For some horror fans, satirizing the zombie genre (and let's face it, zombie films are practically a genre unto themselves) could seem like sacrilege. With the serious films that have come before - 28 Days Later, Dawn of the Dead, and, of course, Night of the Living Dead - SHAUN OF THE DEAD leads us down a path few have dared tread (Evil Dead fans should check out this film to see how a REAL spoof is pulled off). Leave it to the British to give us some gritty dialogue and bloody comedy all rolled into one. I, for one, say "thank you."
So what's this film all about ...
Shaun (Simon Pegg) leads a dull and mundane lifestyle; he works at an electronics store as a salesman, lives with a flatulently impaired and obese roommate named Ed (Nick Frost) and a second roommate, Pete (Peter Serafinowicz), who can't stand Ed. Shaun also has a girlfriend, Liz (Kate Ashfield), who is suffering with him over his complete lack of motivation to accomplish anything in his life. And she's right. Shaun doesn't seem to notice the zombie-esque lifestyle he leads, the terrible routine of drinking at `The Winchester' pub (named after the rifle that gleams over the bar), the protecting of Ed's horrific behavior (ripping farts and calling women the "C" word while never maintaining a job of any kind), and, of course, his forgetfulness that she, Liz, is actually a part of his life. So naturally she calls off their relationship, causing Shaun and Ed to go on a drinking spree and video game holiday. And when they awaken from the alcoholic stupor, some things have changed. Only Shaun and Ed don't notice right away. They're so used to life being slow, boring, and ...er ...well, shuffling, that they don't take notice of the cars burning on the street, blood on the grocery store floor, or the vacant gaze of their neighbors. This is where the comedy really starts to take wing for the film.
When a "true" zombie wanders into their backyard, Shaun and Ed just think she's drunk. But they quickly discover that this ...thing ...can't be killed. And she is soon joined by another, much larger zombie. Shaun and Ed have entered the apocalypse. But what do you use to defend yourself in a country (let's remember, we're in England here) where guns are not readily available? Initially, they throw everything they can find at these shuffling monstrosities, but nothing seems to work (even Shaun's old record collection, which is hilariously pulled off as they try to decide which records to throw at the undead and which to save: "Stone Roses?" "No!" "Second Coming?" "I liked it." "Dire Straits?" "Chuck it."). Shaun finally picks up a cricket paddle and uses it to bash in the brains of the undead, thus ending their life-after-life existence.
A race to save everyone that Shaun loves soon ensues, and this includes his roommates, Ed and Pete, his girlfriend, Liz, and his mom and stepdad. But where to hide out until this has "blown over". Ah! Of course! The Winchester pub!
What follows is truly hysterical. Shaun must deal with the fact that Pete, his other roommate, has been bitten by a zombie. He also soon discovers that his stepfather (who he never really cared for anyway) was bitten, too. "All right, dude! We can drive his Jaguar!" Ed exclaims happily.
Once all of Shaun's loved one's have been gathered together, they have to make their way to the pub; but first they have to pass through a shuffling maze of zombies. They do this through some wonderful trial and error (from bashing in the head of every zombie in sight with the cricket paddle, to shuffling and moaning like zombies to fake them out. I mean, they're zombies for cryin' out loud! They ain't that smart.). Is the pub the place to go? Can Shaun, who's life has been pretty much meaningless up to this point, actually give meaning to it by saving all those whom he cares for?
The thing that helps this film stand out above other spoofs is that it doesn't dismiss the zombie-genre, but instead respects it and utilizes it to great comedic advantage. It's not slapstick, nor bathroom humor (although there is a touch of this thanks to Ed's bowels), but a set of coarse narratives and script that pulls the viewer into these characters lives and forces us to live with them. Most of us have seen, or have family members who are, in some way, these stereotypical losers. You can't help but cheer them on and hope that they survive their own failings. And that's where SHAUN OF THE DEAD gives you the emotional umpf! that you need to enjoy the movie. You care about them and laugh at their ridiculous inadequacies, both at the same time.
