Calling the expert: Movie director gets zombie tips from Netherworld creature creator

Being called in as an expert on zombies might seem far out to most people.

For Ben Armstrong, 13 years re-creating the stuff of nightmares has given him a unique perspective on the natures of all sorts of frightening things, from werewolves and vampires to horrifying, nameless creatures that only exist within the dark depths of Netherworld.

When the director and producers of the film "Zombieland" chose the Norcross haunted house attraction as a location for filming, they also tapped into the wealth of twisted knowledge that exists inside Armstrong's brain.

As co-founder of Netherworld, Armstrong has a hand in training his own actors to become the strange and supernatural creatures that frighten and entertain the thousands of visitors who flock to the haunted attraction every October.

A haunted house actor himself, Armstrong knows the ins and outs of bizarre behavior. After writing up a sort of treatise on the nature of zombies for the film's director, Ruben Fleischer, explaining how he thought the zombies would move based on the storyline in the script, Armstrong was invited to shoot a zombie training video with three of the actors.

"We went through different stages of about both visually why a zombie would look this way and also internally," Armstrong said, "what's going on with the zombie, what's going on physically with it."

In becoming a zombie, Armstrong said one of the first things an actor should consider is distortion.

"You want to distort yourself because a zombie is someone who is dead or affected by some disease," he said. "You do whatever you can to distort yourself. If you're standing, you'd have your foot all twisted or mangled, and you'd contort your body or face."

When it comes to being a zombie, Armstrong continued, pain is not a factor.

"A zombie doesn't care about their own health so they will injure themselves repeatedly," he said. "Pain is not an issue to a zombie, but they're still damaged. A zombie's going to limp just because its leg may be broken but it doesn't care."

And while zombies typically move slowly, food is an excellent motivator.

"When they see a meal, that's when they go crazy," Armstrong said. "Nothing matters to them. Any barrier, they'll smash through, they'll bash through glass, they don't care."

There's also a smell factor associated with the fleshy, rotting creatures, so basically, Armstrong said, "a zombie is going to be somebody who is absolutely messed up."

A frightening location

When "Zombieland's" protagonist, Columbus, enters a haunted house inside an amusement park to escape the zombies who are pursuing him, moviegoers may recognize parts of Netherworld.

"The most memorable thing in the haunted house that you see in the movie will be the big monster that comes out and eats a zombie," Armstrong said.

Gwinnett residents who venture out to Netherworld this October may find themselves trying to avoid the same creature.

Columbus is also seen in "Zombieland" moving through a portion of Netherworld that is set up like a house, where a small, ghost-like figure pops out and spooks him.

"That area's very recognizable," Armstrong said. "If you were to walk through the haunt, that particular feature would jump out and startle you just like it did the Columbus character in the film."

Gwinnett residents brave enough to enter Netherworld will not only recognize areas where scenes from the movie were shot, they may encounter some of the film's extras, possibly even reincarnated as zombies.

In the works even before Netherworld was tapped as a filming location for "Zombieland," the premise for one of this year's haunted houses inside the Norcross attraction was based on the idea of battling, rampaging zombies.

"It was just kind of a happy coincidence," Armstrong said. "It's all about an energy drink gone bad. If you drink this energy drink called Zombie Rampage, it mutates you."

After some of the questionable liquid is spilled in a cemetery, the living dead spring forth from the graves.

Armstrong doesn't necessarily advise consuming the toxic concoction, but it will be available for purchase inside the gift shop.

Netherworld's two haunted houses will be open nightly through October.