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Need an apocalyptic wasteland for your new zombie movie? Turns out, instead of building a set, Atlantic City, NJ, will do just fine.
The seaside town has fallen on hard times in recent years, but it made the perfect spot to film “Army of the Dead,” a new movie about a group of mercenaries who attempt to steal millions left behind in a casino vault after Las Vegas is overrun by the undead.
The film, starring Dave Bautista, Tig Notaro and Ana de la Reguera, is playing in theaters and begins streaming today on Netflix.
Shooting in actual Las Vegas casinos wasn’t possible, because they’re always open, so the crew used two shuttered Atlantic City spots as a stand-in: the Atlantic Club Casino Hotel and the Showboat.
Both venues closed in 2014 (the Showboat later reopened as a non-gaming hotel), and the filmmakers say being inside was a bit spooky.
“There was a lot of discovery walking through hallway after hallway. Ikea must have modeled their stores after casinos,” Julie Berghoff, the film’s production designer, told The Post. “There are no windows and you get lost and start to panic. That kind of fit our story.”
The Atlantic Club best embodied the aesthetic Berghoff was going for.
“The look was a little nostalgic, a little on the effervescent side, with white marble and that fake glamorous feeling that you have when you walk into a casino,” she said.
The hotel was used for several exterior shots, but inside — having been abandoned for five years — it turned out to be crawling with something scarier than zombies: mold.
The production paid to abate it, but the job was too big. Instead, a quarantine area (seen in the actual movie) was created by hanging plastic sheeting for protection.
“The mold was on one side, we were on the other,” Berghoff said.
The film was able to shoot upstairs in the 23rd-floor suite once set aside for Frank Sinatra — a frequent guest decades ago. It also used the empty indoor pool for a scene in which a horde of zombies attack a captured prisoner.
For a scene near the film’s climax in which Bautista and his team try to outrun the zombies on a casino floor, “Army of the Dead” moved to the Showboat.
The former casino’s cavernous, 60,000-square-foot gaming floor had been empty for years.
“All of the machines were gone because of the law. You can’t have machines without a gaming license,” Berghoff said. “We had to find over 700 [decommissioned] machines and tables and to bring that hotel to life.”
One issue the filmmakers faced was figuring out how to turn off the lights. Lighting in casinos is basically never switched off, and those working at the hotel weren’t even sure how to do it.
The power was eventually cut.
“It was creepy, for sure,” Berghoff said. “But that’s the way we wanted to shoot, with just cracks of light coming through some window that’s a half a mile away.”
The production also had to scramble to make the piles of dead bodies required for certain exterior shots. A special effects company made about 15 high-quality fakes to be placed on top of the pile, but for the others, the crew improvised.
“We bought out every Halloween skeleton that exists, and came up with techniques [to make them look distressed], like melting nylon and slapping on peat moss,” Berghoff said.
“It’s like a massive art project.”
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