Nazisploitation is an interesting and, for the most part, a shoddy sub-genre of exploitation cinema. For every Ilsa: She Wolf of the S.S., there’s a dozen S.S. Hell Camp‘s that pollute the exploitation sections in genre video shops. But when they are good, they’re memorable. Nazis are a great enemy to throw into a World War II era film, no matter the genre, because they are universally hated/feared and also an easy target to poke fun at. Such is the case with Frankenstein’s Army, the first feature film from Richard Raaphorst, and boy is it a doozy. And only in the best way possible.
A mysterious mission is bestowed upon a small group of Russian soldiers in the final days of World War II. They’re trying to find a group of comrades in a remote German town in order to bring them back home. They arrive in an abandoned town, finding dead bodies everywhere, all exhumed from the local graveyard. As to make camp at the factory in town, they unearth a diabolical Nazi plan to resurrect their soldiers into unstoppable killing machines, a zombie mechanical nightmare.
That’s really all you need to know about the plot. And that the film is another found footage horror film shown at Tribeca this year. Considering I’m not a huge fan of the style, they were 2 for 2 this year when it comes to giving something new or fun with that genre. In Frankenstein’s Army, we have two cameras that are the eyes for the audience, everything being documented by the man who got the mission together, Dimitri (Alexander Mercury). Yes, the film looks way too good to be from that era, but you throw that away because you’re watching a tongue firmly in cheek genre film. And once we get past some introductions of characters that you know, for the most part, are cannon fodder for the ensuing monster army, the film becomes a lost video game.
If you’re familiar with the first person shooter video game Wolfenstein 3D, especially its newer version Return to Castle Wolfenstein, you’ll know what you’re getting into when the Nazi zombie army start popping up. A propeller for a head, knife hands and whatever else you can imagine that a mad scientist could stick on corpses and send out to do his dirty work for the Third Reich is on display, and when we get into these tense first person scenes, they match the best of any tense video game experience, which in turn works well in cinema. Going around a corner from that perspective, you don’t know what’s waiting to kill you and like our soldiers, when one of these undead pop out, they are shocked as we are.
And the mad scientist is of course a descendant of Frankenstein himself, who has a better idea on how to properly bring back the dead to do his bidding. Ridiculous and over the top, but when you have the fantastic actor Karel Roden (who played Rasputin in Hellboy, among a ton of other fantastic roles), it gives the role a sense of weight and you believe the method to his extreme madness. The real winner of the film are the designs of the Nazi zombie creations, each one more bizarre then the next. A favorite was one with a long spiked nose that is used to puncture through people’s heads. Or the one that has a head that crushes things and if you know any better, you know someone is getting their head crushed. It’s just the aftermath that is one to be remembered.
Frankenstein’s Army was picked up by Dark Sky Films, and I couldn’t think of a better place for Raaphorst’s film, considering they put out great horror films. This one should be a no brainer, if you want a strange found footage steampunk horror film with Frankenstein in the title. It was a hell of a lot of fun and you really can’t get much better. Luckily the fun title matches the film’s output.