Frankenstein’s Army is coming! Prepare for the zombot coup d’état by checking out our recent interview with co-writer/director Richard Raaphorst and star Karel Roden.
Richard Raaphorst is a Frankenstein’s Frankenstein. From designing the film’s creatures and characters to directing and story ideation, it was Raaphorst’s vision that brought Frankenstein’s Army to life. With shouts of “It’s Alive!” the film itself is part diesel-punk, part zombie film, and part Nazploitation flick, certainly a taboo subject in Raaphort’s homeland of the Netherlands, which was occupied by the Germans during the war (complete with their own SS).
But from this grim history Raaphorst spins a fantastical scenario: a way to stop the Reich with an army of “zombots.” What if the grandson of the great Frankenstein was involved? What if a crew of soldiers stumbled into his “castle” and were attacked by his creations? Told in first person, which lends to the relentlessness of this found footage feature, Frankenstein’s Army is a non-stop monster onslaught. A lot of fun – and a lot of work to get done in such a compressed time period to accommodate their 20-day shooting schedule.
Dread Central was lucky enough to sit down with Richard Raaphorst (pictured below) and Viktor Frankenstein himself, Karel Roden (pictured above; The Abandoned, Hellboy) to talk horror, zombots, and the process of getting Frankenstein’s Army to the silver screen. What we learned was not only Raaphorst’s great, monster-kid love for the genre but also his attraction to horror’s darker, more serious themes.
DREAD CENTRAL: How long have you been thinking about this project?
RICHARD RAAPHORST: Not so very long because I think I started doing it three years ago. When I decided to do Frankenstein’s Army, and I knew the title, I posted the images on the internet and it went crazy, and then I thought that I would have to act quite fast, and the first thing I did was shoot this trailer, really. And it worked out very well; we were picked up by XYZ [Films]… and we didn’t even have a script then.
DREAD CENTRAL: Why do you think the public was so taken by the trailer and the idea?
RICHARD RAAPHORST: Because I think people are a bit tired of CGI and computer graphics. Also, you know, anyone can make pretty pictures—if you just have enough money. So I think that there is some kind of need that wants to see more authenticity and more physical effects, physical kinds of worlds, it doesn’t necessarily have to be beautiful, it’s just intense. I think people are looking for some kind of intensity.
DREAD CENTRAL: Is that based on the films that you grew up on or the films that you were attracted to?
RICHARD RAAPHORST: Absolutely, absolutely. I think I need intensity myself, because I’m easily bored, so I’m looking for extremes.
DREAD CENTRAL: How did find your Dr. Frankenstein [Karel Roden]?
RICHARD RAAPHORST: He’s an intense man. But from the positive side. The character from the movie only could be played by a man with such an intensity and energy, or else it would fall back into the characters that we already know and it becomes the regular kind of stuff. That’s just, you know, boredom.
DREAD CENTRAL: Karel, how did you prepare for the role?
KAREL RODEN: They find me, they call me, I read the script, and it’s something I’ve never done before, and I like the idea of seeing the story through the lens. We all know Frankenstein, I didn’t do any research—I was just following the script.
DREAD CENTRAL: He’s much different than the other Frankensteins. I sort of loved him a little more than the other Frankensteins I’ve seen; he’s a frenetic madman.
KAREL RODEN: The only thing I did, I had to find some positive things about him. I decided to follow the idea that he was the one who was lost, he’s fed up with war and he wants to finish the war, stop the war, so he has his own idea, which is what I did. Which was fun, with this kind of role we can do what we want. And we did these long takes, and it’s a lot of improvisation and what comes into your mind, and you just feel like you want to go there and get something and do something unexpected, which is the stuff I like to film.
DREAD CENTRAL: What was it like to be on the set with all of the [practical effects] monsters?
KAREL RODEN: I haven’t seen them that much. I saw them mostly in a room prepared for action, but I was amazed as to how it worked. It worked really well, they didn’t use any CGI, just the old way, old school in a good way.
DREAD CENTRAL: Were you always attracted to that stuff growing up? The Universal cycle, the Hammer cycle, do you have an affinity towards that kind of film with a lot of practical effects?
KAREL RODEN: I can’t say I’m a big fan of horror movies, because when I’m watching a movie, I get so scared I can’t watch it.
DREAD CENTRAL: That’s so funny.
KAREL RODEN: I don’t want to torture myself…
DREAD CENTRAL: But you were able to watch this one, and it wasn’t too bad?
KAREL RODEN: Yeah, because once working on it…
DREAD CENTRAL: And when you’re watching other people’s film, you can’t suspend that disbelief. So how did this story come to you? We’ve actually seen a lot of these Nazi genre films come out as of late – Dead Snow and Iron Sky; the first Hellboy movie had those elements.