This is truly a great film. A+ ...especially for creativity.
on October 24, 2004
It is a very hard line to cross in today's cinema to make a film that part comedy and horror film. Normally, when this happens we end up with something like the Chucky series. It began serious, but after seeing the new preview, I know they have given up serious horror and invaded into the world of campy horror. I was afraid at first that this film was going to go into that direction, but then I remembered ... this film wasn't made in America, it was made in Britain where the humor is actually intellectually funny. As I was sitting and enjoying this film from beginning to end, I couldn't help but wonder why America has not been able to master this style of film yet. Why is our comedies still heavily based in the sex humor or bathroom jokes? While there were some in this film, I felt the majority of the humor was logic and intelligence based. "If you listen to the words, you will laugh at the jokes" style of comedy instead of waiting to see who will fall over what first.
With its firm grasp on the comedy aspect, Shaun of the Dead delivers an exceptional grade for its creativity. It takes a lot of brain work to be able to think of a story about zombies where our main characters are oblivious to the fact that anything horrible is happening in the world until the second act. That was actually some of my favorite parts of this film. I was there, sitting in the theater, knowing that it was a zombie film (still, can I call it that?), and nearly missing the entire zombie clues going on in the background. My eyes were focused directly on our star and scene-stealer duo, Shaun and Ed. One of my favorite scenes of this film is when Shaun is going to work after the dead have risen and goes through the motions as if nothing strange is happening while there is chaos and destruction all around. How many of us have gone to work and not even noticed anything-different happening in our daily routine. Sometimes we get so caught up in the motion that we miss any different actions. I couldn't stop laughing.
What also made this film work on every level was the cast. Director Edgar Wright has done a fantastic job of placing the right actors with the right characters. They were each believable in their own part, and I loved every scene with Bill Nighy. He was perfectly cased and you could just tell that he loved being in this film. That is another great aspect of this film. It was a fun film and you could tell that the cast was having fun with their roles and were comfortable in their environment. So many times we watch these style of films and we see miscasting and uncontrolled actors doing anything to ensure that they stay at the top of people's minds. This wasn't happening in this film. I wasn't familiar with many of the actors, so I couldn't play favorites. All I could do was sit back and enjoy everyone and everything.
I would like to end with the comment that this is still a zombie film. It is a love story surrounding a zombie film where the director has chosen to emphasize the love story instead of blowing everything up. I know that sounds strange, but you will get used to it American viewers. I mention that it is still a zombie film because I do not want people going thinking that this is a spoof. While it does pay homage to several of the classic horror films, this film stands on its own two feet. It had blood, it has violence, and it has those infamous scenes of people's heads being blown apart. That is why we see zombie films.
Overall, if you love zombie films and you are a fan of The Office or any Hugh Grant film, than Shaun of the Dead will appeal to you. I don't remember the last time I witnessed such a creative film.
Grade: ***** out of *****
Hearing that "Shaun of the Dead" is the most popular British zombie comedy of all time does give one pause, simply because you have to stop for a second and wonder as to whether you have simply missed other British zombie comedies or if you maybe took "28 Day Later" way too seriously. The thing is that when you hear "British zombie comedy" you are thinking "Monty Python's Flying Circus" or "Benny Hill" or "Black Adder" or "Asbolutely Fabulous" or "Coupling." You are not thinking something that is as restrained as what Simon Pegg and Edgar Wright have put together (the pair co-wrote the film, Pegg stars as Shaun and Wright directs), which is probably the biggest surprise of all.
"Shaun of the Dead" is only four star funny, so we are not even close to "Airplane!" territory, which is still the funniest film of all time (measured in number of laughs generated) but there is another dimension to the film beyond the humor. The tagline tries to tells us that this movie is: "A romantic comedy. With zombies." The really funny thing is that, underneath it all, it really is a romantic comedy. You know: boy meets girl, girl dumps boy, zombies try to kill boy and girl and mom and flat mates, boy tries to rescue girl and mom and flat mates, so on and so forth.
