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Frankenstein's Army

Dark Sky Films // R // September 10, 2013
List Price: $34.98 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by Adam Tyner | posted September 2, 2013 | E-mail the Author
Oh, Movie! You had me
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at "Frankenstein's Army". I thought you did, anyway.

I mean, this is a found footage flick set against the backdrop of World War II. A propagandadocumentary film crew is tagging along with a reconnaissance team to showcase the glory of the Russian army, and along the way, they stumble onto the Nazis' secret weapon. You've seen the title in big, bold letters up there, so, yeah: we're talking about Frankenstein's Army. These aren't slow, dimwitted creatures in platform shoes and green pancake makeup with bolts poking out of their necks either. Frankenstein's legion of ZomBots -- y'know, undead cyborgs -- look like what you'd get if the SS were designing an entire season's worth of steampunk monsters for Mighty Morphin Power Rangers, and I absolutely mean that in a good way.

These Zombots brutally hack apart the soldiers and film crew one by one, what few survivors are left suffer from stinging betrayals within their own ranks, the third act pits one of the documentarians against this descendent of Victor Frankenstein, a burst of well-intentioned heroism goes horribly wrong... I could keep going about all that, but the skeleton of a plot is pretty much what you'd expect, and story isn't really the selling point anyway. Frankenstein's Army as a movie exists solely to show off these ghoulish and cacklingly demented creature designs. The quick glimpses of them on the disc's main menu had my jaw scraping the floor before the film had even started. The craftsmanship and imagination that propel the film really are remarkable, and the extensive makeup effects work -- all practical and in-camera too! -- is every bit as goopy and gruesome as you'd hope it'd be. I don't know what kind of budget Frankenstein's Army had at its depraved fingertips, but the staggeringly high production values look
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like it probably cost three or four times its actual sticker price. Hopefully this group of filmmakers and craftsmen will be working together for a long, long time, and I'll be first in line for whatever it is they'll produce next.

The inspired creature designs and barrel drums of splatter throughout Frankenstein's Army are so brilliant that everything else is hopelessly overshadowed. Before the 'Burnt Match Man' first reared his electrified little head, I found myself completely sucked into the film. There's a definite element of dark comedy as the film crew tries to spin the atrocities around them into chest-thumping propaganda. There really aren't heroes and villains here; both factions think they're working to make a better world, they feel it's their duty to force their ideologies upon billions of other people, and they'll make whatever dark decisions it takes to get them there. I mean, the Russian mindset isn't "Frankenstein and his army must be stopped at all costs!"; it's "Frankenstein ought to be working for us".

It's just that I found myself with borderline-zero investment in any of the Russians. The backstabbing and dark secrets along the way didn't resonate with me, and I found the heavy accents in the dialogue exhausting after a while. Frankenstein's Army lobs out a hell of a lot of action and a sprawling, very diverse selection of creatures, but everything that's not shootouts or zombie robots gets kind of tedious after a while. As much as I love the look of the ZomBots, they don't offer up much in the way of intensity or suspense, especially when they're swiping the camera like something out of Wolfenstein 3D. I think a playful spook-house tone is more of what Frankenstein's Army is going for there anyway. The premise is there, along with a phenomenal set of creature designs, tremendous makeup effects, and a hell of a lot of craftsmanship on both sides of the camera, but as a movie...? I'm disappointed to say that Frankenstein's Army didn't really work for me. Rent It.

Since Frankenstein's Army is trying to mimic the look of a weathered 16mm documentary lensed seven decades back, this Blu-ray
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disc isn't aiming for reference quality so much. This digital production has abrupt jumps, a fair amount of speckling, and recreations of all sorts of other analog anomalies scattered throughout. Detail and clarity tend to be reasonably solid, although the image can be a good bit softer than usual, and contrast is unusually flat. There's not a single pure black to be had anywhere throughout Frankenstein's Army -- not even in the barrage of company logos at the outset -- leaving me wondering if this disc was authored with the wrong IRE in mind.

Frankenstein's Army marches in on a dual-layer Blu-ray disc at an aspect ratio of 1.78:1.

Falling only behind its steampunk Nazi monsters, the sound design easily ranks among the best things that Frankenstein's Army has going for it. The 24-bit DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack is extremely aggressive, from the spastic, six-channel shootouts to zombie cyborgs encircling their prey. There's an intense emphasis on atmospherics as well, and the low-end is frequently thunderous. Aside from the most chaotic stretches where certain lines are meant to be somewhat lost in the mix, the film's dialogue is balanced flawlessly too. Tremendous work.

A 16-bit PCM stereo track has also been provided alongside subtitles in English (SDH) and Spanish.

  • Making Of (32 min.; HD): I'm pretty sure I
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    dug this half hour behind-the-scenes featurette more than the movie itself. The passion, determination, and creativity that went into making Frankenstein's Army is absolutely infectious, and this making-of tackles just about every aspect of it: production design, shooting on location in an abandoned mine, the challenges inherent to acting in, photographing, and editing a found footage film, and a brief peek at a promo made beforehand. Since Frankenstein's Army as a movie revolves so heavily around its kinda-sorta-not-really-undead monsters, it probably goes without saying that the creature effects are a focal point of this featurette as well: a look at conceptual art as it's being created, a tour of the effects team's workshop, and plenty of details on how the splatter and ambitious beasties were brought to...well, "life" might not be the right word, but you know what I mean. Definitely worth a look for anyone buying or renting this Blu-ray disc.

  • Creature Spots (1 min.; HD): Six quick, viral clips -- clocking in around 15 seconds a pop -- quickly showcase some of the most memorable monsters throughout Frankenstein's Army.

  • Trailer (2 min.; HD): Last up is a high-def trailer.

The Final Word
As a showcase for demented creature designs and goopy makeup effects, Frankenstein's Army delivers everything I could ever have wanted and then some. As an hour and a half feature film with characters and story and all that, though...? Rent It, although the startlingly low asking price of $10.96 at Amazon as I write this may have you wanting to spring a few extra bucks for a purchase instead.
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