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SYFY WIRE Zack Snyder

'Ocean’s 11 with zombies’: Zack Snyder's longtime sound designer teases Army of the Dead

By Josh Weiss

Zack Snyder could have just released his four-hour cut of Justice League before peacing out for the rest of 2021, but nope.

The filmmaker's got a second release just on the horizon — his first cinematic project outside of the DC Extended Universe since he launched it back in 2013 with Man of Steel. That movie is Army of the Dead, a gonzo, genre-melding picture about a group of mercenaries attempting to rob a Las Vegas casino in the midst of a zombie horde. Oh, and the clock is ticking because the hedonistic strip is about to be nuked off the face of the Earth to prevent a further spread of the undead infection.

"It’s Ocean’s 11 with zombies," Snyder's longtime sound designer/editor Scott Hecker exclusively tells SYFY WIRE during a larger conversation about Justice League. "It’s just crazy, crazy stuff. It’s not just your typical zombie film. It’s actually got a lot of heart in it, if that makes any sense. There are zombies that are actually pretty smart and have feelings. There’s an estranged father-daughter relationship in the film, which is really emotional. There’s a love interest in the film. And then there’s your typical Zack Snyder, crazy action zombie fun. I’m not just saying it — it is really a fun, good movie."

Premiering on Netflix in late May, Army of the Dead represents a sort of homecoming for Snyder and Hecker, who have been working together since Dawn of the Dead (written by a pre-Guardians James Gunn, the 2004 remake of the George Romero classic marked Snyder's first time in the director's chair). The zombie genre may seem old hat to some, but Hecker assures us that the new film is unlike anything you've ever seen in this space.

"I’ll say, ‘Oh, I’ve been working on Army of the Dead.’ And people go, ‘Oh, what’s that?’ I go, ‘It’s a zombie heist film.’ And you get the look like, ‘Oh, that’s what the world needs now, is another zombie film.’ But this isn’t your average zombie film. I think you’re gonna really dig it," he continues.

For Hecker, the most satisfying element of the production was the fact that Snyder and his longtime sound maven were able to fulfill a cinematic ambition they've been harboring since 2011's Sucker Punch. The movie, which celebrates its 10th anniversary this week, centers around Babydoll, a young woman (American Gods' Emily Browning) who, after finding herself trapped within a dreary mental asylum, uses her mesmerizing dance skills to escape into fantastical realities.

"There’s a lot of doors in this [mental] institution. We’re going in and out of these doors and we tried to make them all different and interesting," Hecker explains. "And this one particular door sounded the way you would expect it to sound and Zack said, ‘I want that door to sound like the biggest door there is.’ And so, we put in these big door closing [sounds] and he said, ‘No, no. I mean like the biggest safe door in the world slamming closed.’ And so, from that point on, if something isn’t big enough or bold enough, he looks at me and he just says, ‘Safe door.’ So, that’s my cue that something isn’t big enough."

Fast forward a decade later, and Hecker was finally able to give the director exactly what he wanted in a movie that specifically involves breaking into a fortified door. "We laughed about that because ultimately in [Army] — I won’t give away too much — but you actually see a close-up of a huge safe door slamming shut," the sound designer reveals. "He said, ‘After all these years, I finally gave you a safe door.’ So it’s very cool and we joke often off and on about using sound as a weapon in a positive way."

Hecker certainly had his work cut out for him, as he was smack dab in the middle of soundscaping for the zombie heist last year when he learned that Snyder was getting the band back together for the revamped edit of Justice League. "We were right in the middle of Army of the Dead and they said, ‘Well, yeah. You’re gonna have to start in July, even though we don’t finish ... until the end of the year,’" the sound designer recalls. "So, it was sort of a double duty thing."

Army of the Dead shambles onto Netflix Friday, May 21. A prequel film and anime series will rise from the grave not long after.