Actually the movie that that came to mind the most, despite the references to the great zombie movies of the past ("We're coming to get you, Barbara!"), was "Young Frankenstein," specifically in terms of the scenes that are played totally straight. There are scenes when Shaun deals with his girl, Liz (Kate Ashfield), his mom, Barbara (Penelope Wilton), and his best bud, Ed (Nick Frost) that are done like they were in a romantic comedy, and not an Adam Sandler "Water Boy" type romantic comedy, but an Adam Sandler "50 First Dates" type romantic comedy. Stripped of the zombies this is a rather pedestrian romantic comedy, but what makes it inspired lunacy is that it IS being done in the middle of a zombie movie.
There are two prime moments that reflect this rather amazing tightrope walking act. One is when Shaun almost breaks and notes that there may be a limit as to how many people he loves that he can shoot in one day. The other is when we have one of those "goodbye" scenes usually found in war movies; it is not just the silliness of the particular bit of business returning from the start of the movie, but that it is brought back at that particular moment, and that both actors honestly treat it as the most serious thing in the world. Tragedy is hard, but comedy is harder, and then there is treating tragedy as comedy in the middle of a zombie movie. Watching this movie is like watching somebody take a stupid shot in a basketball game and you start saying, "No, no, no, no, no..." until the ball rips through the nets and then you smile and say "Great shot!"
The other great bit of fun is how "Shaun of the Dead" plays with the genre movies. The opening of the film throws every cliché moment of being suddenly surprised by zombies in the history of the cinema at Shaun, only to have everything be normal. So you know they will take a totally different tack when it comes to Shaun realizing he has missed the dawn of the dead. The bit you have seen in the preview about arguing over which LPs to use as weapons to fight the living dead is cute, but the comic masterpiece in this film is Shaun channel surfing. Every single channel is talking about what is happening, but Shaun is clicking so rapidly that he misses getting a complete picture. Note: always listen to what is on the telly in the background: that is where the best "28 Days Later" joke in the film comes (All of the talking heads are actually British television news talking heads, so translate that into Brokaw, Jennings, and Rather doing the same thing for an American movie; see the "TV BITS" in the DVD extras).
The more you know about zombie movies the more you will enjoy "Shaun of the Dead," because you will be able to pick up on all the specific references. But then I have never seen "Spaced," so all of the homages to that British situation comedy involving Pegg, Frost and Wright are lost on me and I am doing okay at the moment. Either way, I think the humor of the film is accessible to even zombie movie neophytes, although the only way you might be able to talk them into seeing this one is to tell them their other choice is "Dawn of the Dead" (I do not have to tell anyone that is a rather obvious double bill).
Of the DVD extras the extended bits and outtakes in "MISSING BITS" are okay, but by favorite are the trio of "Plot Holes," where we get some insights into what we did not see in the movie from three of the principle characters. These are presented in comic book form as opposed to having actual footage, but that simply adds to their charm. There are better bits in "RAW MEAT," the highlight of which is the "pitch" by Pegg and Wright to sell the studio their movie idea. I already talked about the "TV BITS," and no one will be surprised that I the Zombie Trivia available via the ZOMB-O-METER. Overall, the DVD extras are well above average but not knock down dead, get up as a reanimated corpse and try to eat human flesh great.
on January 14, 2005
I've heard a lot of mixed reaction to this movie, though the buzz is primarily positive -- touting the flick's exceptional funny, its glorious messy, and its marvelous silly.
Maybe I'm just a big fat dork who spent too much time in graduate school, but I seemed to plug into this movie on a somewhat different plane of appreciation. For thing one, I didn't think it was terribly funny. It had its moments, but I wouldn't go so far as to call it a "comedy." And for a second thing, I found it genuinely suspenseful -- which is not something you often hear shouted from the applause bandwagon. More often than not I hear that it's "a laugh riot in the tradition of Scary Movie." This comparison has been waved around several times in print and online, and it seems wildly off-base to me, if not downright insulting.
The Scary Movie franchise, while being fun for what it is, is not supposed to mean anything. It's simple parody, produced for masses which are only marginally discriminatory in their entertainment requirements. SOTD has entirely too much going on inside to be relegated to mere imitation status.
