Zombies, eh? You can’t live with ‘em and you can’t kill ‘em - largely because they’re already dead (bastards thought of everything). The best hope, as this week’s Juan Of The Dead proves, is to keep as far beyond their mouldy reach as possible, boink a few on the head and pray for science to save the day. Tread softly and carry a big cricket bat, as the man might say. Or, failing that, take a leaf out of Columbus’ book in Zombieland and “follow the rules”. So what are the rules? Columbus has a few and so do we. Read them and then tuck them into your pocket, because one day those shufflers on your morning commute really will be zombies.
Warning: zombie readers please note that our undead definition includes all strains of undead and multiple apocalyptic scenarios. Don’t bite us for including zombie minority groups and the “Rage infected”.
Zombies are tricky to kill. You can incinerate them or mush their brains with a well-placed shotgun round, but guns can run out of ammo and incinerations are prone to backfire spectacularly. Just ask flambéed teen zombie-baiters Tom and Judy in George Romero’s Night Of The Living Dead. Our advice? Improvise. If it’s sharp and/or capable of inflicting hefty cranial damage, bring it along. So a colander, for instance, is a no-go; but trowels, secateurs, Molotov cocktails, cricket bats and Dire Straits LPs are all fine. A lawn mower, weapon of choice in Peter Jackson’s Braindead, is one zombie-splatting option for the garden lover; likewise the shovel in Hammer’s Plague Of The Zombies. Failing that, take a leaf out of Shaun Of The Dead’s book and make that Swingball pole count.
Once you’ve armed yourself to the teeth (remember: no colanders!), the next thing to think about is clothing. There’s no dress code for the zombie apocalypse – probably ‘fetid casual’ at a push – but protective attire can be the difference between life and death, so it’s worth thinking about. A pair of glasses or goggles would have saved 28 Days Later’s Frank (Brendan Gleeson) from that drop of infected blood, while Bill Murray keeps a zombie disguise handy for relaxing trips to the golf course. While blending in effectively can be achieved with a lopsided shuffle or a well-timed gurgle, The Return Of The Living Dead’s Linnea Quigley would remind you that skipping about in the nude is a very bad idea. Similarly, a bumless hospital gown like Jim’s in 28 Days Later will probably only rile them – no zombie takes kindly to being mooned.
When a swarm of flesh-eaters are tearing the planet a new one, you’ll need somewhere safe to hole up, watch The Voice and wait for things to blow over. Whether it’s a shopping mall that offers food, weaponry and hiding places (in Philadelphia in George A. Romero's Dawn Of The Dead and Milwaukee in Zack Snyder's remake), a deserted hospital (28 Days Later), your local (Shaun Of The Dead) or all of Canary Wharf (28 Weeks Later), it’s nice to have somewhere un-plagued to call home. But to make sure that your home isn’t where your actual heart ends up, keep a bag packed for emergencies. Note, as clever Will Smith does in I Am Legend, that the difference between a quiet night in with the dog and a messy vampire deathmatch can be as little as a flicked light switch or a whiff of scent. Then again (SPOILER!), a quiet rural abode didn’t save the human fraternity in Night Of The Living Dead. Okay, we give up. Climb a tree?
Then again, not everywhere is as safe as it looks. It’s only the courageous and foolhardy who’d go near a tower block in the event of a zombie plague. Even in 28 Days Later, Jim (Cillian Murphy) has to leap shopping trollies, sprint up a bajillion stairs and fall upon Brendan Gleeson’s mercy just to escape his infected pursuers – and all while coping with that faint smell of wee. Once, like him, you’re inside, barricade the door and watch out for those pustuled arms reaching through the cracks. If you’re outside, stay there because as the TV crew in [●Rec] and the victims of French undead-versus-cops horror La Horde find out, zombie madness can unfold inside a quarantined apartment block.
