Near the end of WWII, cameraman Dimitri (Alexander Mercury, The Golden Compass) chronicles the mission of a Russian military unit under Stalin’s order. As they cross terrain and cross terrain, you may start thinking about going AWOL. Don’t. Give it a good 20 minutes in order for things to fall into place. Gradually, the men and their machine guns arrive at oddly shaped skeletons; by the time they reach the pile of burnt nuns, you know they’re really onto something — namely, a secret Nazi lab.
And that’s where feature-debuting writer/director Richard Raaphorst floors it. Our troops encounter an enemy force of man-made monsters — don’t you dare call them automatons — assembled by Viktor Frankenstein (Karel Roden, Orphan), the grandson of the Frankenstein, the guy who gave life to the dead on a dark and stormy night.
Instead of a lumbering brute befitted with big shoes and bolts in his neck, we meet all sorts of mutant misfits mixed from equal parts steampunk and early issues of Popular Mechanics: a mosquito-like man, a creature with a Venus fly trap for a head, one with rotating saw blades for mitts.
Says one soldier, deadpan, “Only the Nazis would think of something like this … sewing dead people together … and giving them knives for hands.”
Their design is absolutely incredible, ingenious and, above all, original; because they’re the work of Raaphorst, their look is right in line with the film’s tongue-in-cheek tone and rusted-out, blood-speckled setting. (Dark Sky Films’ Blu-ray gives some of them über-quick character profiles, but you’re better off with its half-hour documentary.)
That makes Frankenstein’s Army as close to a singular vision as such a collaborative effort can get. Every penny of the low-budget picture is onscreen; once it clears that first quarter, it pays off big. If there were such a thing as a Nazi haunted house that set up shop for Halloween, I’d like to think that stumbling through it would feel like this. Consider that a glowing recommendation. —Rod Lott
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