Shaun of the Dead (2004)

The original Rom-Zom-Com

Shaun of the Dead is not entirely unlike Spaced.

Mild spoilers follow.

Shaun (Simon Pegg)'s life is going badly downhill. He's 29, a Londoner, and trapped in a dead-end job selling televisions in a high street electrical store; he hates his stepfather (Bill Nighy); his girlfriend Liz (Kate Ashfield) has just left him because his idea of a romantic restaurant is the local pub, the Winchester; and everyone he knows is repulsed by his slobbish best mate, Ed (Nick Frost).

Videogame voice: Player Two has joined the game.
Ed: Don't you have work?
Videogame voice: Player Two has left the game.

Meanwhile, it's fairly clear something else is happening in north London. TV news reports are chattering about something important which can't quite be picked out because people keep changing the channel. Pedestrians are coughing and behaving strangely. Men in white masks are rushing backwards and forwards. Large trucks are rumbling by in the background. The car alarms never seem to stop...

Pete: [talking about Ed] He's not my friend, he's a f***ing idiot!
Ed: What's that supposed to mean?!

Shaun is apparently oblivious to all of this. In one of the film's most hilarious scenes, he walks past at least eight zombies and two dead bodies without noticing that anything is out of the ordinary. He and Ed finally figure out that something strange is going on when they find a random girl in their back garden. They take her unhealthy complexion and dire inability to stand up straight to indicate that she's drunk... until she falls backwards and impales herself on a lead pipe - then gets up again and starts trying to attack them through their window.

Ed: Any zombies out there?
Shaun: Don't say that!
Ed: What?
Shaun: That!
Ed: What?
Shaun: The "zed" word. Don't say it!
Ed: Why not?
Shaun: Because it's ridiculous!
Ed: Well... are there any?
Shaun: [camera shows his point of view through the letterbox] I don't see any. Maybe it's not as bad as all that. [camera pans right a bit] Oh, no, wait, there they are.

Discovering the unkillable, hell-spawned truth - that the recently deceased are coming back and attacking the living, and that both Shaun's stepfather AND their other roommate, Pete (Peter Serafinowicz) have been bitten by them - Shaun formulates a plan. Disregarding TV orders to stay inside and wait for help, he decides to round up all his loved ones so they can barricade themselves in the Winchester.

Shaun: Take car, go to mum's, kill Phil, grab Liz, go to the Winchester, have a nice cold pint, and wait for all of this to blow over, how's that for a slice of fried gold?

Can Shaun save his mum? Can he get his girlfriend back? Does the Winchester rifle kept over the bar at the Winchester pub actually work? Can dogs look up?

Find out...

Shaun of the Dead was released in UK cinemas on April 9, 2004. It's rated 15 for swearing and a not-inconsiderable amount of disembowelling. It is due to be released in America on September 24, 2004.

Thoughts

If you appreciate Spaced-style "impossible to describe to people who weren't watching it with you" humour then you will get a kick out of the first half of this movie. Towards the latter half, the situation becomes really desperate and things suddenly become very serious, which was kind of jarring, and made it difficult to take the major plot twists (and the fact that there's a romantic comedy going on behind all this) seriously. But even that wasn't as jarring as the rather too rapid and slightly unsatisfactory (although funny) epilogue.

[zombies are attacking through the front door of the Winchester]
Shaun: We're closed! [opens fire but his gun clicks uselessly] Aaah!

Giving a no-nonsense British spin to the whole living dead scenario really worked - especially having recognisable British newsreaders such as Krishnan Guru-Murthy reporting the nightmare on the television. I liked that Shaun goes from a loser salesman to a natural born zombie-killer - it's a When the aliens attack my workplace, I'm going to be so damn READY-type transition which appealed to me as a videogamer. It makes a change from the traditional American gung-ho action hero. Another nice touch was that Shaun and Ed are playing (the PS2 version of) Timesplitters 2 and - although you're not told, you can tell by the sound effects coming from the game - they pause it to talk to each other. (This is not to mention that they are playing on the Siberia level, which features zombies.)

