A director like Richard Raaphorst is a rare find in horror cinema these days. He is inventive, passionate and not afraid to risk it all to take a chance on something that he believes in. While he may not yet be a household name, he is certainly on the fast track to invade the collective conscience of the movie-going public. Known across The Netherlands as one of the country’s top commercial directors, Raaphorst made his first international splash in 2006, when his “Worst Case Scenario” internet shorts became instant viral sensations. His unique visual flair and a taste for the beauty of the macabre have propelled the multi-faceted artist to genre superstardom and has made even the most jaded horror faces take notice! Spending the last several years pouring his blood, sweat and tears in his latest film project, he serves as an inspiration to filmmakers around the globe.
‘Frankenstein’s Army’ is set in the dying days of World War II, and focuses on a battalion of Russian soldiers find themselves lost in enemy territory in eastern Germany. One soldier (Alexander Mercury, The Golden Compass) has been ordered to make a propaganda film as the squadron makes its way across the wintry landscape, and what follows is a thrilling mix of found-footage shocks and classic horror. Stumbling upon a village decimated by an unseen terror, the Russians are lured into the secret lab of deranged scientist Viktor (Hellboy’s Karel Roden). Viktor has unearthed the journals of the legendary Dr. Victor Frankenstein and has used them to assemble an army of supersoldiers stitched together from the body parts of fallen Germans – a desperate Hitler’s last ghastly ploy to escape defeat. Leaderless and faced with dissension in their dwindling ranks, the Russians must find the courage to face down this fearsome new brigade of flesh-and-metal “zombots” – or die trying. A nightmarish fantasy thrill ride unlike any other, Richard Raaphorst’s ‘Frankenstein’s Army,’ which was filmed at abandoned World War II sites in Prague and throughout Europe, is a delirious plunge into the darkest depths of insanity.
Jason Price of Icon Vs. Icon recently had the pleasure of catching up with director Richard Raaphorst to discuss his influences as a filmmaker, the inspiration that sparked the idea for the film, the challenges of brining ‘Frankenstein’s Army’ to life and much more!
Tackling a career in the entertainment is often not for the faint of heart. How is you originally get started?
Well, I already knew as a little kid that I wanted to invent worlds. I remember I wanted to make the longest drawing of the world and made a drawing of a couple of kilometers long. This drawing was a long ‘paper carpet’ glued together and told a story about an alien planet full with robots, monsters and spaceships. It was an action scene. As a teenager I thought it was all rubbish and threw the immense roll of paper away. That’s the only thing in my life that I regret. Later, in my 20’s I got more into moving images and I knew I wanted to invent worlds this way. The drawings and paintings started to move inside my brain. I wanted to film but I choose a large detour to get there.
After the school of fine arts, I started as a storyboard artist in advertising. From there, I worked my way up to do boards for feature movies and make concept art. When I met all kinds of different directors, I got the chance to direct a commercial and slowly worked my way up doing video clips, short movies, and finally landed a job on the night shift on my first feature film.
Who would you cite as your biggest professional influences as a filmmaker?
What inspires me most are music and soundtracks. Soundtracks are like audible landscapes which invite me to imagine a visual world to tell their stories. ‘Frankenstein’s Army’ is directly the result of a couple of amazing music pieces. When I hear it, I see the images. Then I get so in love with the images and ideas, that it becomes a passion to bring it to life. Aside from music, the filmmakers who fascinate me most are David Kronenberg and David Lynch and Japanese films as Akira or Tetsuo.
You latest film is ‘Frankenstein’s Army.’ Could you talk a little bit about the inspiration for the story and the writing process of it?
The inspiration came from a few violent but brilliant music pieces. One was the opening theme song from Fight Club (Click here to check out the theme song) and the other one was the track “Driving Song” by Trent Reznor from the Lost Highway soundtrack. I was driving in the car in the middle of the night, completely alone and with a good sound system. I was playing the music really loud. Then suddenly I saw images in my head of industrial monsters chasing a running man — this kept haunting me until I started to draw what I saw. This became ‘Frankenstein’s Army.’
Early on in the process, you posted the title and some concept photos and fans really took notice. Why do you think the public was so taken by the trailer and the idea?
I think because I stayed hundred percent true to myself and did not bother trying to be conventional. I think what the audience wants is to be surprised by something new or different instead of ‘eating’ the same stuff over and over again. I also think there is a new generation who deals different with WWII than the previous one. This generation dares to joke about stuff things that might otherwise be considered taboo and not talked about. I think this is a straight result from the internet where information about pretty much everything is accessible.
