To celebrate Christmas Day and the birth of the most famous ‘zombie’ of all time, we thought it was time for another zombie film review from Neil Fulwood. This time we’re in the UK for the tenth anniversary of Shaun of the Dead, originally released in April 2004.
Welcome to the UK, home of crap weather, failed sporting endeavours, fish ‘n’ chips and an inherent national tendency to take to the piss out of everything. This latter has given rise to brilliantly acidic comedy, from The Goon Show to Monty Python’s Flying Circus, not to mention some of the best sitcoms ever to grace the small screen: Steptoe & Son, Porridge, Fawlty Towers, Black Books, Spaced. It was the latter that collected the talents of Edgar Wright, Simon Pegg and Nick Frost and put them in the creative development equivalent of a particle accelerator. The result: major big screen careers for all three. And their stepping stone to cinematic omnipresence was Shaun of the Dead.
In some respects, it was a gamble. Comedy/horror is easiest sub-genre to do badly. The twin requirements of being horrific and make an audience laugh kind of speak for themselves in terms of the irreconcilable. Slither fails because of an exposition-heavy first half hour that’s mordantly unfunny; Zombieland throws out myriad good ideas but ultimately tries too hard; Dead Snow delivers belly laughs but never gets as crazy with the material as you’d like. For a long time, it was really only the Evil Dead films that nailed the comedy/horror aesthetic. Then along came Shaun of the Dead.
Taking the standard zombie movie scenario of revivified corpses/mass panic/small group of survivors holed up against superior numbers, Shaun of the Dead plays out against a blandly realistic London suburb and demonstrates how two adult males who are still mired in adolescence deal with the crisis. Shaun (Pegg) is pushing thirty, stuck in a dead-end job and on the verge of being dumped by long-suffering girlfriend Liz (Kate Ashfield). Ed (Nick Frost) is Shaun’s unemployed and terminally irresponsible best mate who’s become part of the furniture at Shaun’s flat. The film essentially begins, not as a horror opus, but a romantic comedy in which Shaun’s attempts to win Liz back are frustrated by pressures of work, a hectoring flatmate, an even more hectoring father-in-law and, finally, a zombie apocalypse.
The kicks off with an hilarious sustained gag which suggests that since cultural zombification is pretty much a state of mind for an entire cross-section of the populace (as evidenced in the low-key but conceptually brilliant opening sequence) an actual zombie attack might not be as easy to recognize as you’d imagine. When Shaun and Ed eventually realize that something’s amiss, the fight back makes for comedy gold. Two scenes in particular stand out: an argument over which LPs can be used when Shaun’s vinyl collection is utilized to fend off the advancing undead (the Batman OST is an acceptable loss; Prince’s Sign o’ the Times isn’t); and Shaun and his mates attacking a zombified barman with pool cues, leaping around him like demented morris dancers as the jukebox blasts out Don’t Stop Me Now by Queen.
Yup: the last stand against takes place down the pub. It doesn’t get more British than that.
- A Quick Guide to Surviving the First Few Minutes of a Zombie Apocalypse (joshmosey.wordpress.com)
- Edgar Wright’s website (edgarwrighthere.com)
- Shaun of the Dead Vinyl Album (mondotees.com)
- Behind the Scenes (simonpegg.net)
- Zombie Myths (blog.wellcomecollection.org)
- Zombies Zombies Zombies! (sprucestreetcomics.wordpress.com)
- Shaun of the Dead Comic Review (shelfabuse.com)
- Neil Fulwood’s blog (misterneil.blogspot.co.uk)