Skip to main content

Empire Magazine Greatest Movies List - #231: Shaun of the Dead

If a movie is made by filmmakers who hardcore genre fans, odds are those filmmakers are going to make sure fans like them are pleased. Thus the success of Shaun of the Dead (2004) is explained. Horror comedies can be a hard sell, and a British horror comedy even more so, but since co-writers Edgar Wright and Simon Pegg are both fans of George A. Romero’s Dead trilogy, they were going to honour the genre while having loads of fun. Fortunately for the audience, the result was a new zombie classic that was so good it earned Pegg and his frequent co-star Nick Frost cameos on Romero’s Land of the Dead.

Before the movie came out Wright the director and co-stars Pegg and Frost had already made a name for themselves in the U.K with the sitcom Spaced, but it was Shaun of the Dead that put their names on the map. It was also the beginning of their Three Flavours Cornetto Trilogy, named after a running joke about the British ice cream product and its supposed effect as a hangover cure. Like many international viewers, Shaun was my introduction to the trilogy. I had a ball watching the first instalment on DVD while in Quebec City with my brother, which is appropriate since you could argue this is a guy film. I had just finished high school, so I was probably the core target audience for a movie about video-game loving dudes who must suddenly get off their butts to fight zombies.  

A key reason for the film’s success is that unlike most zombie movies the main characters are not action heroes, but ordinary Joes with ordinary problems. The titular Shaun (Pegg) is a man with an uninteresting job at an electronics store whose main interest in life is sitting on his couch to play video games with his best friend Ed (Nick Frost) who has no job at all. His girlfriend Liz (Kate Ashfield) is getting sick of Shaun’s lifestyle and of their social life, which mostly consists of hanging out with Ed at The Winchester, their favourite pub. When Liz decides to dump him, it would seem Shaun must do what slackers his age have to do and grow up a little.

Shaun’s wake up call actually comes from the last thing he would have expected: a zombie apocalypse. In one of the movie’s funniest sequences, he gets up in the morning, walks to a grocery store to buy a cornetto, and walks back home completely oblivious to the fact the dead are now walking the streets. It takes a TV news report for him and Ed to realize zombies are slowly invading their backyard and that if they want to survive the day the must do the impossible and get off the couch.

As this is a love-letter to classic zombie movies, these characters are fully aware of the rules of dealing with the undead, although are reluctant to call them “the Z word.” They try to decapitate them with old vinyl records they don’t listen to anymore, and when that fails Shaun arms himself with a cricket bat, reminding the audience this is England after all. Whereas in America they would arm themselves with automatic weapons and head to the mall, Shaun and Ed decide to go get Liz, Shaun’s mom (Penelope Winton), his stepfather (Bill Nighy), and hole up at The Winchester. Their eventual arrival at the pub leads to another reminder of the film’s British identity, as the characters fight a zombie while Queen’s Don’t Stop Me Now is playing on the jukebox.

Moments like these cover the comedy aspect of Wright’s horror-comedy, but he and Pegg make sure there is plenty for horror fans as well. Even though these characters stop and argue about their relationships amidst the carnage, they are fully aware and scared that their former neighbours might tear their limbs out.

It’s a difficult balancing act, but the entire cast and crew pulls it off. This was a brilliant opening to the Cornetto trilogy and I had just as good a time watching the conclusion, The World’s End, last year on the big screen in Edmonton. A lot has changed since 2004, with Pegg now starring in the Star Trek franchise and Frost making it out on his own, but the biggest change must be how Shaun of the Dead started out as a film influenced by zombie classics and is now influencing other filmmakers. That’s the power of genre fans for you.   



Popular posts from this blog

Empire Magazine (2008) Greatest Movies List - #109: Touch of Evil

Some movies start off with a bang but with his 1958 film noir Touch of Evil cinema legend Orson Welles decided to start with three minutes and 20 seconds leading to the bang. During a tracking shot set in a U.S – Mexico border town we follow a car right after an unseen person has installed a crude bomb in the trunk. It’s a lovely evening with people having a good time and border agents diligently doing their jobs as they let the car cross over onto the American side. Then the bomb goes off, two people die violently, and suddenly it’s not such a good evening. That’s one way to hook in your audience.
Some people resolve to eat better, quit smoking or do more exercise for the New Year. As we start off 2019 one of my resolutions is to try to watch more classics films, and even though I got a lot of great films as Christmas gifts I thought I would use my day off to check one classic film I had never seen off my list. Of course I am familiar with Orson Welles, a filmmaker so prolific that in…

Empire Magazine (2008) Greatest Movies List - #64: Oldboy

One thing I have noticed from the few Korean films I have seen so far is that Korean cinema really doesn’t hold back. One of that country’s most critically acclaimed and commercially successful movie is Oldboy (2003), which has amazing performances, beautifully choreographed fight scenes and a story filled with many twists and turns. It also has plenty of scenes that will make you squirm whether because of graphic violence, very disturbing revelation, or because you prefer your calamari fried instead of alive.
This was one of the last movies I rented from a video store in the pre-Netflix days in early 2009. By then its reputation had grown in the west especially since on top of the many awards it had won it had also earned high praise from Quentin Tarantino who knows a thing or two about violent and entertaining movies. On paper Oldboy’s plot sounds like something right up his alley: a man is seemingly wronged by an adversary and that man then seeks bloody retribution. However while T…

Empire Magazine (2008) Greatest Movies List - #30: Aliens

It doesn’t happen often, but sometimes a movie can change a person. For me that movie was James Cameron’s Aliens (1986), a movie that made an action icon out of Sigourney Weaver after pitting her against an army of nightmarish creatures and their giant queen. This movie came out the year I was born and while I was growing up it increased in popularity achieving classic stardom as a science fiction, action and horror film. Unfortunately while I was growing up I must admit I was scared of most movie monsters, to the point that just the trailer for an Alien movie would make me nervous. Then I saw Cameron’s film and went to the dark side of the moon.
Here’s the setting: it’s 2002 and my parents and I are living in Santiago, Chile. By then I haven’t seen any of the Alien films from beginning to end, but I have a general idea of what they do and how they tend to pop out of people’s chests. One evening I see that Aliens is about to start playing on a movie channel and I decide to take a chanc…