(released September 2004)
MPAA Rating: R
Reviewed by H. W. Moss
Romance and horror are rarely blended so cleverly as in "Shaun of the Dead," a romantic zombie comedy
The film's irreverent humor is reminiscent of director Roman Polanski's "Fearless Vampire Killers" (1967) and George Hamilton's Dracula in "Love at First Bite" (1979). What we have here is a humorous take on an otherwise purely American invention that is usually played straight, very straight, as "Shaun" is too, but about five degrees off kilter.
The writing team responsible for this frightfully funny tale is also the director, Edgar Wright, 30, and Simon Pegg, 34, who plays Shaun. Wright and Pegg worked together on a number of BBC television comedies, "Asylum" and "Spaced" to name two, along with Jessica Stevenson who appears as Yvonne in "Shaun." Wright and Pegg attended a screening in San Francisco fresh from Southern California where they had their heads modeled in plastic so they can be in "Land of the Dead," George Romero's fourth film which was green lighted in July, according to a web site dedicated to spreading the news.
Wright and Pegg claim Romero really liked their movie and, Wright explained, "We just really wanted to make a zombie move. It's a tribute to George Romero and it's not a spoof."
Truthfully, the film is bloody and lots of people die. But there are gags which parallel this story of escape to safety that seems to drive all zombie movies. A generally light hearted undertone keeps the film from becoming too weighty and caving in on itself. In the initial scenes Shaun's girlfriend, Liz (Kate Ashford), breaks off with him after he defends his friendship with jobless, ambitionless Ed (Nick Frost) whom he has known since grade school saying he likes having him around.
"What, because he can do an impersonation of an orangutan?"
That's as good a reason as any and you can be sure we will be treated to such a performance before the film is over.
Director Wright, who in college made a no-budget Western called "A Fistful of Fingers," knows what's in a filmmaker's bag of tricks and he pulls these devices out one at a time to demonstrate his ability with them. Using music to increase tension is a good example. With absolutely nothing to hint that strange events are taking place outside their flat or that the characters are in any danger, Shaun nonchalantly walks out the front door as the sound track heightens and builds to crescendo which increases our apprehension and then ... Shaun places a hand on the fence post.
It is fun to realize you have just been manipulated.
Meanwhile, most of London's inhabitants have been turned into the walking dead. Our heroes are unaffected because they got very very drunk the night before and slept through the meteor shower. The next morning Shaun is completely oblivious to the shambling, tilt headed non-humans walking the streets as he goes on an errand to the neighborhood market. He is unfazed by smashed windshields, bloody palm prints on grocery doors, people eating dead bodies right outside his front door. The audience, of course, knows exactly what is going on and laughter at his obliviousness fills the theater.
The plot in all zombie films devolves upon a group of people banding together to survive a common brain eating enemy and this film is no exception. Shaun and Ed gather up Liz, her roommates and his mother then make for safety inside their favorite pub. Along the way they encounter another group who has remained human, this one captained by Yvonne (Stevenson) who has an exact replica of Shaun's crew in tow right down to her mother and a dim-witted doppelganger of Ed. As sight gags go it is subtle and hilarious.
One problem with the film is accepting Pegg's slacker Shaun turning into a determined leader. But Frost as Ed is a cross between a young Robbie Coltrane and the unforgettable Bluto created by John Belushi in "Animal House" (1978).
Wright and Pegg may well be the direct heirs of "Monty Python's Flying Circus" which is as old as they are, but their allegiance lies in the zombie oeuvre. During a question and answer period after the film, they admitted they were somewhat disappointed with Romero's remake of the 1979 "Dawn of the Dead" because the zombies could move quickly. They said they did not like seeing athletic zombies but, Wright added, it was "a crime that George Romero had to wait 20 years to make his next film."
Let us hope these guys do not have to wait as long to make their next one.
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