Frankenstein’s Army is a ludicrous World War II horror flick bogged down by its found-footage gimmick, which is compromised and contradicted so often that it becomes a distraction. Eventually, a viewer might start to wish that director Richard Raaphorst had either opted for total verisimilitude, replicating the look and feel of wartime documentary footage, or that he’d directed the movie as straight horror; either option would be preferable to his confused grab bag of found-footage clichés.
The plot is a Wolfenstein-inspired pulp yarn about a group of Red Army soldiers who stumble across a bizarre Nazi laboratory overseen by mad scientist Karel Roden, a descendant of Dr. Frankenstein. (“My grandfather needed lighting,” he says, “but I have a generator!”) Framing the movie as found footage makes sense: The war was heavily documented, and its later stages found Allied troops discovering unbelievable atrocities. However, Raaphorst tries to fit a video-style framework on the footage, which doesn’t work culturally (people didn’t use 16mm cameras the same way they use cell phones) or technologically.
The soldiers’ camera, seen several times, is a Paillard Bolex H16, whose finicky mechanism and delicate construction are unsuited for fieldwork. Furthermore, without an external power source, the camera can’t be synchronized with a sound recorder or run for longer than 25 seconds at a time. Pointing out the unlikelihood of a Soviet detachment carrying a Swiss camera is nitpicky when compared to the fact that Frankenstein’s Army is in color and widescreen (the former unlikely, the latter technologically impossible) and is set mostly in the dark at a time when film stocks were not very light sensitive, or that the cameraman announces that he’s on his last 100-foot roll (about three and a half minutes) half an hour before the end of the movie.
All of these inconsistencies—as well as the fact that the dialogue is in English, with the actors speaking with cartoony Russian accents—distract from the movie’s strengths: Roden’s gonzo performance and Raaphorst’s imaginatively grotesque monsters, which range from a stilt-limbed storm trooper with a drill for a nose to a utility table outfitted with a child’s legs. The only time the found-footage gimmick truly works—technical impossibilities and all—is also the moment when the movie acknowledges that it’s mostly a vehicle for Raaphorst’s creature designs: a sequence in which Roden gives the cameraman a tour of his lab, nonchalantly passing by claw-handed robot-zombies as he drily explains his scientific achievements.