Editor’s note: Dave “Dr. Shock” Becker is a host on Horror Movie Podcast, Universal Monsters Cast and Land of the Creeps horror podcasts. He is also the mastermind behind DVDInfatuation.com, a movie review blog where he is watching and posting one review every day until he reaches at least 2,500 movie reviews. Follow Doc on Twitter: @DVDinfatuation.
Hold onto your seats, because I have absolutely no idea how this review is going to end!
Directed by Ryan Bellgardt (who co-wrote the script), 2013’s Army of Frankensteins (not to be confused with Frankenstein’s Army, also released in 2013) is not a good movie. It just isn’t. The performances are dreadful; the story is laughably complex; and the effects (CGI and otherwise) aren’t the least bit convincing. I might even go so far as to say Army of Frankensteins ranks as one of the worst movies, horror or otherwise, I’ve seen this year.
But there are moments within it that are so hilariously over-the-top — so jaw-droppingly unbelievable — that I can’t get them out of my head. Yes, Army of Frankenstein is a really bad film, but it is also a hell of a lot of fun, and given the chance, I would definitely watch it again.
Alan Jones (Jordan Farris) is in love with his girlfriend Ashley (Jami Harris Shine), and intends to ask her to marry him. His plan to propose to her at the supermarket where she works falls apart, however, when he spots Ashley kissing her boss Eugene (Gary Olinghouse) in the back room.
As if this wasn’t enough to ruin his evening, Alan is soon after kidnapped and taken to the lab of Dr. Tanner Finski (John Ferguson), who, like Dr. Frankenstein before him, is building a man out of spare body parts. To put the finishing touches on his creation, Dr. Finski, with the help of his pre-teen assistant Igor (Christian Bellgardty), removes Alan’s right eye and implants it in the creature’s head.
Something goes very wrong, however, when the monster (played by Eric Gesecus) is finally brought to life. An overload in the doctor’s equipment inadvertently opens a doorway into the multiverse, throwing Alan, Igor, Dr. Finski and his creature 150 years into the past, smack dab in the middle of the American Civil War!
What’s more, this rift created several copies of the monster, 100 to be exact, so that instead of contending with one ultra-powerful behemoth, the North and South find themselves besieged by an entire army of Frankensteins (I know that, technically, it should be Frankenstein’s monster, but in this movie they call the creature “Frankenstein”).
But that’s not all. In fact, the above synopsis barely scratches the surface.
Soon after arriving in 1865, Alan runs into a Union soldier named Solomon Jones (Rett Terrell), who, coincidentally, is his fourth great grandfather. Solomon is in love with Virginia (Raychnelle McDonald), a former slave who now works as a nurse for the Union Army, and as a result of Alan’s unplanned trip to the past, it’s quite possible that Solomon and Virginia won’t hook up, which means Alan might never be born (adding to the problem is the fact that Virginia has developed feelings for Alan).
Wait, there’s more!
During a melee between some Confederate soldiers and the Frankensteins, Igor accidentally drops a syringe containing a serum that can turn any living creature into a horrible monster. The syringe is retrieved by Lt. Swanson (Lucas Ross), who delivers it to his sadistic captain, Robert E. Walton, played by Thomas Cunningham (the first time we see him, Captain Walton is sitting in his tent petting a cat, looking a lot like Blofeld from the James Bond series).
After testing the serum on his cat (turning it into a bloodthirsty humanoid beast), Capt. Walton orders Lt. Swanson to inject himself with the serum, and within a few moments Lt. Swanson is a hulking, bad-tempered giant (portrayed by Billy Bean). Now that they have their own monster, Capt. Walton is convinced the Confederacy will win the war, but is one colossus really enough to defeat 100 Frankensteins?
Oh, and on top of everything else, both Abraham Lincoln (Donald Taylor) and John Wilkes Booth (Christoper Robinson) show up in the film’s final act.
So, obviously, Army of Frankensteins covers a lot of ground, and there are still more twists and turns that I haven’t even revealed. As mentioned above, this is one of the film’s biggest problems: It’s far too complex, and I had a hard time keeping track of its many subplots.
And seeing as it is almost 110 minutes in length (way too long for a low-budget movie of this ilk), director Bellgardt could have easily cut at least 25 to 30 minutes without sacrificing anything important. As for the effects, some of the gore is done practically, but there are also plenty of CGI blood spatters (which never look good); and a scene toward the end of the film, set in an alley outside Ford’s Theater, features what may be the worst example of green screen technology I’ve ever experienced (the colors are constantly shifting, and from start to finish the entire set is phony as hell).
What helps Army of Frankensteins rise above its own mediocrity is its plethora of “WTF” moments. There are so many, in fact, that it’s tough to select a favorite, but if I had to choose one, I’d say it’s the touching sequence in which Virginia, cornered by the monster, serenades it with a song she learned while still a slave, a tune so heartfelt that it not only calms the creature’s savage heart, but also convinces it to fight on the side of the Union army! That a scene like this even exists is cool enough, but the fact it takes place hundreds of feet in the air, while Virginia and the monster are riding in a hot-air balloon, raises it to a whole new level of awesome. And this is just one of many outlandish scenes scattered throughout Army of Frankensteins, each as perplexingly brilliant as the last.
And now we come to the hard part: Do I recommend that you check out Army of Frankensteins, or avoid it entirely?
I honestly don’t know.
The movie is really quite awful (IMDb currently ranks it a 2.9 out of 10, and I guarantee there are those among you who, if you see the film, will think that’s a very generous rating), but it’s also an incredible amount of fun, with lines of dialogue so ridiculous that you can’t help but love them (“We’re from the future, and we’re here to kick some Frankenstein ass!”). A few scenes are so bad that they’re unintentionally hilarious (the big twist that occurs during the Ford’s theater sequence had me laughing out loud), yet some might argue this only adds to the film’s overall charm.
Ultimately, I’d say Army of Frankensteins is worth a rental, but only if you’re the kind of person who can overlook a film’s (many) shortcomings and enjoy it for what it is.
And under no circumstances should you buy this movie! I wouldn’t want that on my conscience.
As for me, I’m glad I own Army of Frankensteins on Blu-ray, so I can watch this glorious train wreck any time I want!
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