Interview: Richard Raaphorst, director of inventive indie horror Frankenstein's Army
The retro-techno horror features a range of gruesome mechanical/organic monstrosities
‘It’s 1945 and a Russian squad in Germany stumble upon a village, and they find a factory where the grandson of Victor von Frankenstein [Karel Roden] is reusing dead soldiers and second-hand material to create a super Nazi monster army,’ explains Frankenstein’s Army director/co-writer Richard Raaphorst. The concept is so deliciously absurd that it’s hard not to be entertained by Raaphorst’s directorial debut. The film is a fresh new twist on modern horror’s current obsession with Nazi zombies and found footage.
‘First I wanted to do something with zombies; second I wanted to do something with robots; then I wanted to do something set in the Second World War; and then to combine them in a way that you’ve never seen before,’ explains the Dutch director. ‘Once you get a visual image in your head, that’s the moment it becomes concrete. When that happens you get obsessed by it and inspired by it – like a fish on a hook, there’s no way to escape it.’
With a strong art background, it’s no surprise that Raaphorst thinks in visual terms: starting at the School of Fine Art in Rotterdam, he became a storyboard artist and then a conceptual artist. He worked with Stuart Gordon on Dagon and had a long working relationship with Brian Yuzna on Faust: Love of the Damned, Beyond Re-Animator and Rottweiler. He also designed the zombots in Frankenstein’s Army, and it’s this legion of wonderfully inventive mechanical/organic monstrosities that are the film’s calling card. ‘It was very hard to work with them – sometimes they could hardly see anything through their masks so it was like directing a blind man. It was sometimes frustrating, but at the end of each day we were always celebrating when we saw the footage we’d shot.’
Frankenstein's Army is a freakshow that becomes ever weirder the deeper you delve – a cavalcade of outlandish effects and bizarre creatures. ‘They become more and more complicated through the movie,’ says Raaphorst. ‘The next creature you see will have more attachments and industrial parts, and it goes further and further until some of the designs are more machine than human. So there’s a very big variety of zombot species, although they all come from the same philosophy. I made strict rules that everything should be made in 1945 and not beyond. It also meant that I cannot use any CGI because it hadn’t been invented.’
Despite the fantastical nature of the plot, it’s this adherence to some kind of warped reality that grounds the film. Raaphorst almost took his obsession with period detail to even greater lengths: ‘We tried first to do it with old-fashioned cameras – I even tried hand-cranked 35mm – but there were so many limitations, so I had to make the choice to use modern cameras and make it look older, which gave me more freedom.’
Frankenstein's Army (Entertainment One) is available now on DVD.