The Zombie Apocalypse Meets Its Match

Zombie movies are this generation’s uplifting sports drama; no matter how stale, we just can’t get enough. Survival horror, of which the zombie film is the poster child, works because no one is safe, but if they’re really lucky, pack a gat and play ball, one or two characters will make it through. If only the Zombocalypse was like the 1992 US Men’s Olympic Basketball Team. We wouldn’t have to watch annoying and useless characters stumble blindly for the movie until the evitable bite turns them geek. Even the useful characters die, usually because they’re surrounded by idiots. Imagine if we could assemble the perfect team of survivors. With this group, not only does everyone make it out alive, the zombie apocalypse turns into so much half-rotted mulch on the highway.

My wife is pretending she's Radha Mitchell

The Leader – Sheriff David Dutten (Timothy Olyphant) The Crazies remake
Okay, so maybe Sheriff Dutten doesn’t have the best track record. The fact of the matter is very few leaders in these films do, especially ones with coherent plans. So Dutten only managed to get one person out alive. There are two mitigating factors: a) she was a pregnant woman, so way to prioritize the continuation of the species and b) he had to deal with armed zombies, the US Military and a fucking nuclear bomb. Show me someone else that can do that. The alternate would be Ben of Night of the Living Dead. His track record is even worse, but this guy had maybe the worst group of survivors of any hero before or since. When the most useful people in the group set fire to the only means of escape, that’s a problem. Sure, Ben didn’t have the best plan, or even a plan, but he did keep that short bus alive long after everyone should have been shotgunning bleach.

Any chance you didn't see that?

The Enforcer – Selena (Naomie Harris) 28 Days Later
In a zombie movie, it’s imperative that the leader’s orders be obeyed without question. One slip-up means certain death, and any death means another one of them. You know what I’m talking about. Selena’s a person that knows the stakes and acts without hesitation or conscience to see that things get done right. What happened when that geek might have turned Mark? Selena chopped her only friend into chum without even blinking. She’s also incredibly resourceful: in gun-free England, she makes do with a machete and Molotov cocktails.

Did someone say chainsaw hand?

The Q – Ash (Bruce Campbell) Evil Dead Trilogy
Survival horror is about using what you have, not what you wish you had. What you need is a man of singular vision. You need a man who looks at a station wagon and sees a whirling-bladed death-tank. You need a man who looks at a chainsaw and sees a workable prosthetic. The one problem with Ash is he needs a short leash. No letting him fraternize with the locals, no letting him put his hand into evil places and above all, if the Necronomicon should be found (it seems to follow him around like a puppy), it’s best to let someone else – anyone else – read from it.

And don't stare at me, you got the bug eyes.

The Wheel Man – Peter (Ken Foree) Dawn of the Dead original
Oftentimes, the reason that people get eaten in zombie movies is because they hole up someplace and wait for the ghouls to get in. Remember your Muhammad Ali: float like a butterfly, sting like a SEAL team. It’s possible Ali never said that. Anyway, the best vehicles for floating through ghoul country are some form of converted big rig, RV or better yet, a helicopter. Peter has those bases covered and and he delivered one of the coolest lines in the history of zombie movies. If you have to ask what that line is, you should probably stop reading now, because this column probably reads like stereo instructions in Basque.

Son of a bitch! I just bandaged that!

The Doc – Scarlet (Rose Byrne) 28 Weeks Later
While zombie-related injuries are untreatable, there are numerous other hazards in a post-apocalyptic world. Roving packs of bikers armed with conventional weapons are always bothering heroic survivors, to say nothing of the potential for scrapes and bruises while fleeing the undead. Medical personnel are in short supply in zombie films, but Scarlet would be an auto-include even in a packed field. Other than her medical skills, she went through Army basic training, so you have another gun on your side. Plus, this is Rose Byrne we’re talking about, so it’s not like she’s hard on the eyes or anything. Heh heh. I said “hard on.”

You've got some red on you.

The Average Joe – Shaun Riley (Simon Pegg) Shaun of the Dead
Every zombie movie needs an average Joe to put things in perspective. It helps if the Joe is decent in a fight and if he reacts appropriately when one of his loved ones is inevitably turned. Lionel from Dead Alive almost got it due to his impressive lawnmower skills, but he spent way too much time with Mum before he got wise and made six hundred gallons of geek chowder. While Shaun doesn’t kill Ed, he does take out his mom, and besides, he’s hell with a cricket bat.

Blessed are the asskickers

The Holy Man – Father McGruder (Stuart Devenie) Dead Alive
When Hell is full, the dead will walk the earth! You need a man to kick ass for the Lord! Father McGruder, kung fu master and Catholic priest, is the only choice. Sheriff Dutten will have to keep a close eye on Father Mac so that he doesn’t get carried away with all the asskicking and get turned into a snack. Until that moment let the zombies beware the mighty boot to the head!

I bet I can get this to come out his taint!

The Killing Machine – Tallahassee (Woody Harrelson) Zombieland
Okay, so all the bases are covered, except for one thing: who actually kills the damn ghouls? Every team needs one guy whose only job is to be giant dick to the apocalypse’s hapless zombie couch. Tallahassee killed a zombie with a banjo. With guns that he seems to be able to find with remarkable ease, he’s the cure the plague’s been wanting.

