“The great thing about zombies is that they supply you with an inexhaustible enemy,” Zack Snyder said back in 2004, then making his directorial feature debut Dawn of the Dead, a re-telling of the George A Romero’s 1978 horror classic.
“There’s no moral high ground when it comes to killing zombies because they are already dead,” he added. “There’s no zombie defamation league to worry about. For me, it was a great outlet for the violence.”
Cue to the present: Snyder, now 55, is back in the undead-slaying business with Army of the Dead — now streaming on Netflix — which follows a group of mercenaries (led by Dave Bautista) as they recover US$200 million stashed in a casino vault in zombie-infested Las Vegas.
Speaking to 8days.sg and other journos on Zoom, Snyder said Army of the Dead — based on an idea he’d mulling over since Dawn of the Dead wrapped (the movies are narratively unrelated) was the shot in the arm he (vaccine pun unintended) he desperately needed.
Snyder’s return to Z-Nation is a welcome respite after nearly a decade labouring over a trio of DC superhero movies — Man of Steel, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, and Justice League — which regrettably ended on a sour note with the studio, Warner Bros.
Snyder’s bitter experience working on Justice League is well chronicled. First, the top brass hated his take on the movie (too dark, too long). Amid a family tragedy (the death of his daughter), an exhausted Snyder quit the project.
Warners then enlisted Joss Whedon, the veteran of two Avengers movies, to give Justice League a lighter polish — he reportedly junked 90 per cent of Snyder’s original footage — and we all know what became of that version. (Snyder and the studio later reconciled for the restored director's cut aka Snyder Cut which came out in March.)
Said Snyder: “I was really trying to reconnect with the joy of making movies, and even just in the process of making it being the [cinematographer], director and camera operator, it really was just a complete cinematic immersion for me.”
Part of that joy involves him turning the genre tropes inside out, adhering to expectations and then smashing them into smithereens. “Every bit of it is sort of a love letter to movies in general,” said Snyder who cited Aliens, The Thing and Plant of the Apes as inspiration.
One such subversion is to make the zombies more evolved, capable of emoting, communicating, and even procreating. “I thought the best monster movies are ones where you care about or at least find yourself showing compassion for the monster,” said Snyder.
In Army of the Dead, the zombies’ viewpoint is represented by their leader nicknamed Zeus (stuntman Richard Cetrone buried under layers of prosthetic make-up). Through his eyes, “you could find yourself going, “God damn those humans, they need to leave these zombies alone!’”
And Snyder is grateful that his backers, Netflix, left him alone in his post-apocalyptic sandbox (locations include an Atlantic City hotel standing in for the Sin City casino), without meddling in his vision.
The streaming giant even went as far as greenlighting a Europe-prequel, Army of Thieves, and an animated series, also a prequel, set a few years before the events of Army of the Dead.
While Snyder acknowledged that some scenes of “pure gory insanity” — including one involving “a huge penis with a bite taken out of it” — were either excised or trimmed, he said the movie “is pretty much what you see is what you get.”
In other words: there is no Snyder Cut of Army of the Dead — this version on Netflix is the Snyder Cut.
That said, just because Snyder is the chairman of the board doesn’t always mean he got to do everything his way.
“There was one song that I wanted to get on [the soundtrack] — [Sheryl Crow’s] ‘Leaving Las Vegas’ — but they wouldn’t give us the rights to it,” he said, with a laugh. “Otherwise, all the songs were pretty much on my playlist.”
Army of the Dead is now streaming on Netflix.
Photos: Clay Enos/Netflix