George Romero and his apologists have long insisted that the original Dawn of the Dead (and its zombies-in-the-mall theme) was a satire on the mindless consumerism and the tedium of modern life. This is the critical equivalent of putting an evening gown on a pig, but whatever. The very same theme was tackled much more effectively without zombies in American Beauty, and much better with zombies in Shaun of the Dead -- a film which actually manages to make a clever statement on the subject.
Much of the perceived hilarity in this film occurs at the beginning and the end, wherein the satire is more light-hearted (if unsubtle). The great conceit of the first thirty-five minutes is that the zombies are encroaching upon Shaun's day-to-day reality bubble ... but he doesn't notice, and at first, neither does anyone else. The drooling, coughing, slowly lumbering undead gradually replace the drooling, coughing, slowly lumbering pulse-bearing characters who have periodic walk-on roles in Shaun's life. But no red flags are raised.
Shaun is neither bothered by the change nor molested by the zombies themselves, who (one is led to suspect) view him as one of their own. He wanders through his daily routine as if he's wearing blinders; he's worn a rut between his home and his place of employment, and this rut is so deep that it serves as a psychological buffer. Shaun is furthermore isolated from the impending threat by his post-getting-dumped state of sorrow, which prevents him from paying closer attention to his surroundings.
But eventually, the carnage cannot escape the notice of even the hopelessly self-involved Shaun and his filthy-yet-lovable best friend Ed. Action must be taken. His parental units must be rescued. Liz, despite her fresh status of ex-girlfriend, must be saved. Shaun and Ed have, at their collective disposal: one zombiefied roommate's vehicle, a cricket bat, and a plan to seek shelter at a pub called the Winchester.
Quoth the Blues Brothers: "Hit it."
At any rate, although the movie ends on an "up" note (more or less) and there were giggles to be had, I found the bulk of the film to be calculated and oppressive -- a deftly executed surgical extraction of a man from his suffocating safety zone, and a grim (yet oddly uplifting) morality fable about appreciating what you have without unthinking presumption. All in all, I thought this was a damn fine film and I really enjoyed it. It made me laugh, it made me think, and it made me cringe.
Or maybe that's just the meds talking.
The zombie genre has been done to (ahem) death by now. Sam Raimi proved that it could be a successful vehicle for launching more expensive films with Evil Dead. Since then, there's been an endless array of less engaging imitators, often confusing gore with content.
Zombie movies can be summed up in exactly the same way. The difference is in the inflection. Don't believe me? Let me demonstrate...
ZOMBIE TROPE #1: "Zombie movies are about SHAMBLING dead people." These zombie movies laugh at the absolute absurdity of the walking dead. I mean, they're dead and they stumble around like DRUNK people for crying out loud! How can you take anything serious that moans like an overly hormonal teenager on prom night, lolls its head to the side like a Valley girl, and can't even walk in a straight line? Zombies definitely have a lot of humor potential, as established in Evil Dead II. The shamble is one of the primary reasons that modern zombie movies have made their zombies move quickly-it's hard to take slow moving zombies seriously.
ZOMBIE TROPE #2: "Zombie movies are about shambling DEAD people." These zombie movies concentrate on the horrors of what it means to have corpses trying to eat you. It is visceral and disgusting. There is gore (dead bodies are gross) and decay. These zombies are rotting and, thanks to the magic of special effects, really do look like exhumed corpses. This is just about every zombie movie that takes itself seriously without devolving into camp.
ZOMBIE TROPE #3: "Zombie movies are about shambling dead PEOPLE." These zombie movies aren't about the zombies. They're about how people react to the fact that people they knew who were dead are walking around trying to eat other people. The presence of zombies causes people to freak out. Some folks are barely over their mourning when their spouses and children rise up to attack them. It's enough to make a person snap. It's also George Romero's specialty, a topic he has extensively covered in the Living Dead series.
Recent zombie movies have been combinations of these three attributes, but rarely in equal balance. Shaun of the Dead? It's all three.
