12 February 2005 | BrandtSponseller
May be the best comedy-horror mix of recent years
Shaun (Simon Pegg) is in the midst of a lousy patch--he hates and is embarrassed about his job, he gets no respect from other employees, one of his roommates is on his case about the other roommate--a slacker friend of Shaun's, his girlfriend is on his case about the fact that all the ever do is hang out at a pub, and he hates his stepfather, who is also on his case about doing something nice for his mum. As if that's not bad enough, suddenly, everyone is turning into a zombie. Shaun must both straighten out his life and fight for it at the same time.
Shaun of the Dead is a superb blending of horror and comedy ala An American Werewolf in London (1981), Idle Hands (1999), Frankenhooker (1990), or the Evil Dead films (beginning with the 1981 original, although there is progressively less to more comedy in that series). It manages to successfully both pay homage to and spoof a number of classic zombie films and horror film zombie mythology in general.
The film begins firmly in very British comedy/drama territory, with a number of stylistic directorial flourishes that seem like a cross between Darren Aronofsky's Requiem for a Dream (2000) and Danny Boyle's Trainspotting (1996). The horror material enters gradually, beginning with a couple background gags, then entering Desolation Boulevard territory via another Boyle reference, this time to 28 Days Later (2002) (although that itself was basically a version of The Last Man on Earth (aka L'Ultimo uomo della Terra)(1964), based on Richard Matheson's novel I Am Legend). This arrives in the guise of Shaun crossing over to the corner store to buy his morning soda. He doesn't notice the deserted streets or store because he's so hung over from the night before.
Before long, our ragtag bunch of heroes is in the midst of a full-fledged zombie apocalypse--of the traditional, slow-moving zombie type. Acknowledging the cultural differences that strict gun laws bring about, they have to use their wits to commit the requisite head busting, enlisting unwanted LPs (after some debate over the merits of each), cricket bats, shovels and other items for the job. Of course it would be easier if any of our heroes were the slightest bit athletic and had any aim, but they get the job done. More or less.
Furthering genre-fan fun, director/writer Edgar Wright and co-writer Pegg insert a lot of references to other zombie films--especially when it comes to explaining the source of the "epidemic". The "scientific" explanations given in Resident Evil (2002), 28 Days Later, all of Romero's Dead films--beginning with Night of the Living Dead (1968)--and possibly even Romero's The Crazies (1973) and then some are all mentioned in the background, but resolutely cut off before they're finished. Part of the reason might be that usually, the explanations were pretty ridiculous, and we didn't really care--we just wanted to get to the cool zombie stuff, such as limbs being torn off, guts being eaten, and brains being blown or smashed out of skulls.
Wright and Pegg also insert clever nods to the subtexts of zombie films. Shaun looks and walks like a zombie when he's waking up. We see zombie like office workers, retail workers, and so on. There's also an amusing nod to filmic attempts to study and tame zombies, as well as organized militaristic defenses (both very prominent in 28 Days Later, but present in other films as well). There are interesting, more subtle and original zombie subtexts in Shaun of the Dead, also, such as the "mirrored" scene where Shaun and his crew meet up with Yvonne and her crew.
As long as you like outrageous comedy, somewhat gory horror, and you don't mind mixing the two, Shaun of the Dead should provide an enjoyable ride. Although it is the most fun when you're very familiar with the source material it is spoofing and referencing, it is still a great comedy-horror film if viewed with fresher eyes, and not so much as a spoof.