Filmmaker Richard Raaphorst discusses his feature film debut Frankenstein's Army, currently available on Blu-ray and DVD
Before making his feature directorial debut with Frankenstein's Army, Richard Raaphorst started out as a title designer and a conceptual artist on films such as Beyond Re-Animator and Black Book. After directing a handful of shorts, the filmmaker brings his unique visual style to Frankenstein's Army, which follows a group of Russian soldiers who discover Viktor (Karel Roden) and his terrifying undead army at the tail end of World War II. I recently had the chance to speak with the director over the phone about this compelling genre mashup, currently available on Blu-ray and DVD. Here's what he had to say.
Can you talk about when you first had the idea for this story, and how long it took you to come up with the script?
Richard Raaphorst: I always had a big fascination with horror, and the combination of man and machines because it allows them to become stronger than they really are. That really was a seed in my brain, until maybe 10 years later. I did commercial drawings for features, and things started to move in my brain, so I wanted to do a simple piece of work. I said to a producer, 'Let's do this, just for fun.' We made this trailer, and basically, it's just a surreal picture, without any story, and then we realized it could be a film (Laughs). Then I was really into the movie and I really wanted to make it. I was so passionate about that I knew I had to do something else with it. I did some sketches and it leaked out on the Internet and went viral. I realized I needed to hurry up, so I developed the script.
When you initially had the idea, was the setting of World War II always there?
Richard Raaphorst: Yeah. I wanted to use World War II because we wanted to make the film a living painting. We were told it was a very bad idea, so let's do it then (Laughs), because it's a bad idea. I started to design it and I had so much fun with it. The Netherlands has such a history with World War II, my grandparents are still talking about it, and it's a part of our culture. I thought it was fascinating because I always thought that the Germans had the nicest costumes. They looked the best, and that combination of total evil was really disturbing to me. Somehow, that really appealed to me, and I thought that would be a great arena to put this story in.
A character like Viktor must have been difficult to find the right guy. Can you talk about finding Karel Roden and the rest of the cast, and how smoothly or difficult the casting process was?
Richard Raaphorst: It was really difficult, because I really didn't want any cliches. If I would do that, the movie would be exploitation, because you're already doing something that's out there. I really wanted to invent a new kind of villain, someone who really is real, or at least one who is more grounded to earth. I knew this would depend on the choice of the right actor. We had several options, but they were all the wrong choice. We met with Dieter Laser from The Human Centipede (First Sequence), but nothing was really what I wanted, until I met Karel Roden. He was basically one of our last options, but I could just wrap the character around Karel Roden and it was just magic. It was that right moment when you see your character alive. It's one of the best moments of the whole production.
Can you talk about how much time you had with this production? There are so many levels here, with the kinds of effects you had to do for these soldiers.
Richard Raaphorst: We didn't have a lot of time, but we had enough time. I think we had six months, from the signed agreements from the time we were standing on the set. It all went quite smoothly. It was a very nice period of developing the idea into what it was. The most difficult part was finding the right location, because we were looking for an antique village. We were very lucky that we discovered this shut-down mining complex. It was more like an accident. We just went in, me and my cameraman, and they said we were not allowed to go in there, so we really went into the parts we were not supposed to enter at all. I went to the producers and said we found a location where we could shoot at least two movies there. It's a world. I just discovered a world, and we have to shoot it there. It was fantastic. When we had that, we knew the location was something to be proud of.
Was using found footage always on the table, or was that something that developed later on?
Richard Raaphorst: Found footage was really one of the first things we discussed with (co-writer) Miguel (Tejada-Flores), when we started to write the script. He thought it would be cheaper, but I said it wouldn't be cheaper because of the technical effects and costumes, but I really liked it because you could use the propaganda theme and then there's a reason to show this movie. Propaganda is about violence, and I thought it was an interesting idea. We used that idea, and I'm a gamer. I love to game, and I thought we could make the movie a little bit like a game, somehow, that you become a part of the film. I really love that about games, that you get sucked into them and you become a protagonist instead of just observing and judging. People are constantly bored, and going from one sensation to the other. I wanted to let the traditional movie develop into something else in which the viewer can participate in.
Is there anything you're developing now that you can talk about?
Richard Raaphorst: Yeah, I just shot two trailers for ideas I'm developing. One is a science-fiction, and the other is more like a horror-fairy tale. The science-fiction is about the discovery of a new particle. It is mass and matter and everything around us, and this laboratory tries to isolate this particle. As soon as they do that, anything that is put in contact with it, transforms into anti-matter. It's a movie where you have an anti-matter disease. We shot the trailer, and it looks amazing. Totally amazing. No one really knew what to expect, and it really looks fantastic.
Wow. That sounds great.
Richard Raaphorst: I hope to have it ready by November or December, because almost everything is practical, but I need to put a few digital elements in place. We get to see someone infected with anti-matter, and how he tries to get rid of it (Laughs).
Richard Raaphorst: I'm not a salesman (Laughs). They need to see it because they need to support independent filmmakers. What I tried to do and tried to give to the audience is something they've never seen before, and give them a new experience. That has been my goal, and I hope they see stuff that might inspire them to do something of their own.
That's my time. Thank you so much, Richard. It was great talking to you.
Richard Raaphorst: Yeah, thank you man.