You think your neighbors are bad? Blasting music at 3:00am in the morning. Letting their dog turn your lawn into a toilet. Stealing your newspaper before dawn. Now imagine you and your neighbor are trapped in a farmhouse while the hungry undead tear at your feeble barricades and your neighbor won’t come out of the fucking basement to help! Ever since Night of the Living Dead, zombie films have featured a number of memorable asshole characters that outshine the zombies in making life difficult for others. Your neighbors got nothing on these guys.
TOP 5 MOST MEMORABLE ZOMBIE MOVIE ASSHOLES
5.) Harry Cooper (Night of the Living Dead – 1968)
Mr. Cooper (Karl Hardman) was the character that started it all. After keeping his wife, wounded daughter, and two other survivors hiding in the cellar while Ben and Barbara fight for their lives upstairs in the farmhouse, Cooper emerges from the cellar and begins a power struggle with Ben. Cooper's really fixated on the cellar. For the whole movie, Cooper argues with everyone, plots to control the only weapon in the house, and comforts himself with petty revenge fantasies. “Let them stay upstairs,” he grumbles. “Let them. We'll see who's right. We'll see, when they come begging me to let them in down here.” It’s also pretty clear that he abuses his wife (if not physically then emotionally and verbally). The tension comes to a climax when Cooper attempts to shoot Ben but Ben wrenches the rifle out of Cooper’s hands and shoots Cooper instead. Stumbling downstairs, Cooper’s precious cellar becomes his grave.
Why He’s Memorable:
It’s not because he was the first zombie movie character to show how humanity’s ego and greed is more of a threat than actual zombies. It’s not because his struggle with Ben broke racist patterns by presenting a Black man as an authority figure. No, Harry Cooper is memorable for a better reason.
He was right
Despite being one of the biggest assholes in zombie movie history, it is arguable that Cooper was still right. They should have stayed in the cellar. He knew the zombies would descend en masse. He knew they would be strong in numbers (“And I'm telling you they turned over our car! . . . . Now you're telling me these things can't get through a lousy pile of wood?”). Had they stayed in the basement, Cooper, his wife, Barbra, Ben, Tom, and Judy might still be alive. Sure, they would eventually have to contend with Cooper’s zombie daughter, but that’s just one zombie instead of hundreds.
Harry Cooper was right. Unfortunately, he was also a massive dick.
Who's asshole #1? Keep reading after the jump!
4.) Uncle Les (Braindead – 1992)
In Braindead, Uncle Les (Ian Watkin) epitomizes sleaze. Les is Lionel's uncle, and Lionel is having some mother issues. You see, Lionel’s mother has become infected by the Sumatran Rat monkey, an infection that proceeds to turn her into a grotesque zombie who infects three other people. Lionel can’t seem to kill these creatures, so he keeps them sedated in his basement -- mother too. Then Uncle Les comes along, sliming into the film in a cheesy pompadour wig, looking to squeeze some money out of Lionel. Les discovers the sedated bodies in the basement, and instead of being horrified or scared he nonchalantly goes into blackmail mode. Are we surprised? After all, this is the same guy who appears quite acquainted with bestiality stag videos.
Why He’s Memorable:
Just watch the beginning of this scene and you tell me he’s not an asshole.
On top of that, Les is also remarkable in that, when the zombies attack, he holds his own and survives for longer than he has any right to. Just like a cockroach.
3.) The Inspector (Let Sleeping Corpses Lie - 1974)
The youth movement of the 1960s and 70s didn't look kindly on figures of authority, especially police. So, when it becomes clear that the protagonist of Let Sleeping Corpses Lie (aka The Living Dead at Manchester Morgue / Don't Open the Window) is George -- a motorcycle driving young rebel with environmental concerns -- we know that the police might as well have "ASSHOLE" stamped on their badges. The Inspector, especially, lives up to the title of "dick."
In the film, the Inspector (Arthur Kennedy) is a detective on a mission to rid his jurisdiction of any disorder, and he becomes obsessed with pursuing George as a suspect in a series of murders that are actually perpetrated by the living dead. Despite all evidence and reason to the contrary, the Inspector dogs George at every turn, accusing him of being a Manson Family-style sicko and pervert. The Inspector is a cop on a supreme power trip, and he minces no words rationalizing why he fingers George for the murders: "You're all the same, the lot of you, with your long hair and faggot clothes. Drugs, sex, every sort of filth!"
A real progressive thinker, that Inspector.
Why He’s Memorable:
During the climax of the film, the Inspector shoots George dead and makes it clear the investigation has not been so much about justice as hate. Speaking to George's corpse, the Inspector makes the most deliciously ironic wish: "I wish the dead could come back to life, you bastard, so then I could kill you again."
Like, what a fascist, man. Totally.
2.) Nathan Grantham (Creepshow – 1982)
While most asshole characters in zombie movies are human, zombies too can be supreme douche bags. Example: Nathan Grantham (Jon Lormer) from the “Father’s Day” segment of Creepshow. In life, Grantham was the elderly patriarch of the wealthy Grantham family and a spiteful, hateful devil. When his daughter Bedelia finds love, Nathan Grantham has the man killed in a “hunting accident.” After a stroke, he berates Bedelia into making him a Father’s Day cake. Wailing from his chair, clacking his cane against the arm rests, he screams, “Where's my cake, Bedelia? Where's my Father's Day cake? I want my cake you dirty BITCH! I'm going to have it!” Bedelia snaps and gives her father the present he deserves: a skull-crushing blow from a heavy marble ashtray. Good-bye Nathan, right?
Nah. This guy has balls so full of spite that he returns from the grave on the seventh anniversary of his death, hauling his worm-eaten corpse out of the dirt, and brutally murders not only Bedelia but most of his family.
Why He’s Memorable:
While I would normally argue that Grantham isn’t technically a zombie, the scene where he emerges from the grave is one of the best in horror, the special effects design of his undead body is fantastic, and Jon Lormer’s voice is bone-chilling. You just want to reach into the TV and throttle him yourself. This character is instantly memorable; "Father's Day" is the segment most remember from Creepshow. Also, as far as the undead go, most zombies can’t help what they are. Nathan Grantham, on the other hand, makes a point of returning from the grave to kill. And for what? To get his cake. Cake! This guys makes Ryan O'Neil seem like father of the century.
1.) Captain Rhodes (Day of the Dead – 1985)
How Joe Pilato didn't destroy his voice screaming and ranting while playing Captain Rhodes is beyond me. Racist, misogynistic, ignorant, violent -- Captain Rhodes takes command of an underground bunker of soldiers and scientists and quickly runs the place into the ground by antagonizing everyone in his path. It's not like the scientists in the film are doing effective work, yet Rhodes and his thugs typify the worst in narrow-thinking and abuse of power. Honestly, words don't do Captain Rhodes justice. Luckily, Youtube user 6uckfay6ouyay6 has compiled every Rhodes scene into a series of video clips. Just watch this guy fly off the handle. How can he not get the Oscar for BEST ZOMBIE MOVIE ASSHOLE ?
To the very end, even when the zombies are yanking out his intestines, Rhodes is defiant, loud, and the most memorable asshole in zombie movie history.
So, as you live your life and deal with all the jerkoffs who piss you off and make your life difficult, remember Rhodes' parting words: Choke on 'em! Choke on 'em!
Honorable mention: I would be remiss to not mention Andy Nyman's turn as Patrick in Dead Set (2008). While this show is fairly new, once the series hits North America and Region 1 media, I think history will show Patrick to be one of the top asshole characters in zombie history.
Click for my review of Dead Set