SHAUN OF THE DEAD
**** (out of 5)
September 24, 2004
Simon Pegg as SHAUN
Kate Ashfield as LIZ
Nick Frost as ED
Lucy Davis as DIANNE
Dylan Moran as DAVID
Directed by: Edgar Wright
BY KEVIN CARR
Listen to Kevin’s radio review…
I love horror movies. I’ve seen most of the classics, and I always perk up around Halloween because that’s when they release my kind of film. However, I have gotten really tired of zombie movies. Pardon the pun, but they have been done to death.
At least that was what I thought until last year’s “28 Days Later” broke new ground in the zombie trade. While “28 Days Later” director Danny Boyle insists it’s not a zombie movie, it is. They were just really limber, that’s all.
Then there was the “Dawn of the Dead” remake that came out earlier this year. I liked that one too. It was refreshing to see some different action in an otherwise dead genre (again, pardon the pun).
Every autumn, a local theater in my home town of Columbus, Ohio presents an all-night horror movie marathon. Over the years at these marathons, I have seen more than my fair share of zombie movies. In the low-budget horror genre, these are quite typical. Just a couple barrels of fake blood and some movie extras, and you’ve got instant zombies. I’ve seen everything from the classics (“Night of the Living Dead”) to the contemporary action flicks (“Resident Evil”) and from the unintentionally funny (“Dawn of the Dead”) to the slapstick comedy (“Dead Alive”).
I’ve seen plenty of zombie comedies, and here’s the problem with most of them. They just don’t take themselves seriously. This is a mistake that “Shaun of the Dead” cleverly avoids. The other key element to “Shaun of the Dead” is that it is actually a pretty effective zombie flick without the comedy. It was the same formula that made “Beverly Hills Cop” (which told an effective cop movie as a hilarious comedy) a hit.
“Shaun of the Dead” presents your run-of-the-mill zombie set-up: one day the dead start to reanimate to feast on the flesh of the living. Only in this story, we’re following a band of inept slackers trying to avoid the zombie threat. Shaun (Simon Pegg) was just dumped by his girlfriend Liz (Kate Ashfield) because he is more loyal to his stinky flatmate Ed (Nick Frost) than her. Once the zombies wake up and start to wreak havoc across London, Shaun and Ed start to battle the walking dead while they try to reach Liz and Shaun’s mother.
The charm of “Shaun of the Dead” is that it makes fun of the zombie genre without being too cheeky. There is hilarious footage of real British newscasters reporting on the incident, which is equivalent of us hearing Bernie Shaw on CNN announce, “The best way to deal with these walking dead is to sever the head or destroy the brain.”
Although the characters are a pack of neurotics that make Woody Allen look balanced, I found myself completely identifying with them. In many ways, they react to the zombie occupation as a normal person would – some with incredulity, some with terror and others with humorous denial.
The other thing I found more realistic than any other zombie movie out there is it actually acknowledges zombie movies. The characters understand that these things are zombies instead of just constantly looking at each other and saying, “What are these things???”
It’s interesting that the last two revolutionary zombie movies came from Britain. “Shaun of the Dead” works because it is steeped with British humor. It couldn’t have been done in America – not that it hasn’t been tried. There’s just something in the British delivery. The reason this zombie comedy works is the same reason why virtually identical scripts of the show “Coupling” was a hilarious hit in the U.K. but flopped bigger than ever when it was remade in the U.S. Hollywood just doesn’t get the subtleties that make “Shaun of the Dead” come alive. (I know. I couldn’t resist a final pun.)
“Shaun of the Dead” stands up as a horror movie as well as a comedy. There are points that will make you jump out of your seat, and there others that will make you laugh out loud.