Shaun of the Dead (2004)
Think of the best sex you've ever had. That...is 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
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
|DEAD KEV'S ADVICE
|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
2. Cricket bats and shovels do make good weapons against
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)
|Simon Pegg (Spaced)
|COUNTRY OF ORIGIN
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