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September 14, 2011

‘Deadliest Warrior’: Vampires and zombies out for blood

Posted in: TV

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"Deadliest Warrior" will pit vampires against zombies in a bloody battle to the death during the show's season finale. A zombie from "The Walking Dead," left, and vampire Edward Cullen from "Twilight." (AMC / Summit Entertainment)

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"Deadliest Warrior" host Richard "Mack" Machowicz and Armand Dorian test out a vampire claw during the show's season finale. (Spike TV)

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Armand Dorian, Geoff Desmoulin and Richard "Mack" Machowicz perform a vampire bite test during the filming of the "Deadliest Warrior" season finale. (Spike TV)

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Max Brooks, Matt Mogk, Scott Bowen and Steve Niles check out a zombie corpse during the filming of the "Deadliest Warrior" season finale. (Spike TV)

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An alligator experiment test the strength of a zombie bite during the "Deadliest Warrior." (Spike TV)(Spike TV)

What happens when a show founded on the science of hypothetical battles between knights, ninjas, gangsters and centurions swaps swords and guns for fangs and claws? Fans of Spike TV’s “Deadliest Warrior” series are likely to find out Wednesday when the show, in the second half of the 2-1/2-hour season finale, will pit vampires versus zombies in a bloody battle to the death. Airing at 9 p.m. PDT, the two classic horror movie monsters will spar to determine who has the bigger, badder bite and more skull-crushing strength.

On a visit to the set of the season finale earlier this year, hosts Richard “Mack” Machowicz, Geoff Desmoulin and medical expert Dr. Armand Dorian were busy trying out an arsenal of mechanically propelled limbs and sharp-toothed animals (and reptiles)  designed to mimic the damage supposedly inflicted by both sides.

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A zombie from the season finale of "Deadliest Warrior." (Spike TV)

“Every nerd has this argument at least once after every episode of ‘The Walking Dead,’” said vampire expert Steve Niles, referring to the hit AMC series about a post-apocalyptic world ravaged by zombies. “It’s kind of interesting to turn into some sort of fact so we can at least address it and see who would win.”

The comic book writer is best known for vampire-themed projects like “30 Days of Night” and “Criminal Macabre.” As one member of the finale’s panel of experts, his job is to not only comment on the validity of the tests being used, but also to relate his studies on vampire lore to what people are watching at home. Ultimately, he says a vampire’s smarts, strength and sophistication would make the creature more likely to win a match against any lumbering zombie.

Niles will be joined on the panel by Scott Bowen, author of  “The Vampire Survival Guide: How to Fight, and Win, Against the Undead.” The opposing experts on team zombie include Matt Mogk, founder of the Zombie Research Society (yes, that is a real thing) and Max Brooks, author of “The Zombie Survival Guide”  and post-apocalyptic horror novel “World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War.”

Each side has its hopes pinned on the fundamental differences between wandering diseased corpses and cunning undead stalkers of the night.

“The zombie is inherently biological; the vampire is more fantastical,” Mogk said. “It’s basically a virus versus a predator.”

Mogk would know. After studying horror cinema and zombies at NYU (he wrote a master’s thesis on them), he started the Zombie Research Society in 2007 with the goal of advancing zombie scholarship in the arts and sciences. That means promoting zombie movies and television shows and assembling an advisory board that includes neuroscientists, the co-director of education at Harvard and even legendary horror director George Romero. Their motto: What you don’t know can eat you.

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Armand Dorian, left, and hosts Geoff Desmoulin and Richard “Mack” Machowicz on the set of "Deadliest Warrior." (Spike TV)

In the dim light of the “Deadliest Warrior” set, hosts Machowicz and Desmoulin prepare to analyze simulated battle tests against blood-filled zombie dummies and bite-pressure gauges that try (and in most cases fail) to withstand the raw power of both vampire and zombie attacks. Though the inevitable bonanza of bloodshed is what draws most fans of both of these monsters, Brooks’ flesh-eating fixation came from an innate fear of them stemming from his childhood.

“I am not a zombie fan,” Brooks said in an on-set interview. “ I hate them with a passion. I fear and loathe them.”

The son of award-winning actor/director Mel Brooks, the younger Brooks used to think up scenarios involving what he’d do in the event of a zombie outbreak when he was a kid. During Y2K, that morphed into scenarios about a zombie apocalypse and if he was to survive, how he would do it. Naturally, that led him to search out a book on the subject before eventually working up “The Zombie Survival Guide.”

“I looked and looked and realized that everyone who could have written one was probably out having a life,” Brooks said. “I did not have that problem. So I decided to write it myself.”

Aside from the gory ways to have fun with the final episode, there’s still the question of what kinds of vampires and zombies will be used as test subjects. Obviously there’s a bit of a difference between Robert Pattinson’s brooding gentleman in author Stephenie Meyer’s “Twilight” saga and the demonic figures that populate Niles’ “30 Days of Night.” Same goes for zombies. Are we talking about legions of quick-sprinting “infected” or the classic model a la “Dawn of the Dead”?  The rule of thumb seems to be to keep an eye toward tradition, though experts spend time on the episode delving into the biology of how each monster is able to survive.

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Test zombies from the "Deadliest Warrior" season finale. (Spike TV)

“The goal was to make a composite of different kinds of zombies and vampires to come up with the most realistic,” Niles said.

The finale breaks down some of the finer points of what this battle would ultimately look like using testable data, but in the end, the fantasy element leaves plenty of room for bias on both teams.

“I think ‘Twilight’ fans are going to be way disappointed when they see this,” Brooks said. “But I’m glad I’m facing off against Steve Niles and not Stephenie Meyer. We would have an issue.”

– Nate Jackson

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