Remember that zombies first surfaced via dark voodoo freakery that would give even Live And Let Die’s Baron Samedi – not a real baron – a headache, and avoid the Caribbean like the plague during the apocalypse. All those chilled vibes and piña coladas are frak-all use when you’re being chased by a liver-spotted zombastard who wants your spleen on a water biscuit. Haiti is especially off-limits – just ask the cast of Jacques Tourneur’s 1942 shuffleathon I Walked With A Zombie and Bela Lugosi’s White Zombie. Also on our no-go list are Braindead’s Skull Island (like you’d need a reason not to visit a place called Skull Island), the beach picked by the young victims of Teenage Zombies and the zombie island on which Dick Purcell’s plane comes down in King Of The Zombies. If you must be by the seaside, try Torquay.
There’s no ‘i’ in ‘undead’ (unhelpfully, there is one in ‘zombie’) and there can be no ‘i’ in your survival schemes either (er, apart from the one in “survival”). Working together is imperative, so take 28 Days Later’s advice and “Never go anywhere alone unless you’ve got no choice”. Does this mantra mean that Snake Plissken would perish in the early stages of a zombie apocalypse? Probably not, but unless you actually are Snake Plissken, best find a group of pals to watch your back. If you’re lucky, it’ll be the fun-loving folk of bonkers B-movie Big Tits Zombie, rather than the corrupt denizens of Land Of The Dead. If you’re really lucky it’ll be Zombieland’s Twinkie-loving Tallahassee (Woody Harrelson) and the shifty-but-still-Emma-Stone-like Wichita (Emma Stone). If you’re really really lucky, you’ll get to meet Bill Murray.
Dead Snow reminds us that a zombiepocalypse can easily become a Nazi-zombiepocalypse. Sure, you wouldn’t expect either in Norway, but always prepare for the worst. Not only does Dead Snow have the greatest of all taglines (“Ein! Zwei! Die!”), it’s also an object lesson in coping with curveballs of the decomposing kind. There’s another one in An American Werewolf In London, when a festering Griffin Dunne returns from the dead to terrify David Naughton. That wolfman got off lightly next to the humans in Night Of The Living Dead or Lucio Fulci's Zombie, who usually end up with a zombie nibbling on their frontal lobes. Trust us, you really don’t want this, so keep some pyrotechnics handy (zombies love a good fireworks display) or a massive truck to bulldoze through the suckers. Better yet, borrow Land Of The Dead’s ‘Dead Reckoning’ and kill two birds with one monster fireworks truck.
Just because society has collapsed doesn’t mean you can go around offing people willy-nilly; this isn’t Mos Eisley. Always make sure that it’s the actual undead you’re dealing with and not, say, Bill Murray in zombie garb. This is especially important if you’re turning up at the aftermath of a zombie attack and everyone looks a bit freaky. That is when mistakes get made, as Ben (Duane Jones) discovers when he makes it through Night Of The Living Dead only to get killed by his rescuers. Anna Falchi has a similar experience at Rupert Everett’s hands in Cemetery Man. Our solution? Make a polite enquiry into said character’s, erm, ‘physical status’. If the answer is “gnrffhrrr”, and they're not Welsh, it’s probably safe to pull the trigger.
If there’s one thing Battleship taught us – and there really was only one thing – it’s that science is evil. It's the only career where you can cause an actual apocalypse before lunchbreak. Apply this logic to zombies and we might be on to something. After all, how often do we find Beaker’s lab-coated kin not accidentally creating mutating virus strains? Rarely. Science’s rap sheet includes 28 Days Later’s Rage virus, the Re-Animator’s shonky serum, and the bio-weapons that vampify the world in The Omega Man. That’s before we get onto that other Richard Matheson yarn, I Am Legend. Here geneticists try to cure cancer but instead stumble upon the ultimate good-news/bad-news story in movie science (“Well, we’ve cured the people with cancer; the bad news is that we’ve killed everyone else”). Science’s only defence is that one day, maybe, just maybe, a dedicated Bunsen botherer might stumble upon a cure too.
So the safe haven turned out to have a hive of Nazi zombies under the sink, you've run out of ammo and your best friend's arm has just fallen off. You know what? It's time to put discretion before valour and make a run for it. And we mean properly frickin' scarper. Sprint. Hey, it’s all about “cardio” after all...