The Seventh Annual Halloween Horror Movie Marathon Begins!

halloween-1350375283oewIs it that time of year already? Is that the rumble of a passing truck I hear or is it the low growl of some hideous monstrosity from the underworld? Do I hear the paws of indescribable beasts padding on the ground outside my window? Is that a thin, pale hand clutching at the gates? Am I seeing things or is that gleam in the dark emanating from the eyes of some ancient spirit come to clutch at my soul?

Halloween is coming! The first two weeks of September have already sped on by and here I silently sit, terrified by the sounds of unnatural monsters and wailing wraiths. One of those creatures has just hopped out of its crib… er, cage… and is quickly stomping its way to my door, which I know will be flung open in a rage to be followed by the shrill screams and cries of a mad demon. Never has the word “Daddy” stricken such terror in my heart until it has come from the slavering mouth of this tiny hellion.

Never mind that now. As it frantically pounds its fists on my door, I must chant the incantations that begin the Halloween Horror Movie Marathon season. Once again I neglected a wrap up post to cap off the previous year and so sacrifices must be made…

So to quickly recap, there was not a lot of bad last year, although Human Centipede 3 wasn’t great shakes. Shyamalan’s The Visit was a lot of fun, though a bit exploitative. The Black Scorpion brought much needed stop-motion animation to the Marathon that I hope to bring around again. The House That Dripped Blood was a fantastic visit to the type of movies from the early 70s I’d like to take more often. For the spot of best horror flick I saw last year, it’s nearly a toss-up between The Babadook and the mesmerizing The Girl Who Walked Home Alone at Night but Jennifer Kent’s Babadook is the one that stuck with me the most so it takes my top spot for 2015.

All right, now that that’s over let’s spill some blood on the ground and get a proper start with the 2016 Marathon’s first horror movie…

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Frankenstein’s Army (2013). Directed by Richard Raaphorst. Starring Karl Roden, Joshua Sasse, Robert Gwilym, Alexander Mercury, Luke Newberry, Hon Ping Tang.

It is World War II and a band of Russian soldiers are trekking through Germany when they discover a distress signal from another group of Russians trapped by German soldiers. They travel through the countryside in search of their lost comrades, discovering a pile of burned nuns at a convent along the way, until they finally arrive at where they believe the source of the signal resides. Instead of finding the imprisoned troops that they hoped to rescue, they discover the lab of a crazed doctor (Karl Roden) who is fusing together the body parts of dead soldiers with wreckage from airplanes, submarines, and, oh, who knows what else. You must admit, it is an efficient notion, reusing the bodies of the dead along with the scraps of metal left behind by wartime machinery. He brings them to life using electricity, of course, because he is the descendant of the infamous Victor Frankenstein. That may sound like a spoiler but it isn’t; his name is in the title, after all.

Frankenstein’s Army is a blast. It would make a fantastic double feature with Trollhunter, another found footage movie with some fantastic monsters. The design of the cyborg Nazis in Frankenstein’s Army is just as terrifying and wonderful. Every minute deeper into the movie reveals more and more of the madness Raaphorst is capable of. There comes a point where the soldiers are popping up around nearly every corner and the appearance of each monstrosity is as equally delightful as the one that came before. There is an amazing variety to Frankenstein’s creations, including an homage to the bride of Frankenstein, an ED-209 from Robocop and likely other film references that went over my head. You can check out some of the sketches, done by director Richard Raaphorst himself, here.

If you’re one to nitpick the tropes of found footage, you will find a few more details to fret over here. Take the look of the film, for example. Even if we allowed for that rare type of camera that shot color in the 1940s, such film would not be of the quality we see in the film, nor would it be in a wide aspect ratio. And I’m pretty sure there were no cameras in existence that would capture sound in any practical, portable sense. In spite of these anachronisms the found footage style still allows Frankensten’s Army to convey a documentary look and feel that puts us right in the middle of the action. It’s worth letting these oversights go and enjoy the ride.

There are times the point of view of the camera feels like a run through a first person shooter video game like Wolfenstein or Doom. The camera runs down a hallway, turns a corner and, yikes! there’s an undead soldier with a gas mask and huge blades for arms! What’s that strange pinging sound? The camera turns around and whoa! undead soldiers with deep sea diving helmets are standing right behind you! Best of all none of the creatures, the blood, the set design, or the body parts were created by lousy CGI. The effects, apart from some clean-up for wire removal, are all practical.

So, yeah, found footage naysayers should beware, but even if that’s not your bag you might still check it out. Frankenstein’s Army is a stellar debut from Raaphorst. It’s exciting, it’s gory, and it’s a lot of fun. I look forward to seeing what he might have in store for us in the future.

Here are a couple of trailers he shot for an abandoned movie called Worst Case Scenario, filmed some time before Frankenstein’s Army, about Germany taking revenge on the Netherlands after losing the World Cup.

There you have it, the first film of our 2016 season! What a great, bloody way to kick things off! Coming up is a recent theatrical release and another entry that promises to be the end of a franchise that has, for many, long worn out its welcome…

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