Shaun (Simon Pegg) is the hero of the title, a fellow who has long since exited the swinging college years and entered into the stale, zombie-like grind of a working man. He is a man out of time, frozen in his own routines. He still lives with his two flatmates, Ed (Nick Frost), the fat, funny one and Pete (Peter Serafinowicz), the smart, successful one. Shaun is trapped, unable to go back to the good old days of no responsibility and unwilling to go forward with his relationship to his blonde girlfriend Liz (Kate Ashfield).
Meanwhile, ambulances start popping up in the background, carting away twitching body bags.
The outcome of their situation is an inevitability that we've all witnessed before: Liz has had enough. She doesn't want to keep going to the same old pub every night: the Winchester, named after the rifle on the wall. She hates Shaun's best friend Ed, who is an offensive boor. And Shaun hates Liz's good friends Dianne (Lucy Davis) and David (Dylan Moran). As it turns out, David used to date Liz and just tolerates Dianne so he can be near her.
Meanwhile, paramilitary vehicles drive by and newscasters report troubling news about some sort of plague.
And oh yeah, Shaun loves his mum (Nicola Cunningham) and hates his step-dad, Philip (Bill Nighy), a perpetually frowning robot of a man whose face has been untouched by any other expression.
When Liz finally gets sick of Shaun, his world falls apart. He goes on a drunken binge with Ed, blasting music, playing video games, and shutting out the world around him. In essence, Shaun's life has finally gone out of joint and he desperately regresses to deal with it. Unfortunately for Shaun (and everyone else in that part of England), the world has also literally fallen apart.
A large part of the humor is how Shaun and his compatriots deal with the undead. It takes a very long time for him to even notice; after all, who would really notice slow moving people? The director, Edgar Wright, gleefully makes this point at every turn. At first, the zombies are just the homeless, who everybody ignores and expects to act strangely. Then, it's people in menial jobs that have a glazed look as they go about their drudgery. It's not until a zombie actually shows up on their doorstep that anybody gets concerned. Even then, they figure the zombie is just really, really drunk.
Once Shaun and Ed come to grips with the situation, they devise a plan. Their plans are highly unrealistic, but mostly involve beating on zombies with clubs (remember, no guns in England), rescuing girlfriends and mums, and holing up in the Winchester, "cause it's the safest place." That's right, the one place Liz doesn't want to be with the people she really doesn't want to be with.
Shaun of the Dead embraces all the zombie tropes, and then rips their guts out. Sure, the movie seems to say, it's easy to get around slow moving zombies. But eventually they catch up with you. Sure, smashing a zombie's head in sounds easy...until it's a family member. Sure, shooting a zombie with a rifle should give you the upper hand...unless you've never actually shot a gun before.
In the mean time, Shaun deals with his issues with his step-dad, introduces his girlfriend to his mom, meets an ex-girlfriend (who seems to be far more capable than Liz), finally gets tired of drug-dealing Ed's antics, and slowly realizes just how fragile his humdrum life is. It seems to encapsulate his mom, Liz, and Ed at first, but Shaun discovers that his circle of family and friends extends to more people than he thought.
This movie is deadly earnest about everything, including its humor. It has traumatizing gore, hysterical in-jokes, and weep-worthy moments of true drama. All of it is pulled off with incredible aplomb by the cast, who have to do everything from beat on zombies to act like zombies (no, really) to finally going utterly ballistic like real human beings.
Shaun of the Dead is the culmination of dozens of zombie movies that have gone before it. It succeeds because it focuses on the people, gives shambling corpses the respect they deserve (which is to say, very little and a lot, depending on the scene), and dramatizes the horror of dead people coming back to a tortured semi-existence.
