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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