Nathan Hamilton is awesome. He’s a huge supporter of indie horror, he haunts at Netherworld, and he runs Son of Celluloid, a blog that also happens to have its own show. I don’t know how the dude has any time to get anything else done, but fortunately he was able to contribute to Halloween Fifteen again this year with a review of Frankenstein’s Army. Unfortunately, it’s a found footage film and he is definitely not a fan. Will that keep him from enjoying this horror flick during the Halloween season? Find out below.
Ok, I have to get one thing out of the way right off the bat… I hate found footage movies. Loathe them. Revile them. Despise them. I detest, abhor, and every other synonym you can think of, them. Found footage flicks are the bane of my existence. They make me want to do bodily harm to people. I refuse to review them on my own blog or youtube show. Hell, in the case of The Excreme… er, Sacrament, they make me yell angrily (and admittedly drunkenly) at the screen in a crowded theater. So yeah, suffice it to say that they aren’t my cup of tea. I DO like Frankenstein’s Army as a Halloween movie, however, because it speaks to one of the aspects of the All Hallows spirit that goes right to the core of me. Allow me to explain.
My involvement with haunted attractions actually predates my involvement with horror movies. In that magical October of 1992, I worked my first night at a haunted house about two weeks before I saw my first horror flick (Night of the Living Dead). It was a church haunt called The Chilling Fields. Full scale re-enactment of the book of Revelation. It was bad ass. Anyway, I was hooked. Every year since then (with the exception of this year, interestingly enough), I’ve been involved in the haunt game. I’ve caused nightmares and soiled drawers at various haunts for my entire teenage and adult lives, so “live interactive horror” is an art form that is near and dear to my heart. Without hyperbole, it’s a big part of who I am. What does that have to do with Frankenstein’s Army, you ask? Well, it’s because, once the setup passes, the flick feels a lot like a stroll through a haunt.
The plot: Near the end of WWII, Russian soldiers in Germany run across a secret Nazi facility and fall afoul of the unholy monstrosities they’ve been creating in their labs.
The first half hour of the flick is pretty standard found footage war movie fare, just way less believable than usual. Having used a WWII era 16mm camera back in film school, I can tell you with the utmost certainty that the shots they get are quite impossible. It would have to be wound FAR more often. That quibble aside, you’ve got a lot of the soldiers talking and a little action. Honestly, it’s kinda forgettable. Then, it gets good. Really good.
Most of the middle part of the film concerns the soldiers pushing through the Nazi labs, and this is where the haunted house comparison kicks in. From a first person view, the camera traversing the subterranean lair and a person in a spook house are surprisingly similar. Things are coming from every side. You barely have time to take in the sight of the monster on your left before you hear a noise, wheel around, and see another dangerously close on the right. The loud noises add to the chaos. Creatures are half glimpsed through doorways. It’s the exact same tricks haunts use, but put to film. Misdirection to make another scare more startling. Disorienting noises. Slowly encroaching beasties. Tight hallways. Intermittent darkness. The pauses where actual scenes take place are reminiscent of a “guided tour style” haunt. These techniques have the same effect on film as they do in real life; complete immersion in the experience. I’ve also heard these portions of the flick compared to a first person video game, and the feeling is very similar. Massive kudos to the filmmakers for pulling this off so well.
The other thing that deserves a special mention is the creature design. Damn, these things are cool looking. They’re cobbled together from dead bodies and WWII era tech, and it’s pretty freakin’ terrifying. Some of it verges on steampunk, but manages not to be lame. They’re imaginative and unique, which is a rare commodity in today’s “it’s all been done” horror world. And the best part? They’re practical! No CGI to be found. That goes for the gore too. Practical and great looking.
After the haunted house section, the climax feels like a perfect coda. It even checks off two things that will instantly endear a movie to me; Nazis and mad scientists. All in all, while I still want found footage movies to go back to hell like the filthy abomination they are, there is still the odd one now and then that manages to make the gimmick an asset rather than a detriment. Frankenstein’s Army is one of those movies. By employing haunted house tricks in film form, it becomes an experience unlike any other a film has offered. That particular type of thrill lends itself perfectly to Halloween, making this a worthy addition to your October watch list.