Let’s face it: it’s usually pretty easy to spot the chosen survivor(s) early on. We all know how to play the horror-movie odds. The annoying funny guy, the stuck-up slut, and the first person to go looking for a phone or better cell reception are going to get it. The brainy girl who thinks this whole trip is a bad idea stands a much better chance of making it to the end than the tramp who gets hammered, dances around in her underpants, and passes out in the barn.
But sometimes they throw you a curve ball, and the most unlikely characters are left standing. Like these ten.
10. Billy Peltzer (Zach Galligan), Gremlins
The kid’s a moron — if he’d had the common sense God gave geese, there wouldn’t even have been any gremlins and none of his small-town neighbors would be dead. Billy (Zack Galligan) is the doofus who has to die so some good-looking latent-hero teen can step in and save Phoebe Cates. But he doesn’t.
9. Columbus (Jesse Eisenberg), Zombieland
Yes, we’re clearly supposed to identify with Columbus, the endearingly maladroit kid whose computer-heavy skill set is exactly what isn’t needed after the zombie apocalypse. But his transformation into a scrappy zombie killer is profoundly unconvincing, even for a horror comedy.
8. Sally Hardesty (Marilyn Burns), The Texas Chain Saw Massacre
It’s not just that Sally is a skinny little slip of a thing up against a family of sociopath cannibals with lots of practice butchering unwary travelers. Halloween‘s Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis) is no warrior princess, but she’s resourceful enough to kick the bogeyman’s butt. Sally is useless; she does nothing but run and scream. She can’t even kill Grandpa, and he’s virtually dead already.
7. Ash (Bruce Campbell), The Evil Dead
Chalk it up to the unexpected charisma of Bruce Campbell, because there’s no other reason for Ash not to be to dead. Yeah, he’s the nice guy who gets his act together once the dead start showing why you should never, ever mess with books bound in human skin, but the movie’s last shot clearly says, “Sucker shock!” Ash makes it through the night, but the deadites are still going to steal his soul — except that he’s back for Evil Dead II: Dead by Dawn and Army of Darkness.
6. Dr. Frankenstein (Peter Cushing), The Curse of Frankenstein
Of course he’s going to die: Frankensteins come and go, while the poor, put-upon monster survives to lurch and lumber another day. At least that’s the way it was before Hammer’s reboot, in which Peter Cushing’s icy doctor proved way more compelling than his bland, bandage-wrapped creature. It only looked as though he died on the guillotine at the end; he wound up being good for five encores.
5. Paxton (Jay Hernandez), Hostel
Not only is Paxton not the nicest of the three slackers spending their European vacation smoking weed and getting laid, but he’s hands down the one who deserves to die first. The one who sizes up the merchandise in Amsterdam’s red-light district and chortles, “I hope bestiality is legal in Amsterdam, because that girl’s a fuckin’ hog.” Can you say “ugly American,” “sexist pig,” and “all-around jackass”? And yet he gets away — at least, until Hostel II.
4. Dr. Markway (Richard Johnson), The Haunting
Arrogant-scientist type? The one whose fault it is that everyone’s in the goddamned spooky house to begin with and who lured them there under false pretenses? Dr. Markway (Richard Johnson) is a douche bag, and in most horror movies he’d temporarily save his own skin by sacrificing others to the unquiet spirits of Hill House and then get what’s coming to him. Not here: he gets to walk away.
3. Ben (Duane Jones), Night of the Living Dead
He’s the ideal survivor mix of decency and pragmatism, so why is it a surprise that Ben outlives the rest of the movie’s zombie fodder? As LL Cool J so eloquently says in Deep Blue Sea, “Brothers never make it out of situations like this!” Just because it’s a horror-geek in-joke doesn’t mean it isn’t true. Maybe Ben gets a pass because he wasn’t written as the black guy: Jones just happened to better than anyone else who auditioned for the part.
2. Doug Wood (Martin Speer), The Hills Have Eyes
Nerdy, whining electronics salesman Doug looks like feral-family fodder of the first order. Even after he nuts up and goes after the savages who killed his wife and stole their baby, he’s got “dead guy” written all over him. What genre buff didn’t figure Doug was going to wind up sacrificing his own life and allowing one or both of his attractive teenage in-laws to escape with the infant? Nope — he gets away.
1. John Kramer (Tobin Bell), Saw
Kramer, a.k.a. Jigsaw (62-year-old character actor Bell), is dying — it’s a major plot point. But wouldn’t you know: the movie was a monster hit and Bell was the monster. So the guy at death’s door hangs on until Saw III, then haunts the rest of the sequels via flashbacks and posthumously discovered videos. Who could have seen that coming?