Movies: Shaun Of The Dead

The typical American zombie would find slim-pickings, brains-wise, behind the scenes of the typical American zombie movie. With the possible exception of the “underdog practices and practices and practices and eventually goes on to win the big championship” sports movie, no other category of film seems to have to have so little variation between individual entries. The undead are always slow, the heroines are always buxom, the protagonists always get picked off one by one. Not that I’m complaining — I like buxom heroines — but after seeing 28 days Later, the British “reinvention of the genre,” my interest in the typical American zombie movie pretty much evaporated. I mean, how sad is it when you can reinvent a whole genre just by realizing that zombies that run are scarier than zombies that mosey?

I therefore passed on the Dawn Of The Dead remake, and didn’t even consider going to see Resident Evil: Apocalypse. But when I heard that another Brit had “reinvented the genre” yet again, my interest was piqued. So I once again headed to the theater to see what new bottle they could pour this old wine into, and once again I loved the results.

Director and screenwriter Edgar Wright describes Shaun of The Dead as a “Zom Rom Com” — that’s “zombie romantic comedy” to the uninitiated. The premise is so commonplace that it hardly bears repeating: a virus is sweeping through the country, killing citizens and animating their mindless corpses. The undead stagger about the city in search of victims to eat or infect, and, within days, the bulk of the population has been converted, with small bands of survivors desperately trying to fend off the zombie hordes.

How can you cram a “romantic comedy” into such a bleak storyline, you might ask. As it turns out, it’s not as difficult as you might imagine — Wright certainly makes it look easy, at any rate. In essence, he just took the standard “guy strives to get his girl back” romance, plunked it into the middle of the standard “living dead are taking over the world” universe, and let the comedy take care of itself.

In fact, what’s impressive about Shaun is how little it deviates from the conventional romantic comedy or conventional zombie movie — if you were to divorce the plotlines you’d be left with two very mediocre films. What makes the movie shine is the skill with which Wright blends the disparate elements. He also has a knack for taking very routine “horror movie” scenes and changing their focus just enough to point out their absurdities, eliciting belly-laughs from moments that otherwise have otherwise produced winces (or yawns). And it doesn’t hurt that his sense of comedic timing is grand.

Which isn’t to say that Shaun isn’t scary — there are actually quite a few startling moments in there. In fact, there’s a enough of each of the components — zombies, romance, comedy — to satiate the viewer’s desire for each without letting any single motif overwhelm the rest. Shaun Of The Dead ain’t the best film I’ve seen all year, but it’s cquite possibly the most enjoyable.

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25 comments.

  1. The words … they have been stolen from my mouth.
    It’s everything you love about the Romero zombie flicks without the Radiohead-esque urge for suicide after watching them.

  2. I have to point out that you are selling yourself short if you fail to see the ‘Dawn of the Dead’ remake. Honestly.

    (And do be sure to watch it all the way through the credits.)

  3. I can understand why you passed on the Dawn of the Dead remake, but I just thought I would let you know that the middle half of this movie was hysterical…and meant to be. So I don’t think you should write it off yet. Granted, I have not seen zombie movie after zombie movie, DotD was my first, like others of you may have, so it could be just like every other one created because by what I’ve seen, every zombie movie is a comedy in the middle. Is this true, are they all funny?

  4. I couldn’t agree more with you about Shaun of the Dead. I haven’t laughed that hard at a movie in a while and I even jumped a couple of times during the scary parts which I usually don’t do. Can I nominate it for the “Best Use of a Queen Song in a Movie” award please?

  5. Certainly quote-worthy. “Wassap niggaz?”
    (And thank God for bittorrent.)

  6. And also, if you haven’t seen Peter Jackson’s Braindead yet this is a public service announcement to do so… I’m not saying it’s an oscar-winner movie, mind, but it’s unmissable!

  7. I second the “Best Use of a Queen Song in a Movie” award nomination. While I would agree that DotD is worth seeing, staying through to the credits does induce that “Radiohead-esque urge for suicide after” and I would therefore recommend Shaun of the Dead before DotD. I only wish I had bothered to see it on the big screen.

