Sunday, August 11, 2013

Schlockbusted #3: "Frankenstein's Army" Review

As I've mentioned on this blog many times before, one of my favorite film genres is that of the often maligned and ignored Nazisploitation movie. Though we have recently been treated to a relative plethora of high concept Nazi movies in the recent past including Manborg and Nazis At The Center of the Earth, its new found success especially in the straight to DVD realm has led to a glut of increasingly silly and poorly made stabs at an already silly concept that have given ideas like Nazi Zombies, Nazi Cyborgs, and Nazi Zombie Cyborgs a bad name (if they didn't have one already). In the coming days I'll be reviewing three examples from the past year that I've chosen mostly at random from what's available in the Nazisploitation marketplace, to showcase how far we've come in the world of campy sci-fi fascism. First up, a movie I've been waiting for for a long time ever since I heard the title– Frankenstein's Army.

Frankenstein's Army is the story of a group of Russian soldiers during World War 2 sent on a secret mission to find and report back on a rumored new Nazi super weapon, only to find that the Third Reich has conscripted the grandson of Dr. Frankenstein himself to use his family's research to build a new army of undead makeshift monsters. Before you allow yourself the natural impulse of cumming in your pants at the sheer awesomeness of that logline, let me tell you first that this is a found footage movie, a gimmick that I've railed against in the past and still find mostly annoying, with a few notable exceptions. Coincidentally, the last found footage movie I really liked also involved Frankenstein's Monster, though in a literary context and woefully absent Nazis, and no matter how this new film's shaky camera and faux-realistic style seek to hamper my enjoyment of it, the premise alone overcomes the attempted self-sabotage.

The biggest draw of the movie is the monsters, almost all of which are creatively designed and in many cases surprisingly creepy even for this jaded horror fan. The one on the film's poster with the sword-like stilts and drill sprouting out of his face is a recurring threat, but we also get sickle handed ninjas, giant robotic berserkers, and a particularly gruesome creature with an airplane propeller for a face. The motif is established early on that all of these abominations have been cobbled together from broken down military machinery, and its a nice little touch, but the more fun and novel each ensuing monster is to see in action, it only highlights the biggest problem with the found footage format. Found footage can work if you want or need to keep your big scary monster mostly in the shadows, but when you actually have something as bad ass as Franken-Nazis, you want to see every inch of them with the kind of dark and foreboding atmosphere that can't really be accomplished with a fast paced POV style. It leaves you wanting more, even as it gives you so much to like.

The other major problem I had with the movie, which is only somewhat the fault of the found footage gimmick, is the selection of Russian Communists as our “heroes.” Now, I'm not typically one to jump up on a soapbox in favor of America First Jingoism, but Nazisploitation is where I make an exception, and as an aficionado, I take issue with its absence here. For me at least, Nazisploitation isn't just about crazy Nazi shenanigans, its about crazy Nazi shenanigans getting punched in the face by America (Fuck Yeah!). To have the bad guys from Rocky IV fighting the bad guys from Raiders Of The Lost Ark just doesn't make any sense to me, and because the nature of found footage movies means the protagonists all have to end up dead and the monster has to win, I couldn't get the same visceral satisfaction I usually get from these movies. There's a thin line that all Nazisploitation movies walk between legitimate satire and insensitive mockery, and when the Nazi plan largely succeeds, you come dangerously close to falling on the wrong side of it.

Even so, I would still heartily recommend Frankenstein's Army for any hardcore horror or gore junkie, as despite its very clear structural flaws, it still manages to pull out an entertaining action horror flick that kept me engaged mostly from beginning to end. It could have been so much better with a few minor stylistic tweaks, but what it brings to the table more than makes up for its deficiencies. In its defense, as much as the found footage thing was obviously a mistake, the film makes a point of avoiding what is usually the gimmick's biggest issue, namely resulting in a bore fest where the movie threads water for 85 minutes and saves the one interesting moment for the last scene, amounting to little more than a jump scare. The action starts up in Frankenstein's Army fairly early on, and once it does, its an explosion of bloody chaos that doesn't stop and only gets more and more disturbing and disgusting as it goes on. I can't exactly say I couldn't have asked for more, but I can definitely say I got more than my money's worth. 
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