Rotterdam Q&A: Richard Raaphorst on “FRANKENSTEIN’S ARMY”
“I hope you will be just as scared as I am
right now, standing in front of you all!” Dutch director Richard Raaphorst sure
knew how to introduce the world premiere of his film at the International Film
Festival in Rotterdam. While FRANKENSTEIN’S ARMY might not be as nerve-racking
as the première of your first horror flick, it sure is a hell-of-a-lot of fun.
Germany, 1945. The Second World War is coming
to an end. Dimitri (Alexander Mercury), part of a Russian military unit, is
making a Soviet propaganda film, documenting the glorious victory of the Red Army
over Hitler’s Evil Empire. Unfortunately, he and his comrades stumble upon the
work of a certain Victor (HELLBOY’S Karel Roden). This guy is somehow related
to the original Frankenstein and he is still at it. His hideous, mechanically-resuscitated
Nazi zombies will be jumping at the poor Ruskis in every conceivable, and
inconceivable, shape or form. Watch out for ‘Mosquito’, ‘Four-eyes’ and ‘Propellerhead’.
Raaphorst’s vision of mutilated zombie
soldiers, armed with drill-like snouts, saws and deadly claws, capture the
imagination. They are all practical FX, courtesy of Holland’s best SFX studio, UnrealFX.
Actually, the world already got its first glimpse of Raaphorst’s fantastical
Nazi Zombots in 2003. The creatures featured prominently in the teaser-trailer for
WORST CASE SCENARIO. That film was never to be, and FRANKENSTEIN’S ARMY differs
hugely in storyline and style, although it does point that Raaphorst and his
partners were ahead of the curve on this Nazi zombie craze that sprouted films
like DEAD SNOW, OUTPOST and IRON SKY (of course, for the sake of the argument,
we are ignoring 1977’s SHOCK WAVES).
RICHARD RAAPHORST: I did find some of those
Nazi zombie films to be very funny, but unfortunately it was never more than a
gimmick. I tried to infuse some psychology into my film. I said from the beginning:
this is a character movie. Every Russian soldier, but also every monster, has
to be unique. The Nazis or the Nazi zombie gimmick are not what this film is
about. It’s about people who descend into the madness of war. War is chaos,
that’s why I filmed it that way. And we will find the ultimate madness in this
Doctor, who isn’t even a real die-hard Nazi. He is nothing more than an
opportunistic hobbyist. That’s what war is like.’
FANGORIA: You are pushing it pretty far. The
first thing we see are these Russian soldiers, including the hero of the film,
roaming though the land, pillaging, raping…
RAAPHORST: That’s the reality of it. If I were
to deny that, now that would be sick.
FANG: Not afraid to lose the audience?
RAAPHORST: No. I haven’t given that much
thought. My philosophy has been: just make sure it’s original. The audience
will find it eventually. Looking for a target audience? That’s all bullshit.
FANG: What pointers did you give Karel Roden
for his character?
RAAPHORST: We went on a journey of discovery
together. What kind of guy is this? Is he the mad professor that we all know
and have come to expect, or is he more like… say, an auto mechanic? I really
liked that idea, that’s something I haven’t seen before. Karel is someone who
will phone you constantly with new ideas. The Nazis or the communists? Victor
couldn’t care less, as long as he can do his thing. There is an irony in that.
This is not a film to be taken too seriously. I tried to make up for it by
really having fun with the Frankenstein archetype in the finale.
FANG: No spoilers, but I love the way Victor
solves the conflict between fascism and communism. I visited the set in the Czech
Republic in March 2012. I remember seeing your sketches and creature designs everywhere.
The people of Unreal FX called it their Bible.
RAAPHORST: That’s only ten percent of what I
drew. When I’m in hyperfocus, the ideas keep coming. One design leads to the
next and you keep seeing new possibilities. Rogier [Samuels, Special FX
Supervisor for Unreal] and I constantly discussed the possibilities. We really
pushed the envelope. I didn’t want any digital FX. I would ask: “A guy with a
head like a propeller, can we do that?” I would then make a first sketch that
wouldn’t be practical, we would discuss it some more and eventually we would
find a design that did work. And that we could set fire to on set.
FANG: Are there any Zombots that you couldn’t
RAAPHORST: Plenty. My computer is filled with
FANG: So there’s enough material for a sequel?
RAAPHORST: Yes, but I’m not going to do that. If
we are to do a sequel–and I have very specific ideas about that–everything will
be redesigned. These designs fit this story. If we go into a new era—(smiles)
say the Cold War period, then I will make new monsters fitting the technology
of that period.
FANG: Did you know they already did a rip-off,
ARMY OF FRANKENSTEINS?
RAAPHORST: So I heard, yeah. Fucking hell.
That’s great. Can’t wait to see it!