Welcome to Friday Night Flix, where there’s never a need to leave the couch or put on pants. Each week I’ll recommend an under-the-radar movie currently available on one or more of the major streaming platforms. They won’t all be classics, but every selection is guaranteed to be 100% watchable or your money back.
I hate when people call found footage a genre.
Say you criticize a found footage movie for making no logical sense, e.g., “How can the camera guy fight off a monster and record it at the same time?” Misguided defenders of such nonsense respond, “You just don’t like the genre, therefore you are bias.” (Don’t get me started on people who use bias as an adjective.)
Found footage is not a genre. It’s not even a sub-genre. A sub-genre is a type within a type, like romantic comedy or supernatural thriller. Found footage is just a recording method, like shooting in black and white, or digital, or 3D. You don’t hear anyone saying black and white is a genre, or that black and white horror is a sub-genre. No one would argue that people who don’t like Eraserhead are biased against black and white. (See, people? THAT’s how you allege bias.)
Horror filmmakers tend to resort to found footage under the pretext of adding immediacy. More often that not though, the technique is actually used because it’s a cost saver. It requires less equipment, crew, time and, often, skill. So they use it, even if it’s not artistically ideal. I can live with that.
Frankenstein’s Army (Netflix, $2.99 Amazon) has no such excuse. Despite being a non-theatrical, it likely had a seven figure budget. It features elaborate set dressing, loads of location shots, and dozens of unique creature designs. Granted, the creatures are somewhat hokey. Mostly they’re extras in Nazi garb with auto parts lashed to their arms, or refurbished appliances with legs. Still, such a huge volume of that stuff doesn’t come cheap. The found footage thing is therefore an artistic choice, and an insane one at that.
Frankenstein’s Army is set at the end of World War II, around 1945. At that time the best film cameras in the world produced fuzzy monochrome and weighed approximately one metric ton. Yet these dubiously accented Russian soldiers march into the field with not one but two tiny handheld cameras that not only record in color (and native 16:9), they also capture audio. I’m sure there’s some tenuous basis in reality for that but it feels more bullshitty than Apollo 18, which was already pretty far-fetched.
The movie itself is kinda fun, so it’s a bummer they go with found footage. It has plenty of super gross practical effects and it feels more authentic that many period horror pieces. It also has a sense of humor, with some legitimately funny beats. Like when our intrepid scout regiment is introduced, parading heroically past the camera’s field of view, one of them is in the background taking a shit.
Added Bonus: A soldier’s helmet gets stuck on his head as a result of being caught in the bear trap/iron maiden head of one of the monsters. His comrades don’t know how to remove it without hurting him, so they leave it on. A German civilian — who they were awesomely planning to simply execute — tells them she’s a trained nurse. She brings all her medical experience to bear, digging her fingers in under the helmet and just yanking as hard as she can. This complicated medical procedure dislodges the man’s skull and tears out his brain. Perhaps Germany lost WWII because of poor battlefield triage.