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Shaun of the Dead (2004)

Shaun of the Dead
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Think of the best sex you've ever had. Shaun of the Dead. Completely satisfying and sure to cause uncontrollable fits of laughter. Huh? You mean it's not normal for your partner (I'm so PC) to laugh hysterically during sex? Or before? What about afterwords? Crap. Okay, forget I mentioned that. The point is, Shaun of the Dead will freakin' rock your socks off!

On a breezy night in Atlanta, I finally got to see what all the hype was about. For what seemed like forever, the positive buzz for Shaun of the Dead flooded internet websites like few other movies have. So, when the opportunity arose to catch a screening on the film's last stop on its U.S. tour, I jumped at the chance. And in exchange for a few hours of driving time (and a hotel bill at the Crowne Plaza), I was treated to one of the most enjoyable movie experiences that I've had in a long time.

Shaun (Simon Pegg) is your typical underachiever. At 29, he still hasn't gotten very far in life, which is typified by the fact that he spends much of his time downing pints at the same local pub, the Winchester. And much to the dismay of his girlfriend Liz (Kate Ashfield), Shaun's best friend and roommate Ed (Nick Frost) is always tagging along. The slovenly Ed is crude, crass, and generally insensitive, but at least he can do a spot-on impression of Clyde the orangutan from Every Which Way But Loose.

When Shaun botches up the simple plans for their anniversary dinner, Liz is forced to "re-evaluate" their relationship. That would be bad enough for most guys, but to make matters worse for Shaun, he awakes the next day to find the streets of North London crawling with zombies. Once Shaun and Ed finally realize what's happening, it's a fight for their lives as they attempt to grab Liz and Shaun's Mum, Barbara (Penelope Wilton), and take them to safety. If it's the last thing he ever does, Shaun is determined to show Liz that he's not the inept loser she thinks he is.

Billed as a "rom-zom-com", Shaun of the Dead takes on the monumental task of being a romantic comedy...with zombies. An ambitious task to say the least. So much so, it's rarely been attempted. About the only real examples you can point to are Peter Jackson's classic Dead Alive and possibly Return of the Living Dead III (a rather poor attempt). While there are a few ways to approach a film such as this, Shaun took the most difficult road: Making the characters funny while taking the zombie outbreak surrounding them very seriously. All without resorting to rediculous amounts of over-the-top gore and the overused and often imbecilic bathroom humor that infests many of today's comedies. Think of Shaun as the anti-Scary Movie movie.

Sure it's a great idea, but does the film pull it off? Absolutely. Previous to seeing the film I had seen the word "brilliant" being banteyed about various reviews and pull quotes, and obviously I was very skeptical. Brilliant is a strong word, and comedies are usually the least likely bunch to get such a label. I still hesitate to use brilliant, but I simply can't think of another word to describe such an intelligent, funny script. Written over a span of 18 months by director Edgar Wright and lead actor Simon Pegg, they manage to create a series of hilarious situations and characters while simultaneously maintaining the truly gruesome nature of one of the most beloved icons of horror. It's not the zombies that are the butt of the jokes. They're kept honest, and as zombies have a tendency to do, they'll rip you to shreds should they get their paws on you. Gore is used unabashedly, though at the same time kept at a realistic level. Admitted horror geeks themselves, it's obvious that Wright and Pegg have an incredible respect for the genre, and specifically for the zombie creations of George Romero.

While it's true that the movie nails the perfect blend of comedy and horror, to my surprise, there were also a few genuinely emotional moments. And more surprising, they each work really well. For example, in a particularly touching scene involving Shaun and Ed, my roommate admitted to actually getting teary-eyed (it's okay, she's a chick). These dramatic scenes allow for some tension relief as well as add a touch more sincerity to the reactions of the characters. It's this added character depth and plausibility that elevates Shaun of the Dead above so many others like it.

