Frankenstein’s Army (2013)

Frankenstein’s Army first published by Grolsch FilmWorks

“Everybody’s sick. The Nazis! The Communists! Capitalists! Everyone. The sickness cannot be cured, so it must be cut out.”

The speaker is Dr Viktor Frankenstein (Karel Roden), explaining his solo surgical strike against all sides in the Second World War. A German who was interned in the concentration camps for his abhorrent experiments, he has now created his own army of man-machine hybrids, and plans to purge the world of human imperfections. A small band of Soviet soldiers has stumbled upon Frankenstein’s factory base in an East German village. Nazi-hating Polish freedom fighter Sergei (Joshua Sasse) insists the man behind these monstrous creatures must be ‘insane’, while documentarian Dmitri declares the not-so-good Doktor ‘brilliant’ and a ‘genius’. These same terms – sick, brilliant, mad, genius – are equally applicable to Richard Raaphorst, a director/co-writer whose feature debut rewrites the book not only on history but also on genre.

Revisionism and retro nostalgia are key here, as the modern tropes of ‘found footage’ are cast back – with ingenious improbability – to the 1940s. On orders from Stalin himself, and armed with a pair of new-fangled sound-recording cameras, Dmitri is busy shooting a propaganda film on his reconnaissance squad’s (entirely staged) heroic exploits, even as his lens is kept turned away from their actual raping and pillaging of a hamlet. Yet as strange mechanical corpses are found in the woods, Dmitri begins suturing evidence of a different kind of atrocity into his film, until eventually the squad follows a distress signal to a village where local nuns have been burnt alive, where graves have been emptied, and where underground mines conceal nightmarish monstrosities the likes of which even Hitler and Stalin could only dream.

Raaphorst carefully lets the tension build, before unleashing a host of slashing, drilling, sawing terrors onto characters and viewers alike, in a first-person assault that, once underway, does not stop delivering surreal in-your-face horror. The CG-free monsters take horror back to the old school of practical effects and physical modelling, while amazing and terrifying in equal measure with their inventively varied design. This is a ‘mad scientist’ movie made with outsized love that no reasonable viewer will be able to leave unrequited – and it is all stitched together with political satire that cynically paints Frankenstein’s freakish army as the final solution to the madness of a world at war. With sets that become more outrageously baroque from one scene to the next, Frankenstein’s Army is simultaneously hilarious, horrifying and hysterical – and provides ample video evidence that Raaphorst has arrived on the horror scene in full electrifying form. 

© Anton Bitel