Shaun vs. Spaced

Lots of familiar ground here. Both are directed by Edgar Wright, and feature Simon Pegg, Nick Frost, Jessica Stevenson, Peter Serafinowicz (better known as the voice of Darth Maul in The Phantom Menace), and in a brief cameo which I missed, Michael Smiley as one of the zombies. (He was Tyres in Spaced). The film isn't the medley of overt pop culture references that Spaced was, but it does have a few subtler ones. The whole movie is also clearly extrapolated from (Dawn of the Dead, many other zombie films, and) the episode of Spaced in which Tim (Simon Pegg), having played far too much Resident Evil, becomes convinced that zombies have taken over and starts re-enacting cutscenes from the game.

Overall I give the movie 7/10 - most folks I've spoken to would award it 8. While it's not perfect, and while it doesn't completely fill the gap Spaced left in our hearts, it's funny and certainly worth seeing.


Sources:
the IMDb: http://imdb.com/title/tt0365748/
the TV series Spaced (note: if you liked Shaun of the Dead, you WILL like Spaced)
the official Shaun of the Dead website: http://uip.co.uk/romzom/

Interesting trivia: Although the source of the zombie infection is never explicitly stated, listen very carefully to the news fragments in the opening ten minutes and you might just be able to pick out what actually happened - a re-entry vehicle exploded over southeast England. malcster says this is a reference to George Romero's original zombie flick, Night of the Living Dead, in which the same thing happens. ConfusionTheWaitress adds that another reporter later debunks the theory that the infection was spread by monkeys - which is what happens in 28 Days Later, another zombie movie.

An Interview With Simon Pegg and Edgar Wright (and Nick Frost)
Conducted September 3rd, 2004

This is an interview I conducted during the press tours for Shaun of the Dead. Enjoy!