No self-respecting horror fan should miss this movie.
on January 12, 2005
This is the type of zombie film horror fans have been aching for since "Evil Dead II" and the original "Dawn of the Dead." The writing is suprisingly intelligent and altogether tongue-in-cheek. The gore is everywhere and so realistic as to invoke heartfelt cringing...often followed by a burst of laughter. I want to relate sequences that are not only funny but sociologically profound (no kidding), but to give away these scenes would spoil the effect of the film. As with George Romero's "Dawn of the Dead" there is more depth to this film than at first glance, with comparisons between zombies and mankind that are blurred to the point of being almost identical. Once again I have to inhibit myself from giving away too much. Yet another additive that sets this film apart from the rest of the genre is that all the characters are worth rooting for and caring about. There are actually some touching scenes with authentic emotions indicating that although there are many ridiculous moments loaded with humor, these are real people caught in a life or death situation. The way this film shifts from true horror and pain to slapstick (sometimes literally "slapstick") makes this a remarkable creation. There are many subtle, sometimes vague references to many films such as "Resevoir Dogs," "Snatch," "28 Days Later," the two aforementioned walking dead films, and even a mood-altering thud in the score that reminded me of John Carpenter's "The Thing." I have seen many zombie films before, but never one as thoughtfully created as this one. This is a superb addition to the genre. Highly recommended.
"Shaun of the Dead" (SotD) has been hyped by the AICN pundits for some time before its actual release. Although I don't always buy into their raves, this was an exception. I can't resist apocalyptic movies, especially when zombies are involved (and I don't care if they are Slow or Fast, if you get my drift. Each type has their respective merits). Of course, three things must occur to prevent disappointment with any zombie movie: 1) good story, 2) cool characters, and 3) mayhem - lots of mayhem. SotD has all three, and done well enough so I'd pay to see the movie again.
The plot of SotD is somewhat typical - ordinary people are caught up in extraordinary events, and they must rise to the occasion or die. Nothing original about that, but this time the execution is superb. As other critics have noted, this movie works on many levels, and all of them combine to more than satisfy my three requirements listed above. A couple things in particular stand out:
First, the humor is superlative, and I can't rave enough about it. There's plenty of in-joke references to past zombie movies, from the original Romero "Dead" trilogy to last year's "28 Days Later." In addition, the humorous aspects of horror conventions are explored without insulting them. For example, the whole "kill a zombie by killing the brain" staple is exploited for laughs in a country where personal gun ownership is almost non-existent. Thankfully, us Yanks will never have to rely on cricket bats and vinyl Sade albums to rid our backyards of zombies. The number of laugh-out-loud moments alone are enough to recommend this flick.
Second, the horror aspect is well done. As any genre fan knows, gore is a zombie-movie staple (normally gore is not my thing, but hey - you can't have a self-respecting zombie movie without it, for heaven's sake). What do you expect, with cannibalistic reanimated corpses that can only be stopped by extreme methods? SotD delivers plenty of gruesome human-zombie interactions, particularly during the climactic last stand at Shaun's beloved Winchester pub. And more importantly, Slow Zombie purists the world over will finally get their due, after being ignored by recent films that favored the quicker and more agile zombie variant.
Finally, the relationships between the characters and their personal struggles ring true, and will appeal to any self-respecting Gen-Xer. Shaun is the prototypical "male struggling against manhood" character, trying to hold off the twin devils of responsibility and purpose for as long as possible. His crisis transformation from slacker to savior is nicely done. The chemistry between the main characters is spot-on, and it didn't take long for me to identify with them and care about their fates. A good portion of the comedy results from their interactions, especially between Shaun and his slovenly roommate/best friend Ed. However, there are also moments of genuine feeling, as when Shaun and his long-despised stepfather have their final exchange. Indeed, the actors are the real reason this movie works, and without exception they do a commendable job.
The last two years have seen a welcome resurgence of the zombie genre, with "28 Days Later", the "Dawn of the Dead" remake, and now the excellent "Shaun of the Dead." Get all three for your horror library, and prepare for the day when there's no more room in hell (or pub).
on November 29, 2004
Look: stop griping. Stop worrying about your lives. Shaun, eponymous cricket-bat wielding hero and ambitionless Foree Electronics employee, has *real* problems. For instance:
1) His love life sucks.
2) His professional life sucks.
3) His best friend is a hopeless slacker who has turned his couch into a kind of fetid nest and spends his entire days wasting away playing X-Box.
4) Oh, and the Dead Walk: Zombies are walking the streets of London and tearing up flesh, and they're equal opportunity offenders with a taste for the guts of any Briton, yuppie *or* slacker.