The Dog – Beast (Striker) The Hills Have Eyes original
Are dogs necessary? Hell yes. Unless someone on the team has super senses and can warn when the sneakier ghouls approach, you need a dog. You need Beast, the revenge-driven German Shepherd and true hero of The Hills Have Eyes. When mutant hillbillies kill Beast’s mate, he decides to go hunting, racking up the biggest bodycount in the film.  Sadly, I couldn’t find a picture of Beast, probably because he tore the throat out of any photographer who got too close.

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12 Responses to The Zombie Apocalypse Meets Its Match

  1. Clint says:

    And it’s not even my birthday yet…

  2. Justin says:

    Did I miss anyone?

  3. Clint says:

    It’s a pretty thorough list and I agree with the choices, especially Tallahassee as the designated murder machine. In all 40 years of the “modern” zombie film I don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone both so gleefully resourceful and so damn good at killing zeds, with added points for his opponents being of the nasty fast zombie kind. He and Ash at the vanguard would be like those glory days of putting you and Jesse on point in HALO multiplayer: complete, unstoppable chaos.

    I also love that you kept your “zombie” definition broad enough to bring in Olyphant’s Sherriff, because I would totally have followed that man into hell. Even at the end when the obligatory “It’s not over yet” cliffhanger occurs, I don’t write him or his wife off as doomed. His spirit and sanity are both intact, despite everything the world could throw his away. That man is going to get to fucking Sweden.

    I mean, speaking of his wife, she’s a runner-up for The Doc category (also, arguably, Sarah Polley from the DotD remake, despite being only a nurse), but even though I have yet to see 28 Weeks Later I’ll have to agree that medical knowledge + military training is a trump. So anyone you might have “missed” is only really because they’re just runner-ups to a prime choice, and the whole point here is to get the All-Stars.

    Also, I think you’ve got all the categories covered. The only one I can think of that might be worth thinking about is a “scrounger/scavenger” entry, but usually zombie apoc is set right as things are going to hell or shortly after, where supplies aren’t a big deal yet. Aside from that I think of categories like “mascot” or “designated douchebag” which often show up in zombie movies, but are irrelevant at best and probably ought to be quietly and permanently dealt with by The Enforcer before they get someone killed.

    Also, I think The Crazies remake gave me a phobia of car washes I never knew I had. Now that’s good horror.

    • Justin says:

      The Crazies remake was shockingly good. I was impressed. Olyphant has a limited range, but when he’s doing what he does best: laconic, western sheriff badass, there’s no one better.

      When I originally wrote this up, Sarah Polley was the choice, but yeah, medical skill and Army basic destroyed that dream. I also had categories for The Hot Chick and Token Zombie.

      I tried to find a place for someone in Return of the Living Dead, but that never worked out. Melinda Clarke in 3 could have worked both as the Hot Chick AND the Token Zombie, though. Hmm…

    • Justin says:

      Also, we could call Beast the mascot. He brings more to the table, but that’s what makes him a good choice.

      As for the scavenger, I think the new Walking Dead show will get us a good pick for that.

      • Clint says:

        I honestly haven’t read much of the comic of the Walking Dead but I seem to remember a young black kid in it that rescues the hero when he decides to wander into the heart of Atlanta, basically by knowing how the zombies seem to operate and where all the best routes for avoiding them are. And I do believe the kid dares entry himself in order to scrounge for goodies. We’ll see how that plays out in the series.

        After I posted my comment I scrolled up and remembered you had included “The Dog” as a category. So in the interests of not seeming like a complete idiot, I could say “The Mascot” would be any sort of innocent/comic relief tagalong for the group that doesn’t really do much except need to be protected and rescued (as one of the less annoying examples, Shaun’s mum). And that, like “The Hot Chick”, is a rather superfluous category in terms of group survival. They *exist* in zombie movies, but they almost inevitably seem to be people you get the sense the posse would be better off without.

        As for Token Zombie, Bub is the Alpha and the Omega. Just keep him fed and don’t kill his “dad” in front of him, and I bet Olyphant could get him to follow orders. Plus, military training!

      • Justin says:

        Yeah, Bub was the original choice. If only we could find Aunt Alicia!

  4. Clint says:

    Oh, and I’m not surprised you couldn’t fit in anyone from the Return of the Living Dead series, especially the first one. Everyone dying is not a good track record for survival.

    RotLD gave us the “brains” meme for all eternity. That’s enough.

    • Justin says:

      In their defense, though, the RotLD zombies were unkillable.

      • Clint says:

        I’ll give you that it’s a handicap match. However, I can’t remember a single one of the heroes that didn’t exacerbate that by being mentally handicapped.

        Well, maybe the guy who thought of asking the zombie at the hospital “Who’s the President?”. Good call, there.

  5. Will says:

    Good list.

    I was wondering, however, that if you were making a list using characters from all types of media, you’d have to include Frank West, right? I mean, not only can he take photographs in case the government tries to cover it up, but he can kick some serious zombie butt as well. Plus he’s covered wars, ya know.

    • Justin says:

      Frank West would be a solid choice. Not sure where I’d slot him exactly, but any guy with his resourcefulness when it comes to weapon choices would come in handy.

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