droidguy1119: Hello! Having a good time in America?
Edgar Wright: Uh-huh!
Simon Pegg: Yeah.
Edgar: Our last day today. We've been here for a month, and we're going back tonight.
Simon: Going back to the UK in four hours.
dg1119: Alright, I'll just get started then. What's the scariest thing about relationships?
Edgar: *laughs* Sometimes they end.
Simon: I guess it's just the notion of longevity and commitment, and all that kind of stuff, but that doesn't neccesarily have to be a scary thing, you know? Also weird sex.
dg1119: It seems nowadays that everything's a horror comedy, you know, with all horror movies having jokes, or sort of needing to poke fun at themselves, I think. Do you think that it's because it's harder to be scary, or because the horror movies don't have any ideas left, they  need another form of entertainment to give the audience what they want?
Edgar: We hope for too much.
Simon: I don't know if that's true. I mean, look at, for whatever it's worth, Cabin Fever, or Gothika, I mean, there's lots of films that try to be scary, The Gift, what was that one...
Edgar: Oh, the Japanese horror films as well.
Simon: Yeah, like, The Ring...
Edgar: The Ring, Audition.
Simon: Audition, yeah. I don't really think that that's true, I mean in our film we don't really try and make fun of the horror either, we try and sort of to keep it as real as possible, and try to maintain a serious dimension to the zombies. I just think it's that there was a kind of spoof culture that kicked in, by the first Scream, in a way, which is a very good film, but it spawned some sort of lesser sequels, and then the Scary Movie series, which is a weird kind of spoof of a spoof.
dg1119: Yeah. What are your guys' favorite and least favorite horror movies. Or, horror-comedies.
Edgar: Um...Favorite horror movies...I mean, obviously, Dawn of the Dead is a favorite. American Werewolf in London. Evil Dead II.
Simon: The Omen.
Edgar: The Omen's good.
Simon: The Shining.
Edgar: Suspiria.
Simon: The Exorcist.
Edgar: The Exorcist, yeah.
dg1119: Was Shaun of the Dead always planned as a romantic comedy, or was it ever straight comedy, or something else?
Edgar: Yeah, it was one of the initial sort of ideas, partly because we wanted to write something about our own sort of life, and not London, but also we thought it would be quite funny, that, you know, because most British exports are romantic comedies.
dg1119: Mm-hmm.
Edgar: So, we thought it would be quite funny to do a sort of subversive version of that.
dg1119: Now, since I'm in the US, I haven't been able to see Spaced*, and of course, Shaun isn't based on it, but was there any of that fear of jumping from TV to the cinema, like that the humor wouldn't translate?
Edgar: Well, the show that we did, Spaced, was sort of a satire sitcom about two roommates, and it had a lot of dream sequences. But one of the things we wanted to do with Shaun of the Dead was to make a film where people didn't have to wake up at the end of a dream, where something fantastical could have happened, but it could be happening for real, and even have fate, or real consequences. Kind of born out of having that kind of TV show and wanting to tell a story that had a beginning, middle and an end.
dg1119: One thing that I noticed that I really liked was the way the jokes sort of come full cycle, each scene during the relationship is sort of referenced during the zombie attack. Was that something you planned, or did it come naturally?
Edgar: Some of that stuff was in the first draft, and I think on subsequent drafts we did more and more of it. We're big fans of kind of films like Raising Arizona that are sort of dense in detail, and have a lot of setup stuff. It's not something we originally set out to do, but it definitely expanded as we went along.
dg1119: Simon, in an interview for CHUD, you mentioned a bunch of my favorite films and directors, such as Garden State, Eternal Sunshine, you know, Spike Jonze, Wes Anderson. Would you and Edgar have an interest in doing something more serious like that?
Simon: Um, yeah, I think so. I mean, the thing is our background is from comedy, and that's something we really enjoy doing. I think if there was something that moved us enough to want to, you know, if we had an idea and we were really serious about it we'd probably follow it through. I mean, the directors I mentioned, there's a great bit of sweet comedy running through, you know, a lot of those films, Garden State, Eternal Sunshine, you know, Wes Anderson has a wonderful kind of wit to him, and I wouldn't call them comedies as such, but they certainly are...they have a great sense of humor, I think. I don't know we'd actually make something like Requiem For A Dream, as such, it depends what kind of budget there would be. At the moment we're enjoying doing comedy, and it's not just comedy either.
dg1119: Yeah.
Simon: We're not just going for gags, kind of thing, we're trying to create something a little more rounded. There are moments in Shaun of the Dead that are quite serious, in a way. So I never say never.
dg1119: How do you think the use of the blog on the Shaun Squad** website spreads the buzz, because I mean I know Zach Braff did that for Garden State, and it seems to have had an impact with the fans.
Edgar: I think it helps us remember where we were and what we were doing! *laughs* It's been a good thing writing it up, it's just such a whirlwind trip that I think that if we hadn't written some of it down we would have forgotten, it would have all bled into one. It's just such a nice thing to do because I know some of these fans on the stops that we've stopped and took pictures with and we've put them up on the site, and it's just a nice way of doing it. I think that maybe, the fans feel that --
Nick Frost: People would appreciate the effort you put into it as well.
Edgar: Yeah. Update most of the days.
Simon: Yeah, and there's so little time as well, between cities, so as you're leaving a city, and I think it's nice to be able to sort of record everything, and it's a good idea, and, well, I don't know who's reading it, but there does seem to be people who are responding.