This is one of those rare little horror gems in which you can believe the hype---and frankly, when I went to see "Shaun of the Dead", I was already set *against* the movie: I hate flicks that come to the megaplex ready to do battle after having been given a Super Hype Aerial Shock & Awe campaign by the Indie Movie Establishment.
I stand corrected: "Shaun of the Dead" is a zombie movie/horror movie/movie-of-all-time classic, and easily ranks in my top three zombie movies ever made. And mind you, I live, eat, breathe, sleep, and chainsaw these things. Yes, those who hate horror will tell you they love "Shaun" because it's all about "characters": ; Shaun (Simon Pegg, the flick's writer and note-perfect as the reluctant zombie slayer), a one-time pathetic directionless loser who gets *very* good with a cricket bat; Liz (Kate Ashfield, very plummy), Shaun's disaffected squeeze who wants to "live a little"; Mum (Penelope Wilton as "Barbara"), always looking on the Sunny Side even when she's undergoing a really major life change (as in, dietary change, as in, sudden interest in blood and guts); Philip (the amazing English actor Bill Nighy, who I didn't even recognize in this flick---he played the Uber-Vampire Viktor in "Underworld"---who knew?), who takes care of his Jaguar to the bitter end.
Yeah, it has characters.
But you know something? "Shaun of the Dead" is a full-bodied, full-blooded horror movie. It's just one of those rarest of ghoulish gemstones: a horror movie with a wickedly black sense of humor and an impeccable, deeply British, sense of timing. And the timing here is perfect. For my money, the scene in which Shaun goes for some beer in his devastated, zombie-overrun London burb---completely oblivious to the carnage---is one of the best sequences in cinematic history.
I haven't seen "Spaced", the TV series that "Shaun" director Edgar Wright helmed, but I can say that for a relative newcomer Wright can wield a mean camera. He's backed up by cinematographer David Dunlap, who serves as heavy weapons tech on on the cinematic black magic: my God, this movie looks good! And let's back up a bit---this flick was shot for 4 million bucks. For 4 million bucks, Edgar Wright has conjured up a trillion times the ungodly flesh-eating slack-jawed glassy-eyed zombie horror that "Resident Evil 2" did---and *that* movie cost 10 times that much. Question: which flick delivered the most pure, unadulterated, zombie-brain-blasting goodness?
"Shaun of the Dead" succeeds, largely, by animating more than just dead bodies. First off, don't believe the "romantic comedy" angle---yeah, Shaun has to square the circle with his lovey, but this is a brutal, no holds-barred, don't skimp on the Red Sauce and juicy intestines Captain kinda flick. It's intensely horrific, insanely gripping, and happily disgusting. I wasn't expecting that.
And best of all, this is one of the few zombie flicks that really burrow down into the guts of what it's like to have to put down someone you love: someone who's confused, who loved you, who tucked you into bed at night when you were a kid, who now exists for one thing and one thing only---to tear off the top of your scalp and sink her cancred yellow tusks into your brainpan. "Shaun of the Dead" brings it all home with a double-basrreled shotgun of dread, and for that I salute Edgar Wright.
But look: the real triumph of "Shaun of the Dead" is that it sets up a seamless, banal, everyday urban environment, and overruns it with pure horror. And you *believe* it. You are engaged: when Shaun and Ed (Nick Frost in priceless rat-faced X-Box playing slacker mode) confront a zombie in their backyard, they don't know what to do with the thing. Is she drunk? They laugh, up to the point where she bares her fangs and tries to give Shaun an impromptu tracheotomy.
