OK, before I crack on with this I’d like to say that I’m English so any references I make throughout this review to stuff that my stateside cousins don’t understand then I apologies. Also there may be a couple of spoilers but I’ve warned you in advance. OK then here we go …
It has long been an observation of movie critics that most horror movies are far from scary and in fact end up being sadly hilarious. Despite this however the crossover of horror and comedy is not done very often and when it is there are very few breakout successes, indeed the only one that springs to mind is Ghostbusters (as a box office success). In 2004 this is set to change with Shaun of the Dead, easily the funniest film I’ve seen all year.
The film focuses on the titular Shaun (Simon Pegg), a loser who is wasting his life away down the pub. Along for the ride is his old time ‘friend’ (or should that be sponger) Ed (Nick Frost), an even bigger loser than Shaun who lives with him in total squalor. Shaun is going out with long-suffering girlfriend Liz who lives with her two flat mates Dave (a total prat who does little but complain), and Di (a slightly daft actress). The only things that make Shaun’s life worth living are Liz and his Mum who has committed the cardinal sin of re-marrying a complete arsehole (Bill Nighy, who you may recognize from dreadful Brit rom-com Love Actually). This bunch of misfits is then thrown together in a bid for survival against the same basic scenario in every other zombie film. Where SOTD differs is its inherently British humor in its characters dealing with the problem. Shaun’s plan is to go and grab his mum, his girlfriend, then run off down the pub and have a pint of beer whilst waiting for the whole thing to blow over. Inspired, now why don’t you Americans ever do that?
The true beauty of this film and what makes it so brilliant is that it just turns the zombie film on its head by taking all the trademark ways of dealing with the walking dead and turning them into ludicrous set-pieces. For example when Shaun and Ed are first forced to face a couple of zombies, their solution is to take a myriad collection of household items such as mugs and a toaster and try and throw them at their heads. When this fails Shaun is forced to start throwing his precious vinyl records, but is more concerned with not throwing away any of value or that he still likes than stopping the zombies about to eat him. Prior to actually seeing the holocaust however, Shaun lets it pass him by. On the morning when the zombies begin to take over (what could be referred to as the ‘Dawn of the Dead’) Shaun wanders down the corner shop, opens a refrigerator stained with blood and sees at least 5 zombies walk past him, not to mention screaming and running survivors but pays absolutely no attention and doesn’t notice that anything is wrong for a good long while. Then there’s the fact that because this is British comedy, everyone is very dry and humorless in every event and carries everything out with such seriousness. Classic examples include when Shaun looks over a fence by climbing up a children’s climbing frame. The fact that he does it with a straight face despite it looking so ridiculous all adds to the charm. Similar to this is when the gang is facing a large hoard of zombies. Do they fight through? Drive through? Nope, they get wacky actress Di to give them all acting lessons so that they can pretend to be zombies. Brilliant.
The zombies themselves of course deserve a mention purely on the basis that this is a zombie film. Rather than following the path of recent zombie films which have running and screaming super beasts, SOTD favors what I like to refer to as the ‘classic’ zombie look, namely, blank stare, random moaning, and very very slow shuffling. These zombies just aren’t scary because you can’t take them seriously. I mean come on, could you really be scared of them when you’re watching Shaun and Ed trying to take them down by hitting them with plastic chairs and tennis balls? Even when they should be scary, like when they’re ripping one of the gang open and dragging yards of offal from his corpse, the whole thing degenerates into a joke when the other guys trying to pull him back end up pulling his legs off and then using said limbs to beat back zombies. The zombies do look good though with creepy slow juddering movements and those great plain white zombie eyes. Lots of gore too which is always a good thing. Actually having said that, the gore is not always visible, tending to be much more implied by the use of blood splattered over clothing etc.
The movie does have some horror moments of course, which mainly take place in the pub where the gang decides to hole up. This is where things take a night of the living dead turn as they try and fend off a horde of zombies with nothing but a single antique rifle and a few pool cues. These moments towards the end get quite emotional, particularly as Shaun tries to protect his mother from becoming a zombie and when it begins to look like no one is going to make it out alive. These dramatic and serious segments are generally the weaker parts of the film as is usually the case with any comedy but are fairly essential for advancing the plot so i put up with them. Oh, and for all its bleak points the movie has a very positive ending unlike many other zombie films, particularly Romero’s ‘dead’ series.
Overall I can safely say that this is the funniest film I have seen so far this year and is probably amongst my top 10 of all time comedy films. I can whole-heartedly recommend this film to anyone who fancies a slightly twisted and light-hearted take on the done-to-death zombie film. It won’t scare you, but it will make you laugh. Or is that what you’re really scared of?
“Its not the end of world” – Words of comfort from Ed