Available now on Blu-ray is Frankenstein’s Army. The directorial debut from Richard Raaphorst takes the found footage approach and drops it in the middle of World War II following a group of Russian soldiers who stumble upon secret Nazi lab where the grandson of Mary Shelley’s Dr. Frankenstein forges monsters out of man and machine. The film unfolds like a funhouse of terrors as the soldiers go deeper into dangerous territory, uncovering new horrors at every turn.
In celebration of the film’s Blu-ray release I had the opportunity to sit down for an email interview with Raaphorst. He talked about designing the film’s standout monsters, which one is his favorite, the challenges of directing his first feature film, why he chose the found footage format and more. Check out what he had to say after the jump.
RICHARD RAAPHORST: Yes I’ve always been fascinated by Frankenstein. When I was a kid my mother told me about this monster with his square head and it totally freaked me out. The square shape didn’t sound logical to me, so it was really scary. My imagination took it over and started to invent cubistic monsters, which later became Transers, and then became biomechanical monsters like the ones in FA. Transers are my own industrial monsters I invented as a teenager. I used to dress like them and take photos.
Then when I asked myself what I wanted to make a movie about, I came up with the answer, “about an army of Frankensteins.” So that was it! Because I also had a deep fascination for the second world war, I thought it might be a cool idea to combine those together. My first reaction was, “Wait a minute, you can’t combine those – it’s insane!” But that’s exactly why I thought it would be a pretty good idea – because it was insane!
The monsters look amazing. Tell me little bit about what your design process was like. How did you determine the aesthetic? Were the monsters designed with individual purpose or personality? Or were they inspired more by what looked freakiest?
RAAPHORST: I wanted to make a character movie more than a monster movie. The monsters are born out of the characters. Olaf was a guy who always wanted to be a Luftwaffe pilot, but got rejected because he was only two meters tall. After he got shot in the head by American troops, Victor decided to replace his head with a Messerschmitt engine – propeller and all. So each back story supports why a zombot looks the way it does.
Do you have a favorite monster?
RAAPHORST: I really like Hans the Zompod because he is stripped down to his essence. No limbs, just a metal trash bin as a body, two legs, and that’s it. (Spoiler) He is the only zombot who escapes the factory when it’s getting bombed. I included a sketch of the first Hans Zompod design.
I’m also very interested in the practical aspect of building the monsters on set. Can you talk a little bit about what that process was like?
RAAPHORST: It was a very interesting nightmare. Because I used mostly practical effects, we shot this in long, single takes that were very very complicated, but well worth the extra work. And we needed to do this in a long singe takes which was very complicated, but paid off.
At one point, I was very ill on the set, and we were shooting the most complicated scene with numerous zombots. I had a fever and felt delirious and really freaked out when I found myself in the middle of my own monsters. That was a moment when I thought, “Why have I worked so hard to put myself into this nightmare? What is wrong with me, that I’m not happy with a normal, decent, job, a dog, a car, etc.” Luckily, I felt better quickly!
What were the greatest challenges of directing your first feature film?
RAAPHORST: The biggest challenge was to maintain my focus and never give up. I clung to my beliefs as hard as I could. During the shoot, it was difficult for me to switch between the roles of designer to director. Both disciplines are very different and challenge your creativity in their own way. As a designer you have to isolate yourself, but as a director you must become a public and social person. The director must stay involved in the social structure on the set, like a spider in a web. But not everyone understood that I needed to withdraw myself in the evening to focus on storyboarding and putting the finishing touches on the designs.
Low-budget films tend to change a lot during production because of budget, time constraints, etc. How close is the finished film to the script you first wrote?
RAAPHORST: Its 110 percent based on the first script. It sounds strange, but we kept adding things to the original script instead of taking it out. So the difference is positive instead of negative. Rogier (Rogier Samuels, special effects supervisor) could even make some extra monsters, which was totally amazing. There is one thing that really totally different than planned – the teddy bear with the female head. I wanted to have my good friend Brian Uzna there as a cameo, but we could not arrange it. (I have a drawing of this).
I’m curious why you chose to make the film in the found-footage format?
RAAPHORST: With found footage, audience members get to be participants, not just observers. Like a first-person shooter video game, I wanted the audience to have the perspective of being physically IN the movie and witnessing what the characters do. Pretty much everyone in the film is a villain, because I didn’t want to get involved in a good vs evil debate. Using found footage really allows the audience to decide that. The texture and tension created by found footage also added a lot, I think.
Your history as a concept artist translated into some great looking monsters. I’m definitely interested to see what other interesting visions you might have in your head. Is there anything coming up for you that you’re excited about?
RAAPHORST: I’m working on several projects, but currently, my most developed one is called HIGGS. It’s about the discovery of the HIGGS particle in which everything we know as matter transforms into antimatter. We just shot a trailer for this one. Can’t wait to cut it in the edit!! I included an example of the concept art.