Frankenstein’s Army immediately piqued my interest with its apparent dedication to creativity above all else. Innovation isn’t a quality often found in modern horror, which sees more success in rehashing home invasion and exorcism ideas. That isn’t to say they’re all bad – the recent home invasion flick You’re Next has gotten fantastic reviews – but a lot of the stuff that made 80s horror so fun is hard to find nowadays. Frankenstein’s Army is a relic from another time. Not a priceless relic, but one worth digging up.

The film follows a squad of Russian soldiers making their way through Nazi Germany during World War II. They get a distress call from a trapped battalion and mount a rescue mission, completely unaware of what they’re walking into. A soldier named Dimitri films everything and we see the action unfold through the lens of his camera. Yes, Frankenstein’s Army is a “found footage” movie.


Hey, Let’s Find Some Footage


The Blair Witch Project was brilliant, Cloverfield also made great use of the handheld effect, and I’ve heard good things about The Last Exorcism. Among the onslaught of found footage stuff out there, those three films are the only ones I can think of off the top of my head that really, really work. People disregarded it as a gimmick, but some truly great stuff legitimized it. Even George Romero used the technique for one of his Dead movies. Then, at some point, it went back to being a gimmick, something filmmakers relied on to create artificial tension. I’ve come to accept that it’s here to stay. As a horror fan, I don’t really have a choice. It’s not the terrible found footage films that turn me off to the idea, though. It’s films like Frankenstein’s Army that really bug me, because they’re good enough that they don’t need the gimmick and would likely be better off without it.

I appreciate that it’s worked into the story so well and it only makes more sense as the narrative progresses. The handheld camera work doesn’t feel forced, only unnecessary. To be fair, the found footage angle lends to some pretty great shots when the monsters close in on Dimitri and we get to see them close-up, swinging their blades or hooks or whatever dangerous weapon their arms have been replaced with. Things also get nice and tense when Dimitri is sneaking around, trying not to alert the monsters. This is another instance in which the first-person view works well.

Marching To Our Doom…


It’s the narrative that’s hurt by the perspective. We only ever see things through Dimitri’s eyes. The camera is never passed around, at least not when it matters, so we never get to see any of the characters acting as anything but a unit. The characters are the weakest part of the film, acting as nothing but archetypal lambs to the slaughter, and the film’s inability to focus on any of them individually certainly doesn’t help with this.

Dimitri is the most fleshed out, naturally, but he’s such an unlikable character that his fate is hard to care about. There are some good scares scattered throughout, but they’re only so effective when you don’t care about the people in danger. Even Doctor Frankenstein himself is nothing more than an overblown version of the original Victor Frankenstein, though that part may be intentional.

…At the Hands of Spectacular Monsters


There are some truly scary sequences and it’s all thanks to the real stars of the film: the monsters. Each one is more disturbing and terrifying than the last and the effects work is absolutely perfect. The designs, the makeup, the prosthetic work – it’s all phenomenal. While I wouldn’t say such top notch work is wasted here, I can’t help but wonder about the horror classic this film could’ve been with some more work on the screenplay. As it stands now, it’s definitely worth a watch for anyone remotely interested in movie monsters, but don’t expect much more than mediocrity from the rest of it.

The Blu-ray doesn’t contain a commentary, which is always a bummer, but there’s a handful of creature trailers and a 30-ish minute making-of that’s a pretty fun watch.

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