propeller-spinning or jaw-snapping brute after another. It's a film more than many that calls for a high suspension of disbelief, as peeking behind the veil, which I did on more than one occasion, and seeing the terrifying monstrosities for what they were, quite excessive and daft prosthetic costumes, can be quite off-putting. It never turns into a full on farce though, but at times it falls precariously close.
Frankenstein's Army is quite a stupid film with a very simple premise and story, but with critical thinking firmly disengaged it's quite the thrilling dark and unsettling experience. The soldiers descent into madness is coherently defined and paced, and Raaphorst certainly knows how to use sound, effects and the first person viewpoint to create quite the evocative heart racing chase scene (which there are many). The first person perspective almost avoids the pitfalls that come with the territory providing quite a reasonable narrative reason for Dimitri (Alexander Mercury) to not stop filming when the proverbial shit (well blood) is hitting the actual spinning blades, but inevitably it can't dodge them altogether. Frankenstein's Army could be nit picked to death, and maybe I'm getting soft, but I couldn't help but respect and enjoy it for being quite as audaciously excessive and ridiculous as it was. Gory, bloody, in-your-face-nasty but not quite as scary as it wants to be, 7/10.