  8. I’ll go on record as seconding the recommendation for Braindead. A.K.A. Dead Alive. But make sure to see the uncut version. The version that was first released in the states cut out ALOT of the gore, and, consequently, alot of the humor (as some of the humor comes directly from the over-the-top quality of the gore).

    And really, you can’t go wrong with a kickboxing priest.

  9. “Shaun of the Dead” was everything I’d hoped it would be, and more. I came for the Coldplay cameo, but I stayed for the movie.

    It helped that the Coldplay cameo didn’t happen until the end of the movie, but even if it hadn’t, I would have stayed for the movie.

  10. “I kick arse for the lord.” And people wonder why I love PJ.

  11. The DVD is out in the uk already. It includes among the special features, commentry by…………..

    The zombies. Quality

  12. There were so many moments of “I could see it coming but I’m still laughing out loud” combined with a wonderful sensation of “ewwwwww gross” like slipping on the blood in the grocery store without blinking an eye, or the first time the record album really sinks into the skull…

    Great movie

  13. Hey, give Simon Pegg some love here, he co-wrote and starred in it!

  14. Not sure if is around your part of the woods, but I really liked
    Delamorte, Delmore
    , aka Cemetary Man. Something along the lines of a Rom Com Zom :)

  15. As a brit fan of defective yeti and simon pegg my smile was miles wide to see the review of Shaun of the Dead. Pegg’s best and quite similar work is in the sitcom spaced. Much in there for film fans. How about the question of worst undead movie? My vote is for Living Dead at the Manchester Morgue

  16. Dawn of the dead kicks ass over 28 days later. 28 days had the lamest end to a zombie movie i have ever seen – where all the zombies just die off themselves. In case you haven’t read it Maddox’s review pretty much sums up the awesomness of the movie – http://maddox.xmission.com/c.cgi?u=dawn_rules

  17. If you liked Shaun Of The Dead, you should definitely also check out Spaced. My reaction when I saw Shaun Of The Dead was “Fantastic – a feature length episode of Spaced… with zombies!”. Spaced was co-written by Simon Pegg and Jessica Stevenson (who also appears in Shaun…), and was also directed by Edgar Wright. It _does_ have a lot of references to British culture which might get lost on an American (certainly I have to explain them to my South African wife), but there’s a very good website which explains the in-gags (and much else besides – http://www.spaced-out.org.uk/), and the second series DVD even has this explanation as an extra feature.

    Seriously, it’s great…

  18. Hey, give some lovin’ to the American zom com – Return of the Living Dead! I still like it just a bit more than Shaun, but not MUCH more. The scene with the records just slays me.

  19. Fans of zombie humour may get a chuckle out of this RED MEAT strip.

  20. I have to say, you’re dead wrong about the “reinventing the genre” with 28 Days Later. There were several zombie flicks in the mid 80s that had fast moving zombies. Some of you may have heard of a little movie called Evil Dead. Yes?

    I think you’re right about everything else.

  21. I have to agree with the “dawn of the dead” comments. Personally it’s my favourite zombie film ever, it does manage to blend that helpless we’re all screwed sensation with the comedy of it all. All good zombie films make you laugh at some point. Plus it used ‘when the man comes around’ by Johnny Cash for a key part, which is always a good thing.

    Also 28 days later is hardly original, as the plot is directly taken from ‘day of the triffids’ but with Zombies instead of Killer Plants. I’m not sure movie paraphrasing can count as re-inventing.

    That all said, us brits do rock!

  22. Here in the UK we recognise Shaun and his mate (you’d say buddy I guess) as the guys we all recognise from down the Pub. Even though Pubs outside London are a bit different these days. We know these people/zombies! ;o)

  23. I just came along to look at the comments to make sure someone had told everyone who’d enjoyed SOTD to do whatever it takes to make sure they see Spaced, which for my money is the best British sitcom of the 90s…But someone had so that’s ok…

    (make sure you do whatever you can to see spaced.)
    (just wanted to make sure)

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