Shock Interview: Richard Raaphorst on the Found Footage, Challenges and Creatures of Frankenstein’s Army

Frankenstein’s Army hit DVD and Blu-ray this week via Dark Sky Films/MPI and to commemorate the occasion, we were given a chance to e-mail a few questions to director Richard Raaphorst, which was sort of a cool opportunity as we’ve been writing about the man for quite a while.  Hell, I think I’ve been writing for him as long as my Dread Central days when he was keeping us updated on his project Worst Case Scenario.  With the teasers that accompanied that potential film, Raaphorst caught our eye with his bizarre creatures and unique vision.

Frankenstein’s Army is set in the waning days of World War II where a team of Russian soldiers finds itself on a mysterious mission to the lab of one Dr. Victor Frankenstein. They unearth a terrifying Nazi plan to resurrect fallen soldiers as an army of unstoppable freaks and are soon trapped in a veritable haunted house of cobbled-together monstrosities.

Inside, Raaphorst talks about the decision behind shooting his film utilizing the “found footage” style and sheds some like on his creative process.

Shock Till You Drop:  I’m curious, Worst Case Scenario seems like one of those projects that got away, however, were there any ideas from that project that you managed to carry into Frankenstein’s Army?  If so, what?

Richard Raaphorst:  When I started working on Frankenstein’s Army and left Worst Case Scenario, I wanted to do everything from scratch and not reuse any ideas.  Everything in Frankenstein’s Army was created especially for Frankenstein’s Army, but had a really hard time re-designing all the monsters because all the WCS stuff was buried so deeply in my mind.  It was difficult to be re-inspired.  We hired my favorite Russian artist Oleg Bondarenko, who was a bit of a mentor to me in the first years of storyboarding. Oleg started kicking around a few monster ideas and then I took over. This way, it was a guarantee for me that everything was original.  I’ll share some of his sketches with you.  [editor’s note: These are the sketches on display here]

Shock:  The creature work in this film is amazing, what was the key to the success of pulling these off?  Is there a particular creation that you’re fond of and why?

Raaphorst:  First of all, I don’t believe in keys because I lose them all the time!  I think the originality of the creatures is what really appeals to the audience.  I made a choice to stay true to myself, which is important in filmmaking and any other discipline. I can only speak for myself, but I am very bored seeing the same stuff over and over again. It is unbelievable how many of the same kind of formula productions are flooding the market. Originality and personality should be “the keys,” I guess.  That, and being very lucky that the audience picks it up.  I really like the Propellerhead zombot.  When I created the zombots, they evolved slowly and one at a time.  I started with the Burned Match Man, and drew several versions of him.  Then, I drew new kinds of zombots, and they grew more and more extreme.  When I got to propeller head, I knew I was getting into the crazy zone!  Because of that, he’s one of my favorites.

Shock:  The “found footage” angle of the film – was this always intended?  I’m always curious to know if some found footage were intended to be that way or not.  If not, what was the creation decision behind it and how do you think it enhanced the project?

Raaphorst:  I wanted to use the found footage to make the audience participate rather than observe the film. Like a game, I wanted the audience to have the perspective of being in the movie and witness what the characters do. I did not want to get invovled in the whole good vs evil debate, so everyone in the film is, in fact, a villain – even the “good guys.”  I wanted to be neutral and let the audience decide who is right and who is wrong.  The choice of using found footage helped me to stay out of that political trap. And the other reason is the texture of found footage is rich and feels like second-hand hand material cobbled together, just like the zombots.

Shock:  Jumping into your first feature, what was the greatest challenge or most satisfying moment on set during principal photography?

Raaphorst:  I’m obsessed with practical effects and keeping CGI to a minimum.  To me, putting in a lot of CGI effects takes the viewer out of the physical world of the film.  With CGI, the atmosphere starts too look too clean and too perfect and not at all like the messy world I’m trying to create.  We used buckets of blood and as many real effects as possible in this film.  It required a lot of planning on set, but I think it paid off.

Shock:  The obvious…  What’s next?  Dark Sky Films believed in your vision, perhaps another production with them?

Raaphorst:  I absolutely love the idea of doing another movie with Dark Sky Films. Let’s see if Victor agrees with me!  I saved his head in the fridge.

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