A great script goes a long way, but without solid actors, it can all unravel right there on the screen. There's no danger of that in Shaun, as all of the actors are fantastic. Perhaps the one person most familiar to US audiences will be Bill Nighy (Underworld). He's aces as Shaun's dad...err, stepdad. Kate Ashfield is adorable as Shaun's beleaguered girlfriend, Liz. Pegg's comedic savvy is clearly evident throughout, and he's equally adept when the movie steers him into the more dramatic sequences. It's Nick Frost, however, that steals most of the scenes when he's on screen. It all seems effortless to Frost, whether he's doing his Clyde impression or slinging out hip-hop expressions. He just makes you laugh. And together, Pegg and Frost just might be the British Farley and Spade. To top it off, main zombies and background zombies alike do a tremendous job. And yes, I do pay attention to the extraneous undead in the background. I'm a bit particular about my zombies, okay. Oh, and I think I have a crush on Mary, the checkout girl.

If co-writing it wasn't enough, it's Edgar Wright's job as director to pull all of the movie together and he does it masterfully. He's got a keen eye and a knack for creative camera-work. Wright balances the film nicely. While it's a comedy first and foremost, the horror and the impish use of gore fit seamlessly.

You'd think that with great actors, a superb script with lots of laughs, and truly gut-munching zombies, that they'd skimp out on the movie's music, right? Wrong. It's a delightfully quirky and eclectic soundtrack, and one that I can't wait get my hands on. From the gets-in-your-brain-and-won't-get-out "The Blue Wrath" (I Monster) all the way to Queen's "Don't Stop Me Now", which I'll never listen to in quite the same way ever again, it's all good stuff!

Now I know that it may sound like I'm blowing smoke up the filmmaker's various orifices, but I assure you...I don't smoke. And even if I did, I'd go nowhere near their arses. I just realize that to pull off a movie like Shaun of the Dead, it takes an exceptional amount of love for the genre, tremendous scriptwriting talent, great acting to pull it off, and a passion for their work to make it their own and not give into what others might expect. Shaun makes no excuses and pulls no punches...and it'll have you laughing till it hurts.

Shaun of the Dead takes its place in my exhaulted list of all-time zombie greats. It's a classic that I'll be watching for years to come! And if you've dragged your girlfriend to too many horror films in the past and she doesn't believe you anymore when you say, "but it's really kinda like a chick flick, it's got romance," you should have a better shot getting her to see Shaun of the Dead...even if she cringes at the "Z"-word. She just might thank you afterwords!


(Out of 5)
September 24, 2004 (US)
April 9, 2004 (UK)

See it. Buy it. Own it. Live it. One of the best zombie movies ever. Period.
1. Vinyl records do not make good weapons against zombies.
2. Cricket bats and shovels do make good weapons against zombies.
3. Immitating a zombie may help you go unnoticed through a pack of undead. (Warning: Make sure all cell phones are turned off when attempting this)
-"We're coming for you Barbara!"
-"Who died and made you king of the zombies?"
-"Come get it! It's a running buffet!"

Edgar Wright (Spaced)
Edgar Wright
Simon Pegg (Spaced)
Simon Pegg Shaun
Kate Ashfield Liz
Nick Frost Ed
Lucy Davis Dianne
Dylan Moran David
Penelope Wilton Barbara
Bill Nighy Philip
Peter Serafinowicz Pete
Jessica Stevenson Yvonne
Nicola Cunningham Mary
Working Title Films
Rogue Pictures
United Kingdom
99 mins R

Shaun of the Dead made over $12 million in the UK, outgrossing both the Dawn of the Dead remake and 28 Days Later.
Edgar Wright directed Channel 4’s sitcom Spaced, which aired two series of episodes to great acclaim in the U.K. The show was nominated for Best Sitcom and Best TV Newcomer [Simon Pegg] at the British Comedy Awards, and also received BAFTA, Montreux, and International Emmy Award nominations. Spaced also starred Shaun's Nick Frost (Ed) and Jessica Stevenson (Yvonne).
The budget for Shaun of the Dead was around $4 million. The shooting of the film lasted for 9 weeks.
Official Trailer:
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Windows Media - Low
Dead Kev Interviews Edgar Wright, Simon Pegg, & Nick Frost - All Things Zombie
'Dead' Becomes Him (make-up wiz Stuart Conran) - Fangoria Feature

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