RICHARD RAAPHORST: Yeah, I had this need, for quite a long time, for maybe six, seven years, and first I started to…hmmm, it’s tricky to talk about it. I made the Worst Case Scenario trailers, it was some kind of practicing with this concept, but it got stuck and then I analyzed why it wasn’t working and I just did everything in the opposite way. It was all shot, and I wanted hand-held; it was all beautiful colors, and I wanted black and white. It was in the present, then I went to the past. So I literally did everything 180 degrees. I call it oblique strategies. And it worked out. And also, I thought I need a title, once I have a title, I can just rock and roll. Then I said, okay, what do you want to make? I want to make an army of Frankensteins, so why don’t call it Frankenstein’s Army, then? And so I did. And I thought there was an elevator pitch there in the title already…
And that is where I got lost. Because when I make Worst Case Scenario, I thought it was unique, then I was overtaken by other projects with the same premise, same kind of premise, and then I thought, I’m fucked because it’s already out there, so it’s a dead end. So I need to go and push it further, and that’s when I did the 180. So instead of zombies I did “zombots,” instead of what they do, I went to the past, so I tried to do everything a little different. Also I was not used to CGI.
DREAD CENTRAL: So to take it back a step further, how did that seed start…did you grow up watching the Ilsa films, were you fascinated by that sort of exploitation film? Is it the culture from where you came from that this taboo was in the air…something that you needed to express about a madman Frankenstein who wants to stop the war?
RICHARD RAAPHORST: Well, I think the rules are being broken right now about the second World War. Always, people were afraid of touching it, and now there’s a new generation which doesn’t have problem, which takes more and more chances with it. So it’s just a new genre being discovered as we open up and people are always looking for new things. And so the time is just right to do things. It’s a matter of the time’s spirit. Because there are already Nazi so many movies, that years back, no one would have wanted to see them.
DREAD CENTRAL: Yeah, Shock Waves comes to mind.
RICHARD RAAPHORST: Yeah, Shock Waves. But now there are serious budgets and a serious public for it. So it’s just shifting and extension.
DREAD CENTRAL: Have people given you resistance about the content of the film? When The Night Porter came out…it was just taboo, you can’t even make a movie about that. People wouldn’t want to see that, there were protests and banning and now…
RICHARD RAAPHORST: It’s more or less accepted. Not really, because I got a lot of resistance…the thing is that Nazis and zombies are the worst combination of things that you can ever imagine. You know, it’s like vulgar, banal, it’s the ultimate bad taste. And I wanted to do it in a way which I thought would be in good taste. Making it almost attractive. And making characters. I was really obsessed with characters when I was doing Frankenstein’s Army, that’s why I mean Karel [Roden]… he created such a totally new character, which he established, this new kind of Frankenstein archetype which I was really looking for. And that’s the heart of things, really.
DREAD CENTRAL: So did you guys work together to create the character?
RICHARD RAAPHORST: I think so, yes.
KAREL RODEN: Don’t forget; we shot this movie in 20 days… So we didn’t have much time to play with it. We did these long takes.
RICHARD RAAPHORST: It also speeded development though; you had to hurry up and you were digesting it because you were calling me about him, you know, things that he could say.
KAREL RODEN: Yeah, if I had an idea, we just worked together. We always do this. When you work with a director who is open, it’s always better. You can follow your idea and his idea and…
RICHARD RAAPHORST: Yeah, and it’s a combination of your input and my input, and essentially you pushed it to a climax.
DREAD CENTRAL: I really love when he [Frankenstein] appeared on screen. It was exciting, ranting at the camera. It almost felt like, since you shot it in such a short amount of time, like live theatre.
RICHARD RAAPHORST: That’s absolutely on purpose.
KAREL RODEN: Also, it was fun, big fun. You can’t take it too seriously.
RICHARD RAAPHORST: That’s true, actually.
KAREL RODEN: We’re trying to entertain the audience and ourselves as well.
DREAD CENTRAL: Is that something that attracted you to the genre when you were younger?
RICHARD RAAPHORST: I was very shocked when I saw the exploding head in Scanners and stills from Zombie Holocaust.
DREAD CENTRAL: How old were you?
RICHARD RAAPHORST: Nine or eight. And I was so shocked that I was absolutely, really scared shitless of zombies. Really, till I was the age of fifteen, and then I rented them all. I just got totally obsessed, I wanted to see everything. I think maybe just to overcome this fear. And basically this is also the case with Frankenstein’s Army, which is that I’m very much afraid of war, and I’m very afraid of something as evil as fascism. Really. I mean, because we have such a safe country. And it’s really something that’s hanging over, I don’t know, it’s just maybe an original… it belongs to reality, and I’m very much aware that what we have can be destroyed the day after. And I don’t know, it’s just something that’s inside me.
DREAD CENTRAL: Is that what you think you’re trying to figure out when you work in the genre, when you continue to work in the genre?
RICHARD RAAPHORST: I think I’m trying to understand. I don’t know; I like the dark side of things.
DREAD CENTRAL: Always, since you were young?