Now: watch Shaun and Ed's reaction when they're putting their first zombie down. This is not irony: not humor: not comedy: it's pure, unadulterated horror and something more---and that something more is what fuels "Shaun of the Dead", and makes it the classic it is: it is a ferocious, angry sadness---indignation!---at the passing of the world they knew, the world of X-Box, Indian take-out, ruthless slacking, late-night binges, and drinking bouts at the Winchester. It's the end of the world as we know it, and we don't feel fine. To be honest, we feel murderous. Drink up, Mate, and pass the ammunition.
on October 26, 2004
A couple of weeks ago my friends and I went to the movies to see Team America. While it was funny, there was still something missing so we hopped over to the next theatre to see a film that we'd been hearing about at conventions: Shaun of the Dead. We had no expectations, only knew it was supposed to be a British comedy with zombies in it. It could have been very cheesy so we just sat there and and about half way through, we all realized this was one of the best character comedies we'd seen, one of the scariest films in a while and a truly heartfelt film about love and friendship. We were blown away and the fact that this film was dished over two hours of fun only made it that much better. This is a film that will be cherished for years. Give it a try, you might feel the same way I did.
As for the dvd, I know the region 2 dvd contains commentaries, deleted scenes and more so I am hoping all of those features will be brought overseas too.
As one might expect, SHAUN OF THE DEAD is a parodic remake of the classic George Romero film DAWN OF THE DEAD. It pays frequent homage to the latter film through a host of direct references as well as its general subject matter (for instance, much of the "news" as read by the television presenters are lifted nearly word for word from Romero's script). There differences are, however, marked. Instead of an American location, this film is set in London. And instead of holing up in a house to fight it out against the zombies, our heroes travel to a local pub.
Although I thoroughly enjoyed this film, there is no question that not everyone finds this film that funny. I'm not sure why that is, but I thought it would be fun to bat around some theories about why the reactions have been so diverse. This is an important exercise for prospective viewers. Are you more likely to side with those who find this to be a highly effective and funny farce or those who simply don't find anything funny at all? So here are my speculations:
First, I think some of those who do not like the movie failed to realize that this is an English comedy, with a very low-key, subdued approach to the story. Before going to see this, I think a prospective viewer should answer is whether or not they enjoy MONTY PYTHON, Hugh Grant, THE OFFICE, and other British comic productions. If the answer is "Yes" there is a high degree of probability that you will enjoy this one. If the answer is "Absolutely not!" then you will almost certainly dislike this one.
Second, I think some people, hearing the basic premise, imagine that this is going to be a bit like SCARY MOVIE or some other such parody of a genre. I know for a fact that the couple sitting behind me in the viewing I went to had expectations along these lines. They were expecting more out and out farce, a more frenetic pace, and far more jokes and cartoonish humor. But because SHAUN OF THE DEAD is more deliberately paced, allows the absurd tale to unfold gradually, and the jokes rationed out more gradually, they were truly upset.
I love British humor so I definitely fall more into the class of people apt to enjoy this. I loved the pacing and subdued reactions of the main characters. I loved, for instance, a pair of scenes that are allowed to unfold rather slowly. The first occurs rather early in the movie when Shaun leaves his apartment and out of sheer habit walks across the street and down the sidewalk to the local corner store where he buys a couple of items. The very same path is followed the next morning, with Shaun without thinking (almost zombie-like?) covers the same path to the store, utterly unaware of how dramatically everything has changed, of all the people he had seen the day before who had been transformed into zombies or been killed. They were superbly executed scenes, and it is hard to imagine any American studio allowing a scene in a zombie comedy film to unfold so nicely.
There are many wonderful scenes in the film, some very short and some a bit longer. I loved, for instance, the store employee who interrupted a meeting to accept a call on his cell phone. Or the extraordinary scene later in the film when, to get through a group of zombies, the group of friends mimic the behavior of zombies in order to get past them. Their rehearsing their imitations of zombies was one of the best scenes in the film. Bill Nighy, who pretty much stole the show (despite being part of an ensemble cast) in LOVE ACTUALLY as the burned out rock musician, is in a number of nice moments in a regretfully small part.
I really loved the great teamwork between stars Simon Pegg and David Frost. Both had worked together before on TV in SPACED, and Pegg co-wrote the screenplay with director Edgar Wright, also of SPACED. The cast as a whole is quite strong, though I did find the character of David to be just a tad too irritating.
All in all, I really had a great time seeing this one and I would strongly recommend it to anyone who enjoys British humor. But if overly broad, in-your-face American style farce along the lines of SCARY MOVIE is what you want, you'd better skip this one.