As I said the other day in a comments section, when it comes to movies I’m pretty much an across-the-boards enthusiast about almost any and every kind of movie. Good movies. Bad movies. Old movies. New ones. Short movies. Long movies. Mysteries, thrillers, or sci-fi. I can tolerate romantic comedies so long as they aren’t banal, star Hugh Grant, and serve up some decent character moments. Historical movies – when they’re done with some degree of accuracy – really get me jazzed. I could watch horror flicks every day of the week. Even documentaries – so long as they don’t get too overtly political or ideological – are worth my time and effort.
In fact, the only genre of film I honestly have ever struggled to understand is the ‘cult’ film.
Let me tell you why.
A legitimate ‘cult’ film usually doesn’t start out with the deliberate intention of being a legitimate ‘cult’ film. In other words, it’s rare for there to be a confluence of producer, director, writer, and actor intent to craft something that’ll only be viewed, in the end, as a cult flick.
Typical, the creative process starts with a screenwriter who has an idea, something that he would love to see turned into an epic motion picture. It may be a romance. It may be a drama. Most times, it’s conceived as a modestly budgeted slasher film – that’s what it takes to open doors in Tinseltown these days – and it gets passed through as many pairs of hands are required to find a producer. The producer likes what he sees, but he doesn’t want to make a huge investment. After all, horror pictures – especially ones frugally financed – have the greatest statistical likelihood in giving a decent ROI (Return On Investment), so they’re “easy sells.” It all comes together relatively quickly, and then it gets packaged, promoted, and played.
Then – and only then – does the film earn the title of being a “cult” sensation.
See what I mean? The film didn’t start out that way. It usually – rarely – isn’t assembled that way. However, luck shines on it. Somehow, despite all of the obstacles, it winds up beating the odds and finds an audience. Like the little engine that could, it climbs up that hill and puts enough butts in the seats to be christened with the appropriate label. What started out as a traditional slasher movie – or a romance, or a drama involving a man and his love for Furries, or a medical drama involving the alien manufacture of time and space – ends up inspiring a cult.
There’s no doubt in my mind that the minds behind Frankenstein’s Army intended the flick to be a cult film all along.
Sure, it probably started out as most films do with the mildest of suppositions: “What if …?”
In Frankenstein’s Army, that question evolved into, “What if Dr. Frankenstein worked on behalf of the Nazis during World War II?”
Throughout the years, the Nazi fascination with genetic experiments has been well documented. Eduard Wirths served as the SS’s chief doctor at Auschwitz from 1942 through the end of the war, and he personally saw to it that Jewish inmates were subjected to all kinds of experiments in areas (as victims) of weapons development. Aribert Heim – better known as “Dr. Death” – did much of the same at Mauthausen, only his preferred method of experimentation involved toxic injections that attacked the human body. And, of course, Josef Mengele – the “Angel of Death” – did his part to cement the Nazis’ reputation as cruel and sadistic torturers, obsessed as he was at getting to the genetic level of understanding how hereditary worked.
So this particular ‘what if?’ scenario – Frankenstein aligned with those Nazi bastards – certainly passes the smell test.
But a great set-up is never enough to craft something that’s destined to be seen entirely as a cult film, and that’s where writer/director Richard Raaphorst and his crew of screenwriters decided to follow a contemporary trend that always captivates as much as it involves audiences: they’d made this a found footage film.
Of course, World War II was the first major conflict to involve embedded members of the press, so, again, the logic stands to solid reason. Especially toward the end of the war, more and more reporters were allowed into areas so that they could capture for posterity the scenes of hardship and atrocities inflicted by the German military, as well as record the triumphs of the Allied Forces as they marched across Europe. Much of this footage made its way into the popular cinema newsreels of the era, while some of it was saved for larger studio projects. As you can see, this conceit – that of the found footage picture – certainly passes the smell test, too.
The last descriptor typically attached to cult films is that the picture must in some way be a bit visionary. Often times, this is accomplished in a very dark, somber, sober, or macabre way, giving the picture are particularly novel feel, texture or palate … and, in this estimation, Frankenstein’s Army really holds back a doozy until the film’s conclusion. As the film only came out on DVD recently, I’d rather not spoil it for anyone whose curiosity may’ve been understandably tweaked, so I’ll say this: you’re likely to see some of the most downright bizarre genetic creations – not necessarily bloody, boisterous, or bawdy – ever conceived and committed to film. In some ways, this is Del Toro on crack.
Because it’s a found footage film, I suspect there are a lot of folks who might dismiss Frankenstein’s Army flat out, feeling that it’s a sub-genre within a broader genre that’s already run its course. For my tastes, the picture thrilled me, and that’s because – like its monsters – the entire project is so wonderfully insane from start-to-finish (while peeling back layers of reality) that I couldn’t help but love it.
Does that mean it’ll truly be labelled a cult film, even if that’s what was intended from the very start?
As is always the case, only the test of time can answer that.
So far as this humble reviewer is concerned, it already has my vote.