RICHARD RAAPHORST: Yeah, and I’m looking for them. I think Karel is a very positive orientated actor, but he has, doing Frankenstein’s Army, a dark side that he carries with him. A mysterious side, it’s a mysterious side, it’s not dark, and that’s very intriguing and inspiring, and I like that kind of place. It’s like the deep ocean, where everything is black. That’s where I, that’s my comfort zone. It really is. I think what I do is trying to overcome my fear, really.
DREAD CENTRAL: Outside of fear and darkness, where else do you draw your inspiration from for your work? And did you actually create the “zombots”? You drew them out?
RICHARD RAAPHORST: Yeah, I’m a storyboard artist for fifteen years, so I’m used to a drawing table. Yeah, I drew everything out, everything. For everything you see I have four more versions of it.
DREAD CENTRAL: Karel, did you get to see them all?
KAREL RODEN: Yeah.
RICHARD RAAPHORST: I have a poster, and at the end there were a hundred or so, so what I did was… we had a limited budget, and we want to have an army, so what I did, I designed Lego parts, which you can combine over and over again. So if you have six monsters, multiply that by six, and you can have 36 variations. So I designed only maybe eight, but because of the combinations, a little bit of extra paint spray here and here, you can multiply them endlessly, and that’s where creativity begins.
DREAD CENTRAL: Did you also sort of draw the human characters and Frankenstein, what they were going to wear, what they were going to do?
RICHARD RAAPHORST: Yeah, I did drawings of him, I designed glasses, kinds of coats, I had a fantastic Czech wardrobe mistress who really, my god, she was spot on. And I designed all of the Russian characters also, because in a war movie, all of the soldiers look the same, you know? I always get confused, who is whom, and then he’s shot and I can’t remember who, so I really wanted to make them different from each other. That’s also why I was obsessed with my characters. And also, in silhouettes, if you make them black, you can still recognize them.
DREAD CENTRAL: That’s very important.
RICHARD RAAPHORST: Even the soldiers.
DREAD CENTRAL: How does coming from a very visual background lend to actually putting a film together, getting behind the camera and editing?
RICHARD RAAPHORST: It makes you very vulnerable because you don’t have techniques. When I was working with… well, when I was working with you [to Roden], I didn’t know how to direct an actor.
DREAD CENTRAL: How did that happen? What happened the first time you tried to direct?
RICHARD RAAPHORST: I don’t know, I just told everyone what I thought it should be. I always, also, wanted to know what they wanted to tell me, to just see if there is something better than what I had in my mind, or some combination. But that’s a very tiring process because you have to learn all the time. But when I look back in retrospect, I think that’s the way to go… It’s like when you want to make a movie for dwarves, you need to hire dwarves. If you want a movie for a giant public, you have to hire giants. People who are bigger than yourself, and that is what I wanted to do, just to evolve, to become better. And I think now I don’t have that anymore. You don’t need that technique at all.
DREAD CENTRAL: The need to collaborate is very strong when you come from a commercial art background where everyone is expected to have input. How did you manage to shoot it in 20 days?
RICHARD RAAPHORST: Yeah, it was just blocking…you prepared the route you were going to do, and you were timing it.
DREAD CENTRAL: So they were building as you were filming?
KAREL RODEN: Yes, the… scouting? Where they pick the exteriors? It was a priority, so they didn’t have to build, they used an old—what it was?
RICHARD RAAPHORST: It was an old mining complex.
KAREL RODEN: Empty one. For years.
DREAD CENTRAL: In the Netherlands? I didn’t see exactly where it was shot.
RICHARD RAAPHORST: In the Czech Republic.
KAREL RODEN: It wasn’t far from Prague.
RICHARD RAAPHORST: In the script, it took place in a deserted village, so we were looking for a deserted village in the Czech Republic. Then I saw pictures of Mayrau the mining complex, and I thought, wow man, this is way better. Let’s do it there. So we changed the script in order to do it in the mining complex. But this is the way we worked the whole movie, like improvisation we did it on all of the last takes. It’s also like you know you have the set, and this is the script, and it doesn’t really fit. So we must make it fit. [To Roden] you remember that eating sequence? It was totally different in the beginning. And it was watching through the monitor, no, it’s not good enough, and then you fell.
KAREL RODEN: It was the close-ups. You don’t need them to make it stronger. It’s like you said, it’s like theatre work. You see it all at once.
DREAD CENTRAL: So what awesomeness are you up to next? Can you tell us if there will be more Frankenstein’s Army movies? Maybe Hitler becomes diesel-punk?
RICHARD RAAPHORST: Or Stalin.
Dark Sky Films will open Richard Raaphorst’s Frankenstein’s Army in select cities July 26th.
Frankenstein’s Army takes place toward the end of World War II as Russian soldiers push into eastern Germany and stumble across a secret Nazi lab, one that has unearthed and begun experimenting with the journal of one Dr. Viktor Frankenstein. The scientists have used the legendary Frankenstein’s work to assemble an army of super-soldiers stitched together from the body parts of their fallen comrades – a desperate Hitler’s last ghastly ploy to escape defeat.
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