Frankenstein's Army (2013)

World War II was hell on a lot of people. Many feel it was the last "proper" war before technological advancements made certain traditional war tactics and strategies obsolete. While the last 50 years have seen warfare become less about the soldier and more about the move away from interpersonal warfare, back in 1945, the prevailing thought amongst both the Axis and the Allies was that the next wave of warfare was going to be fought by so called "super soldiers." There is a bevy of historical evidence that scientists on both sides went to great lengths to be the first to create said soldiers. The advent of the atomic age quelled the military need for a super soldier, after all what good was a genetically altered killing machine when all you had to do was drop a nuke on a town and be done with it? But the fact still remains that the Nazis, Hitler himself in particular, was obsessed with the idea of creating the "perfect soldier" to compliment his "perfect race."

It's into this historic background that a group or Russian soldiers, looking to liberate Germany from the Socialist yoke, drop their boots in the snow. The winter of '45 was a brutal one on the German front and this particular group looks like they've faced that brutality head on for months. After receiving a distress call another Russian unit, they move to save them, despite some misgivings regarding the fact that there were supposed to be no other Russians in the area. They move on anyway. Their journey to the rescue point comes from chapter 1 of War Films 101. Ancillary company members get paired away. They brutalize some undeserving villagers and one particularly unlucky rooster. They get drunk and bond. It's war.

But some funny (not ha ha funny) things happen as they get closer to their destination. They come upon a skeleton of a mutant dead soldier and an almost dead Nazi soldier who has a mechanical hand and it just doesn't feel right. Couple that with their discovery of  a pile of slaughtered nuns and by the time they finally enter the old church where there missing comrades are holed up, they realize that they are in to something far deeper than they could have imagined.

Frankenstein's Army devolves through it's second act to feel a bit like a first person shooter video game. New room, new big baddie. Throw in come cut scenes and it could be something from a Wolfenstein film. What could have become repetitive and boring is somewhat saved by the fact that the "cut scenes" between boss battles are very good. While the monsters are indeed shocking, it's the actions of the company members that really make the picture terrifying.

By the time we meet the title character, a quite mad descendant of the Frankenstein clan, there are no more good guys or bad guys, only shades of gray. This vacuum allows the Dr. himself to slide into almost sympathetic territory. Whether that's intentional or not, I'm not sure, but it happens because the main characters are so detestable by this point in the film.

It really is a shame the film takes so long getting to Frankenstein because Karl Roden (Roden) is great as the Doc. Perhaps I still have a 'Red Dawn' (the original, not the shitty remake) hangover, because I found it hard to really sympathize with any of the Russian soldiers. When they start to turn on each other, it really doesn't mean much because at a certain point, other than two or maybe three, they are virtually interchangeable and the sub par acting by certain cast members does nothing to help this.

The found footage angle (yes, it's one of those), while not shaky cam 24/7, really adds nothing and actually hurts the films integrity. It's a leap to think a camera, like the one they use in this film could shoot the images seen here. The second act is essentially a first person shooter game. It's not bad, the interpersonal things scotch tape it together, but it drags time away from the crux of the film - Dr. Frankenstein, his motivations and his mania.

That being said, the film is extremely enjoyable. Frankenstein's creations looked great, like WWII military industrial machine by the way of Clive Barker. The story, though weakened in the second act, really pays off in the third. The characters motivations make sense knowing now what we know about the inner workings of the Russian and Nazi regimes at the time. The film, looks great. The action is solid, and it's got plenty of gore for the gore hounds out there.

Frankenstein's Army is a well made, disturbing film, one that is sure to stick in your head long after the credits role. It's current available On Demand, so look for it there.

*** 1/2 stars out of *****

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