IFFR 2013 Review: FRANKENSTEIN'S ARMY Is Out To Get You

This is the kind of film where "tripping over your own legs" doesn't necessarily mean they're still attached...

Richard Raaphorst's debut feature film Frankenstein's Army has its world premiere today at the International Film Festival Rotterdam. And it's about time: we've been rooting for Raaphorst to get something in cinemas for what feels like decades already. Ever since we saw those magnificent promos for the abolished project called Worst Case Scenario, anticipation has been running wild for what this man can do. And now the wait is over. Did Raaphorst deliver? Well, while we don't get the huge floating army of balloon zombots seen in one of those old promos (for shame!), Frankenstein's Army is still a whole lot of fun.


The Story:

It's near the end of World War II. A Russian recon squad is sent on a mission to help comrades who seem to have encountered some trouble in a small East German village. Upon arrival, though, nobody in the village is alive, the graves have been robbed, and some very weird-looking corpses are strewn throughout the landscape. Also, someone is jamming their radio signal. Then the Russian soldiers discover a factory of sorts ... and run into an army of Nazi monsters, stitched together from machines and corpses.


The Movie:

Let's get the elephant out of the room first: the rumors about Frankenstein's Army being a found-footage film are true. The Russians have a propaganda officer with them who documents everything with several cameras, and this means that, especially in the first half, you're treated to a whole lot of running-with-the-camera shots. While there are some good jokes in there as well and most of the monsters run towards the camera to get their extreme close-ups, it does mean that for some of the grander set pieces you get the feeling you're not seeing enough of what is happening. But later on in the film, the found-footage device starts to be used much more inventively and effectively. For starters, you finally get a good look at the monsters, who are the obvious highlight of the film.

I visited the set last year and was amazed by the production design. The amount of love and detail which went into the creatures is astounding, so to see them now as brief blurry blobs when people are running with the camera through a dark cellar is dismaying. Basically, in the early scenes most of the monsters just look like someone wearing a tarp, a helmet and some weird gloves. Fear not though: Raaphorst's WICKED designs get their place in the limelight later on. Frankenstein's Army really comes into its own when the disappointing first half gets capped with a very good and very funny second half. A lot of that has to do with the Frankenstein character appearing, a fantastic Karel Roden who seems wasted in the role until he suddenly starts to shine with an evil glee.

In fact, the finale comes closest to what we've been waiting for all these years: a creature-fest with an insane maniac in a Gothic laboratory. It takes a bit of a wait to get there, but at the end the icky gore goes through the roof, the monsters rock and the jokes connect.


Conclusion:

With its found-footage look and scary monsters showing up aplenty, Frankenstein's Army resembles a ride though a carnival's haunted house. Thankfully it's a good one, though, and while the film has a literally shaky start, the finale had the audience intentionally in stitches.

And I hope Raaphorst will get the chance to make a few more of these as his imagination obviously goes beyond the scope of what was possible in this single film.

[Full disclosure: Todd Brown, Twitch's founder and editor-in-chief, served as a producer on the film. He was not involved in the editing of this review.]
Around the Internet:
  • Screen Daily loved it:

    http://www.screendaily.com/rev...

  • RawBeard

    I'm a little gutted to learn that this film is found footage... the Worst Case Scenario shorts were amazing and I was gutted a film never came of it, so looking forward to this... but found footage? GAH! oh well I still hope I will enjoy it...

  • Headless

    This review is indeed a a tad too positive imho. I enjoy a bad/low budget horror movie as much as the next guy, and have no objections to the found footage format. I knew this wasn't going to be a feature length Worst Case Scenario but was thoroughly disappointed (and quite bored) throughout the whole ordeal. It should've been way more tongue-in-cheek or scary/pretty to look at, but unfortunately it was none of those things...

  • rwhyan

    Hell ya, been really looking forward to this one. Jealous you got to see it!

  • mortis rex

    A bit bummed out about the whole found footage thing but still looking forward to this and (still) hoping it will play at Imagine in April... cause it should! Midnight screening please!

  • Ard Vijn

    I keep my fingers crossed for Imagine. This film has Imagine written all over it...

  • Joe Foolio

    To me this article reads "It wasn't very good, but because Todd is involved and we've hyped it so much for the last couple years we feel we are obliged to say good stuff about it".

  • Which would be why another film I was a producer on landed on one writer's Worst Of 2012 list here this year, right?

  • Ard Vijn

    Todd's involvement has nothing to do with it, and your comment would mean that we couldn't publish any positive reviews because they would automatically be suspect. But the film's second half and especially the finale are pretty damn good and I say so with my integrity intact.

  • Sean Smithson

    Joe, as someone who works here I can tell you in complete honesty we are allowed and encouraged to be completely honest in our opinions, good or bad. hard to believe for you? maybe. The truth? Absolutely.

  • Joe Foolio

    FFS read the first 5 simple words of my statement. I didn't claim it as fact, it was just how I interpreted the write up. I am sorry you all took such offence to me having an opinion, but that's how life goes. Not to mention I wasn't the only one that got that impression, others seem to agree (judging by the 2 up votes).

  • davebaxter

    No one took offense to your opinion, Joe. They simply had opinions about your opinion, much like you had one initially about Ard's opinion (aka "write up") about the movie. Everyone is allowed to have an opinion on everything that everyone says. There's no place where the back and forth naturally stops and suddenly every additional response is an attack on the arbitrarily-deemed-last-responder's response. Saying "imho" before or after a statement doesn't make it magically out of bounds.

  • Sean Smithson

    Trust me if I was offended it would be obvious. I'm not, I'm just trying to give you a more informed opinion. No need for abbreviating expletives. Seems like the nasty defensiveness is coming from one side, and it's not this one.
    S'all good though. Just saying, we don't placate stuff we don't like simply because one of us is involved. I actually left a very well known film site for doing so...and came to Twitch! :)

    Cheers.

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