While Hollywood continues to churn out remake after remake of classic horror flicks, Edgar Wright and Sean Pegg have been doing something a little more interesting: taking the romantic comedy that the British film industry has now almost become synonymous with and injecting more than a little of their own warped world.
Those familiar with Wright and Pegg’s earlier television work, Spaced (together with Jessica Stevenson who also features in a minor cameo role), will have some idea as to what to expect here: More late twenty-somethings refusing to grow up. However where Spaced drew from a multitude of modern cultural references Shaun of the Dead draws from just a couple, namely movies and video games which feature the undead.
Shaun (Simon Pegg) is a twenty-nine year old retail assistant slacker who hates his step-dad, spends far too much time playing Playstation with his school friend Ed (Nick Frost) and drinking down the pub. After messing up the anniversary dinner he should have planned for his girlfriend Liz (Kate Ashfield) he finds himself dumped.
The next day Shaun decides to sort his life out and get Liz back. Unfortunately, his day is made much more complicated when he discovers that the dead have come back to life. He is consequently forced to save Liz, his mum (Penelope Wilton) and his friends and take them to the safest place he knows: the pub.
While films such as Scary Movie skimped on the scares (and, arguably, also on the laughs), Shaun of the Dead does no such thing. The laughs here are plentiful (almost too many in some places where I laughed so much I missed some of the following dialogue!), and the scares are genuine. Pegg and Wright have crafted superb and well-written dialogue and plot, however unbelievable, and deliver it in such an amiable way, unlike many of its tongue-in-cheek contemporaries.
The attention to detail is superb. Towards the start of the movie, remaining oblivious to the zombie infestation around him, Shaun visits his corner shop for a pint of milk. On closing the bloodied fridge door he slips a little on the floor, we don’t see anything more but the suggestion is enough for our imagination to fill in the gaps.
Not to suggest that this movie skimps on the gore. As in every good zombie movie there’s blood and guts in abundance, rapidly increasing in quantity as the film progresses. At more than one point you’ll be squirming in your seat as another zombie or victim is impaled, eaten, slugged over the head or, quite literally and very graphically, torn limb-from-limb through a pub window. Quite how it attained a 15 certificate I don’t know.
With British movies a few shortcuts are almost expected on the makeup and special effects. Shaun of the Dead certainly doesn’t make them. I may almost blaspheme at this point and suggest that the zombie effects far outweigh the quality of those by Tom Savini in the original Dawn of the Dead. What they do manage to borrow, with great effect, is the shambling, almost slapstick qualities of the zombies. Those who scoffed at the running zombies in the remake of Dawn will be at home here. Be sure to listen for the friendly jab towards 28 Days Later towards the end of the movie.
Shaun of the Dead doesn’t so much make a nod to other horror films as shout and holler at them from 50 yards down a crowded street. Film geeks are sure to spot many references to Night of the Living Dead “We’re coming to get you Barbara!”, Dawn of the Dead, American Werewolf, Evil Dead as well as the Resident Evil videogames throughout.
Some of the original tracks from the original Down of the Dead movie are used to great effect, including a fantastic remix of “The Gonk” by Kid Koala. Trumpets have never sounded so good. The soundtrack, like the film itself, is both wonderfully creepy and funny.
It really is nice to see a British comedy, particularly a romantic one, that isn’t a whimsical Richard Curtis-penned tale of Colin Firth and Hugh Grant flustering their way, yet again, through another familiar story around London Town. The only problem I can foresee is the transition of corner shops, pubs, and its general Britishness Stateside. That quibble aside, Shaun of the Dead is a wonderfully crafted masterpiece of comedy and gore and I highly recommend it.
A word of warning, however: be prepared to be humming Queen’s “Don’t Stop me Now” for weeks after seeing this movie. Oh, and dogs can’t look up.
Shaun of the Dead (2004)
Dir. Edgar Wright
Stars: Simon Pegg, Nick Frost, Kate Ashfield, Dylan Moran, Lucy Davis, Bill Nighy, Peter Serafinowicz, Penelope Wilton
Genre: Comedy, Horror, Romance