Zombie pop culture saturation has reached the level where even the most non-violent among us knows how to best kill the undead. Like vampires and the near universal truth that they hate garlic and holy water, zombies are pigeonholed by a lust for eating humans coupled with a fatal weakness tied to having their heads bashed in.
In short, everyone in the world knows that in the event you are in danger of being eaten by a zombie horde, you smash in and/or cut off a zombie’s head with whatever sharp/heavy/blunt object is nearby.
But across film and television that most basic survival tactic often evades fictional characters as they trouble shoot the undead killing process. Of all the cockamamie ways folks in films and television have tried to take out zombies before realizing a sturdy club will suffice, the record-throwing scene in Shaun of the Dead stands out.
In the film, the record tossing sets up as a pay-off from another scene from before the full-on outbreak when Shaun’s roommate angrily throws a record out the window because it’s late and he has to work in the morning. But it’s mostly there to allow Simon Pegg and Nick Frost to engage in a funny bit of dialogue about which records are OK (Prince’s Batman soundtrack) and not OK (Stone Roses) to hurl at the approaching zombies.
Director Edgar Wright said the idea for the scene came from his old friend, Edward Scotland, who used to throw records against a tree in his backyard and shatter them. Wright said Scotland told him one time he threw one so hard that it became stuck in the trunk.
“While I do not agree with this horrific waste of vinyl, the image of vinyl throwing in the garden and records sticking out of trees stuck with me,” Wright said. “When we came to writing Shaun in 2001, I remembered the vinyl missiles and this quickly became the joke of which albums you’d be willing to part with.”
Wright declined to comment on whether a record could actually take out a zombie but he noted that in the film, the idea doesn’t work and that Shaun and Ed resort to using cricket bats and shovels.
Despite Wright’s suggestion that it’s not viable, it got me thinking: Would it actually be possible to kill a zombie with a record? Could a human person hurl a slab of vinyl so hard at a zombie it would render said zombie incapacitated? I set out to ask the world’s experts.
For the sake of argument, let’s assume the zombies in this scenario are slow and lack much capacity for lateral movement, making them essentially stationary targets. Let’s also assume the weather is nice because having to account for atmospheric conditions like wind or precipitation makes this way too complicated.
With that in mind, this analysis boils down to three key elements: the thrower of the record, the record itself and the target (a zombie’s head or neck).
The human body has limitations on how fast it can throw an object, but Major League Baseball pitchers consistently demonstrate it’s possible to hurl an object at speeds of around 90 to 100 miles per hour. Professional disc golfer Simon Lizotte claimed to set a record when he threw a 130-gram disc at 144 kilometers per hour, which comes out to almost 90 miles per hour, likely fast enough for a hurling vinyl record to damage a target. Let’s see him in action:
But Michael Winokur, a physics professor at the University of Wisconsin, said that a record propelled by human force alone probably would not kill a zombie, at least not by cutting off his or her head.
“I would suggest that if thrown by hand you couldn't achieve a clean decapitation but, if thrown by a mechanical device (like that used for launching clay pigeons), it is likely one could manage it. I don't recommend trying it,” Winokur said.
Luke Boyd, editor in chief for the Zombie Research Society, said that it’s also likely that most people would have difficulty hitting a target with a vinyl record.
“It's also important to note that neither Shaun nor Ed were able to land a really good hit on the undead, and most of the albums were literally spinning out of control. Vinyl records have a tendency to warp; especially older albums. Even those pampered, prized, limited edition pressings eventually succumb to the elements. And this can throw the aerodynamics way off, despite your best effort,” Boyd said.
Should you manage an accurate throw, Winokur said you’d still have to account for two issues regarding the mechanical action: the motion of the cutting surface into the object and the motion of the cutting surface parallel to the object's surface.
“The latter is very important and meat slicers rely on this action to achieve a good result. Of course there is the nature of the cutting surface. A blunt edge will require much higher speeds to affect the desired outcome. Ideally one would want a heavy vinyl album with the highest rotational speed and as sharp an edge as possible,” Winokur said.
When it comes to the ideal vinyl record to throw at a zombie’s head, opinions differ. Some experts believe a heavier record would accomplish the best result while others believe a lighter, flimsier pressing might inflict more damage.
As Boyd pointed out, Shaun's collection contained many original pressings and a few limited editions. Judging from the release dates of albums like Purple Rain by Prince or Second Coming by the Stone Roses, Boyd estimated the albums would have been pressed some time in the late ‘80s to mid ‘90s, and would probably weigh around 120 grams, less than the 180-gram pressings popular today, which would likely cause more damage.
Winokur concurred that a weightier album would be ideal. But Boyd said a heavy platter may not be much extra help in destroying a zombie’s head.
“Regardless of the weight, they're still extremely thin and usually very flimsy. Unlike a good steel knife, machete, or shovel, albums are made out of a plastic polymer. And we can't imagine anyone trading a hefty weapon for anything made out of such a weak plastic; especially a vinyl record,” Boyd said.
However, Richard Warwick from A to Z Media, a vinyl manufacturing company, said that a lesser quality record would be a better choice.
“Well it would need to be pretty lightweight and thin, so it would shatter. You'd want a crappy pressing -- one where the trimmer was leaving a sharp edge. Most good quality records have nice rounded edges,” Warwick said. He recommended Dynaflex, a lightweight pressing style introduced by RCA in the ‘60s, to do the job.
Once you’ve summoned the maximum amount of available strength and accurately hurled a carefully selected vinyl record – one with good weight, sharpness and minimal collectible value – there’s still the matter of what resistance the target might offer.
We’ve already established that the target will be relatively motionless and that wind won’t be a factor, but there’s a possibility the zombie’s head or neck could be fairly resilient toward being sliced, punctured or otherwise lacerated by a flying record.
Boyd pointed out that the average human skull is about 0.25 inches thick (0.28 inches for females) and requires a tremendous amount of force to penetrate.
“Despite popular belief, we aren't even sure that zombies themselves would be able to bite through our thick heads; no matter how much they desired our tasty, tasty brains,” Boyd said.
If slicing through the zombie’s skull isn’t an option, chopping through its neck could be the next best option. But as Winokur points out, a record’s edge will always be blunt compared to an actual blade, and therefore would require higher speeds than the 90 MPH throw it takes a professional disc golfer to muster. A mechanical device would be required to decapitate a zombie and unfortunately, even a slow zombie would likely descend on you before you could design and assemble such a contraption.
Killing a zombie by throwing a vinyl record at his or her head will not work. Save your records so you can still listen to music in your zombie apocalypse bunker after the Internet goes out.
I leave you with this final quote from Edgar Wright.
“But seriously kids, don’t waste vinyl.”
Ben Munson is a writer and editor based in Madison, Wisconsin. He awaits the day he can pass his Beatnuts albums down to his daughter.