2004’s Shaun of the Dead is the first of Simon Pegg, Nick Frost and Edgar Wright’s ‘Cornetto Trilogy’, a series of largely unrelated films all of which feature a cornetto ice cream.
It is also generally considered the gold standard of comedy zombie films.
For the nine of you who haven’t already seen it, Shaun is a directionless shlub living with his even more directionless best friend Ed and losing his girlfriend, Liz due to his general indolence. But when an unexpected zombie apocalypse strikes, Shaun finds a sense of purpose (even if that purpose is just to get to the pub) and takes charge.
There’s a whole lot of things that make Shaun of the Dead stand out from other attempts at spoofing a genre which ought to be ripe for the spoofing, but the most important is simple; it’s done with love. Almost invariably the best spoofs (Austin Powers (1997), Young Frankenstein (1974) etc) are made by people who love the films they’re spoofing. Pegg, Frost and Wright bring that love and genre savvy to this film, they’re able to spoof zombie movies accurately because they really know what they’re talking about.
Secondly, although this is a spoof and a very funny one, the events are pretty much identical to those that occur in a normal zombie horror, they’re just portrayed from a different perspective and are happening to different types of character. The zombie invasion is genuinely dangerous to the characters and there’s as much blood and death in this as any other horror film. The characters take their situation seriously and so we do too. But those characters are not the type you usually see in this sort of film; there’s no handsome hero here (no offence meant to Mr Pegg), no heroine in distress, no bad guy, no ‘smart one’ who knows what’s going on but will get eaten before the credits roll. What there are instead are a bunch of normal underachievers who don’t want to save the world, they just want their normal lives back. What’s funniest about this film is seeing regular people in an extraordinary situation, and what makes audiences connect with it is being able to sit back and think, ‘yeah, that’s probably what I would do’. This is a zombie apocalypse taking place in the real world and threatening real people, the ones who are usually in the background of these films.
You also can’t underestimate the importance of Edgar Wright’s efficient but stylish direction, editing sharply to put together sequences with a pacey staccato feel. He also knows when to let his actors cut loose and enjoy themselves in the movie’s set-pieces, the most famous of which is now so well known that it could probably be spoofed in its own right. On paper there is really very little funny about beating a zombie with pool cues while Queen’s Don’t Stop Me Now plays on a jukebox, but onscreen it’s brilliantly funny and seems wholly in character.
More than anything the characters are the key to the film’s success, even when doing something ludicrous they still feel believable. Part of the reason for that is probably that Pegg and Frost are playing exaggerated versions of their younger selves and have populated their movie with other people whom they actually know or knew. These characters aren’t archetypes of stereotypes, they are ‘types’; instantly recognisable but also completely believable.
Undoubtedly you’ll enjoy Shaun of the Dead more if you are a horror fan (witness such celebrity fans as Quentin Tarantino and George A. Romero himself!), but that’s another great plus in the trio’s work; they don’t try to guess public opinion or write for a specific audience, they write for themselves and if you are of a similar mind-set then you enjoy. Having said that, this is a funny film whether you’re a horror fan or not, you might not get all the references but you’ll still get most of the jokes!
Watch the trailer for ‘Shaun of the Dead‘:
|Get the film at Amazon.com|
|Get the film at Amazon.co.uk|
Written by: Robin Bailes