Frankenstein's Army

2013 / 83m - The Netherlands
Frankenstein's Army poster

Years ago a teaser surfaced on the web. It was witty, it was classy, it had Nazi zombies and it looked like it was going to be a lot of fun. Richard Raaphorst's Worst Case Scenario would never see the light of day, but at least he got his name out there, which ultimately led to the release of his first feature film: Frankenstein's Army. A unique horror film that blends Doom with Wolftenstein and delivers it as a first-grade seasoned freak show.

screen capture of Frankenstein's Army

So far Dutch cinema has often (if not always) disappointed me. Apart from Umfeld (which many don't even consider to be a bona fide film) there are few Dutch film that truly excite me. There have been a few worthy cult films (New Kids, The Human Centipede) but as actual films they fall short. Frankenstein's Army is the first Dutch film I watched that attains a comfortable level of professionalism while featuring a strong directorial vision and leaving behind an impression that it actually contributes something unique to the genre.

At times Raaphorst's first film does feel a lot like a game adaptation, seemingly borrowing a few cues from popular first-person shooters. Not only is there the first-personish perspective of the film (found footage alert), but the creature design is somewhat reminiscent of Doom 3 while the setting is lifted straight out of Return to Castle Wolfenstein. Not a bad thing considering the ease with which Raaphorst evokes a similar atmosphere.

The story is quite simple but effective. A small regiment of Russian scouts are wandering the battle fields, when a distress call reaches them. Their comrades are in danger and they react swiftly. When they arrive at the scene they only find an abandoned village, but no sign of the soldiers. The village contains unmistakable signs of heavy combat though and when the regiment explores the village church they make a gruesome discovery.

screen capture of Frankenstein's Army

Visually I'm pretty much in two minds about this film. The good part is that the creature design and creature effects are top notch. The monsters look absolutely fabulous, a freaky combination of old tech and body parts, sewn and welded together by a madman. Raaphorst isn't too worried about capturing them in full effect either, the problem is that the handycam shots don't do justice to the creatures. Raaphorst does a good job pulling off the found footage style, but with Worst Case Scenario he already showed he could do much better. I would've appreciated a more fetish-like approach with more landmark creature shots.

The soundtrack is top notch. Consisting of a selection of old war tracks, edited and filtered for good effect, it sets a pretty good atmosphere. The sound effects pretty much do the rest. Even though the film is set up as a found footage film, the entire soundtrack is still heavily manipulated, with deafening screeches coming from the monsters and waning background sirens making up most of the background noise. There is only one thing that irked me, which are the English dialogues. For a film that went out of its way to shoot in the Czech Republic with a cast of international actors, it's just weird to hear them speak to each other in broken English. Especially when you consider you're watching a clash between Russians and Germans.

The actors themselves are visibly struggling with the dialogues, which makes the first part of the film a little hard to sit through. It's not like Raaphorst had access to A-grade actor to begin with, burdening them with this extra challenge was clearly a bit much for some. Once the action gets going things get a little better and by the time Dr Frankenstein himself appears on the stage most of those early worries have been forgotten.

screen capture of Frankenstein's Army

The first twenty minutes are a little rusty, but when the regiment reaches the village Raaphorst doesn't hold back. He doesn't stretch to keep his creatures off-camera and when you think you've seen it all he always manages to surprise you once more. The final thirty minutes are a true delight, even when Raaphorst doesn't cash in on the tension and the gore, the creature effects and designs alone are enough to keep the film going.

Frankenstein's Army is a film with a few missed opportunities. I feel the found footage style doesn't do the effect work justice and the reason to have everyone speak English escapes me, but there is enough quality in this film to overcome all those obstacles. Raaphorst made one of the better creature flicks out there, here's to hoping his next project will be financed a lot quicker.