dg1119: I read on the website, of course, and on other sites actually, that you guys went to see Alien vs. Predator, and you weren't very impressed.
Edgar: Well, I fell asleep.
Simon: The trouble is, I think that, with those words is that, maybe in our tiredness we've been a little bit too outspoken on this. The truth is we went to see Alien vs. Predator directly after Garden State, we only went in really because we heard the Shaun trailer would be playing with it, and we thought we'd just nip in and watch that. And then we stayed, but it was so late at night, that we couldn't really get into it. It...it...it wasn't my favorite film I'd ever seen, but I think we were just a bit tired, you know?
dg1119: Yeah, well, what do you think of these crossovers, the matchups, like Freddy vs. Jason, or they're talking about doing Freddy vs. Jason vs. Ash now.
Nick: They're going to make Herbie vs. Christine next. That's another one they're working on.
dg1119: *laughs*
Edgar: *laughs* I'd like to see Herbie vs. Christine. Maybe you can start the rumor, and then someone will offer it to us.
dg1119: I have a copy of the soundtrack, and I enjoyed the choices you made, nice and varied. Are these just musical influences, or what you thought was right for the movie, your favorite songs?
Edgar: Well, a bit of everything. Some of them are favorite tracks, like the Queen track, the whole Electro vibe, it's Simon and I's sort of bag, and yeah, it's a nice mix. I mean, you want to do stuff that's relevant to the film, like the Specials track, and the Smiths, but it's really nice to create something, I really enjoyed that aspect of the process, and mixing the soundtrack was great fun.
dg1119: Actually just another question I thought of, I know that you guys, or at least I know Simon is a huge Star Wars fan. What do you guys think of the changes Lucas is making on the DVDs?
Simon: Oh, don't remind me.
Edgar: *laughs* We saw some of that.
Simon: Yeah, we did. We did get a sneak preview of some of the DVDs at an undisclosed location in the universe, and uh, I won't lie to you. Some of them are good, some of them aren't. I think -- I don't like this kind of revisionist stuff. It underestimates the audience, and it assumes that, I don't know, that it's not ours. When you give something away, it becomes the world's, and and George Lucas forever taking his ball in and pumping it up again, it's like, well, for God's sake.
Nick: I say...well, why not do something else?
Edgar: *laughs*
Nick: Eat at a different restaurant for a change.
Simon: There's an interesting thing that they've done...I mean, I just think the Special Editions, you know, you kind of start to think, hang on, something's wrong here, some of the kind of changes he made there, and of course that was a foreshadow for the debacle that was The Phantom Menace and the subsequent Attack of the Clones...
dg1119: *laughs*
Simon: Yeah, I just think he should have left it alone. I never thought when I was seven that it needed more comedy Jawas in the background. It was perfect.
Edgar: It wouldn't be so bad if he was releasing the originals as well, you know, so you could choose between the two.
dg1119: Exactly.
Simon: I don't like the revisioning, no.
Edgar: It seems it's also like a crime against film history, because then, in twenty years time, if that's the only left, is the DVDs, it's like, well, this was done in 1977, and this crappy Jabba the Hutt bit was done in 1997.
Simon: Oh, yeah, he's redone Jabba again for these DVDs.
dg1119: Yeah, I mean, and I've heard, it's not just the fans, you know, film professors, for instance, they want to have the original versions available --
Edgar: Yes!
Simon: Right, definitely.
Edgar: It's genuinely like a crime against the archives, it's really, really sad. At least Spielberg with E.T., when he, you know, made all the changes, at least they had the original version on the DVD as well.
dg1119: Yeah. For your next project, you've mentioned that it's going to be a cop action movie, kind of like a sequel to Shaun in spirit. What was the sort of jumpstart for you guys to get going on that, because, like, it seems like 28 Days Later might have been a jumpstart to do Shaun.
Edgar: No, really, cause I mean, we'd started writing Shaun before we heard about 28 Days Later, if anything, the film was sort of more inspired out of having played too many Resident Evil games, really. It's not that there's a push, really, to do any project, it's just like playing with genres, and we want to do a cop film, on the UK's not-so-exciting streets, we thought it'd be pretty funny. It was inspired by these cop films of the 70's, but it's just another way of doing a different, a sort of British take on it, this American genre.
dg1119: If you do end up doing Shaun 2, sometime in the future, I have my idea for it, just a shot you should do...
Edgar: Yeah?
dg1119: It's like the new version of Shaun waking up as a zombie. Just gotta have the white pane, you know, and the hand comes up and hits it like Dawn of the Dead, and then it's just Shaun, wiping off his mirror after a shower.
Edgar: *laughs*
dg1119: Well, thank you for doing this interview --
Edgar: Oh, well, thank you!
Simon: Thank you!
dg1119: There's a ton of fans I know who I wanted to say hello for, my friends.
Edgar: Well, did were you there*** last night, Tyler?
dg1119: Oh, no, I'm in Washington State.
Edgar: Oh, okay. Well, cool, thank you very much, and we appreciate it. Glad you enjoyed the soundtrack too.
Simon: And if you see the mirror gag in our next film you can't have any money.
dg1119: *laughs*
Edgar: *cackles*
Simon: You've given it away.
dg1119: Bye!
Edgar: Thanks, Tyler!
Simon: Bye!

*Since rectified. Great show.
**Sadly, the site has vanished and I don't know if anyone bothered to save the blogs. It's a shame. They were great.
***They were in Atlanta.

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