I have really enjoyed about your work is the film has a weight about it, a texture. How did you prepare yourself to tackle this film stylistically?
I think it comes very naturally to me. I just keep going on it until I’m satisfied, just like painting. Compare airbrushing with layered oil paint. Airbrushing can look pretty cool, but it can also appear flat and lack a sense of atmosphere. Oil paint has numerous layers that create a texture and feels more alive and interesting. I use this exact principle in filming. I apply textures over textures, even in the details.
Dr. Frankenstein is played by Karel Roden. How did his casting come about and what did he bring to the table for this project?
It was a long and intense search to find the right actor for this part. I only met Karel Roden one month prior to shooting, but I knew immediately that he was the one. We had a great nonverbal way of communicating from the beginning which made us feel like soul mates. He can be very dark but always drenched in a lot of humor. I miss him.
The design of Frankenstein’s army itself is very cool. Can you tell us a little about bringing thescreatures from a vision in your mind to what we see onscreen?
Well, it’s very simple…I knew what I didn’t wanted and started to look for the opposite. I wanted to escape from traditional zombies. That’s why I started to find a new name for them and called them zombots. With that word in mind, I started to design them. I started very cautiously, and then little by little got wilder and weirder. It was like a long journey and with every inch, I got closer to the heart of my vision. I wanted to cast the insanity of war industrialism in one zombot. That was my mission.
The first zombot I drew was the burned match man. It is the one that is completely naked and it’s unclear whether its male or female. It doesn’t even have a face. The next step was to make a lot of variations and evolve from zombot to zombot. They continued evolving until I came up with the more grotesque creatures, such as Propellerhead. Mission accomplished! I have an evolution sheet that illustrates this process. Rogier Samuels, who worked on LOTR and as the Special Effects Supervisor on ‘Frankenstein’s Army,’ used these drawings as his blueprints.
Check out the “Zombie Mega Poster” provided by director Richard Raaphorst for an up close and personal look at the zombot evolution. Click the image for a larger view!
What was the biggest challenge of bringing the film from script to screen?
The biggest challenge keeping the CGI to a minimum. To me, CGI is like airbrushing – it’s too clean. I wanted to use practical FX, so we needed to do long, single takes. It can be very complicated, but it pays off. Sometimes we did takes that were several minutes long. Remember the factory scene where we see dozens of different monsters without a cut? Everything – even the gore – had to be choreographed carefully and timed precisely, without any cables, lighting or other equipment in the frame. You can imagine that this is quite a puzzle.
What is your favorite part of the filmmaking process?
My favorite part is the casting of the actors and editing on the first cut. During the casting process, I give my characters a soul. They literally come to life. I cannot design them because they are a combination of screenwriting, which is under my control, and the input of the actor, which isn’t. This is a really exciting process. I enjoy the first round of edits because it’s the first time I see the movie coming alive on the screen. It’s truly magic.
Looking back on your career so far, how do you think you have evolved in your craft since starting out?
I’ve learned to focus on creating worlds rather than just images. Fifteen years ago, I was thinking in designs and drawings. Now the drawings are just a part a bigger process. The drawings don’t just provide the context of a story, but the context for a whole world with different stories captured in it. ‘Frankenstein’s Army ‘is just the tip of the iceberg – or should I say the top layer of Dante’s Inferno? It’s the top layer of a whole world I developed underneath. When you start to invent, the imagination grows wider like an ink blot. Imagination has no limits. It only becomes stronger and deeper.
What is next up for you as a filmmaker? Do you have your eye on any other projects at the moment?
I’m focusing on two projects that I’m developing myself. I’m shooting two trailers at the end of September and I plan to use the same strategy as I did with ‘Frankenstein’s Army.’ As soon as the trailers are finished, I can reveal more. I only can tell you that both are monster movies again with unique design features. One of them takes place in the near future and is about a contagious disease. The other one is based on a Dutch legend about evil children buried alive. Their decaying fingertips grow above the earth, begging for mercy, and are mistaken for edible mushrooms. I want to use practical FX as much as possible.
Best advice someone has given you so far in regard to your still career that you can pass along to aspiring filmmakers?
I think it was a quote from Francis Ford Coppola that helped me out difficult situations when I was completely stuck in a process which is: “Whenever you get into trouble, keep going. Do a 180 degree turn. Turn the situation halfway round. Don’t look for the secure solution. Don’t pull back from the passion. Turn it on full force.” I only want to add: never give up, be faithful to your own vision, and finally, don’t be afraid of hard work.
Frankenstein’s Army hits Blu-Ray and DVD on September 10, 2013 from Dark Sky Films!