By Robert Flippo
Eric Berger loves Frankenstein.
It is a love that goes back some 40 years to when Berger was a child, watching Boris Karloff portray the character in the classic films Frankenstein (1931), Bride of Frankenstein (1935), and Son of Frankenstein (1939). He had a poster of Karloff as Frankenstein on his bedroom wall and speaks of the character with the same reverie other children of the 1960s might speak of Star Trek or comic book heroes.
Last year Berger, a full time insurance agent and part time actor, got the opportunity to realize a lifelong dream of following in Karloff’s footsteps by playing the role of Frankenstein. The role is in an independent, locally produced feature film titled Army of Frankensteins in which Berger plays not only one Frankenstein, but dozens.
To understand what the role means to Berger, it is important to look back at his childhood where his love for monster movies first began. At six years old, Berger came into possession of an issue of a magazine called Famous Monsters. Flipping through the issue, with its big pictures of fantastical monsters from movies he had never heard of, he became hooked. Berger read every issue of Famous Monsters he could get his hands on, pouring over the photos and making an ongoing list of must-see monster movies. Unfortunately, at the time there was no Netflix or video on demand with thousands of movies at the push of a button. There were still only three tv channels and the only time to catch a monster movie was Friday night or Saturday night—if Berger was lucky.
“There might be one or two monster movies a week that you could see and I had a list of about a hundred movies I wanted to see so it took me many years,” Berger said. “In fact, there are movies that I have waited fifty years to see which I have finally just gotten to see with my six year old son.”
Berger’s fascination with all things monster also got him his first job. As a six year old, he struck a deal with a local store that sold records and monster models. Berger would come in after school to dust and straighten the store and in return he would get one monster model a month. It took two years, but eventually Berger was the proud owner of every monster in that line of models.
Alongside his love for monster movies, or perhaps because of his love for monster movies, Berger developed an interest in acting. He acted in a number of school plays, including taking on another Karloff role as Jonathan in the stage version of Arsenic and Old Lace.
However, acting took a backseat when Berger went off to college at Oklahoma City University where he received a degree in journalism. Over the next 30 years, Berger spent time in various positions in the journalism and broadcasting field including stints as a cameraman, a reporter, a radio dj, and eventually the editor of the Piedmont-Surrey Gazette.
In 2004, in his position as editor for the Gazette, Berger received a press release advertising a casting call for a gangster film called Street Creatures. On a whim, Berger auditioned for the part and got it. The film was an extraordinarily low budget affair and never got released in the United States; although it did get released in the Czech Republic. That particular film may not have been a success, but Berger had once again been bitten by the acting bug.
Since that first role in 2004, Berger has acquired an agent and appeared in some 30 commercials and industrial films, primarily as a voice actor but also as a traditional actor. Last year, his agency sent out a casting call for what would turn out to be Army of Frankensteins.
At first, Berger did not pay much attention to it. At the time, Berger was concentrating on fulltime job as an insurance agent. Then a member of the agency approached Berger, telling him he would be perfect for the part and needed to audition for it. So he did.
Towering well over six feet, Berger merely had to put on a menacing scowl for the production team, Ryan Bellgardt, Josh McKamie and Andy Swanson of Boiling Point Productions, to realize he was perfect for the part.
“It was the only time I’ve ever been cast at an audition,” Berger said.
For the next year, Berger spent his nights and weekends shooting Army of Frankensteins. Army of Frankensteins is a bombastic monster movie that tells the story of a Frankenstein monster sent back in time to the Civil War along with an army of Frankensteins from parallel worlds and a group of regular humans desperate to get back to present time.
The experience, Berger said, was unlike anything else. He had to undergo four hours of makeup every day to transform from insurance agent to Frankenstein. To kill time, the makeup crew would bring movies to watch while applying the makeup.
“Usually funny, schlocky horror films,” Berger said. “The last day I got to see the rough cut of Army of Frankensteins which was great.”
The movie filmed all over Oklahoma, using a field in Calumet for the Civil War battle scenes and a 19th century opera house in Pawhuska as a stand in for the Ford Theater where President Lincoln was assassinated. For the Civil War battle scenes, they had professional reenactors with authentic uniforms and weaponry, including cannon.
“One day I was in a Ryder rental truck having makeup put on and all of a sudden they started firing that cannon off next us,” Berger said. “It was like someone had driven a semi-truck into the side of that Ryder. The whole thing shook and it was incredibly loud.”
Overall, Berger said, Army of Frankensteins was a completely different story from his first feature film, Street Creatures, which suffered from its low budget and inexperienced crew and actors. Berger has high hopes of what the future holds for Army of Frankensteins.
Army of Frankensteins will make its world premiere behind the closed doors of the World Film Market in Los Angeles in November, where representatives of the film distribution industry will determine if the film will receive a theatrical release or go straight to services such as Netflix and Redbox. The movie’s public release will follow in 2014, with a public premiere in Oklahoma City.
Check out the film’s website http://armyoffrankensteins.com/ for more information on the film and to watch the trailer.