IMDB #248: Shaun Of The Dead

The third entry in my countdown of the best 250 films as voted on by the internet- Shaun Of The Dead, a tribute/spoof of zombie movies, and a modern classic.

The Key Players:

Director Edgar Wright, co-screenwriter and star Simon Pegg, and co-star Nick Frost go hand in hand. After 14 episodes of a well received British sit-com called Spaced, they took aim on the zombie movie as a cultural touchstone that was just dying to be mocked, but also loved like the little tree in A Charlie Brown Christmas.

They’ve since teamed up again for Hot Fuzz, an action/buddy cop parody that is just out of top 250 territory as it now stands. Pegg has branched out to star in crappier movies directed by people like David Schwimmer, while Wright has four upcoming non-spoof projects on the pipeline, including Ant Man. I’m excited.

The Story:

Basically, Pegg is Shaun, a loser whose girlfriend dumps him for having no ambition, lacks the respect of his mother and his step-dad, and is hamstrung by his fat slob of a best friend (Frost).

He mucks up his last chance to save his relationship, gets embarrassed at his crummy job, and takes forever to notice the undead rising from the grave and feasting on the living. From there, it’s a simple matter of saving the girl, becoming a hero, and going round the pub for a pint.

I guess the specifics of the plot aren’t terribly important, much like nobody particularly cares about who’s who in any zombie movie.

The Artisticness:

Shaun of the Dead makes me want to be a screenwriter, because not a single line of the film is wasted. Nearly every pre-zombie apocalypse line is repeated later on with a new significance, from a throwaway lines to fart jokes.

It’s like a corpse-filled echo chamber of awesomeness. It helps that the characters are drawn more narrowly and believably than in any zombie movie I’ve seen- although Shaun Of The Dead is essentially a smart romantic comedy and zombie movie spoof- people that like assonance call it a “zom rom com.” Adorable.

Anyway, the script and the attention to detail make this film instantly re-watchable. I suppose there are subtle thematic touches about taking responsibility, the current state of media saturated obliviousness that we all live in (the news reports about the crisis, and in particular the reel at the end are awesome).

It helps immensely that the special effects are as good as any straight horror movie, and the pedigree of the comedians involved are up to the writing. The supporting roles are stacked with ringers like Bill Nighy and Lucy Davis (from the British The Office).

But mostly this movie is just awesome, I’m sorry. You just have to see it to know why. It’s both one of my favorite genre send-ups, in a way, but it’s also my favorite zombie movie, regardless of intention. The beauty of the best sorts of parodies, and what we’ve forgotten here in America with your Friedberg and Seltzers, is that there’s a difference between derision and parody- Parody is loving, there’s a degree of respect to it.

Yes, the target of your satire can be ridiculous, but you have to show you can at least match it pound for pound, and put your money where your mouth is- not just lamely poke fun at something without even really being clever about it. That’s what Shaun Of The Dead does so well, is dive headlong into the world it’s created, so much so that by the end it’s still funny but you’re actually swept up in it.

The same is true of Hot Fuzz, though the gang’s second go around succeeds a bit less as a film, perhaps because the target is a little more broad.

Also, and maybe it’s because I’m just a hopeless escapist that’s easily caught up in things, this film makes me really want to be British- I want to say “right, right” “pub” and “wanker,” speak with a cool accent and end sentences with the preposition “in” (like they would say “It was that movie that had Hugh Grant in.” instead of “in it.”) It’s kind of like how whenever I see the first Pirates of the Carribbean (coming up this month, I think) I want to walk with a swagger and carry a sword.


As I said, the beauty of the film is that I’ve heard people audibly yell “No!” when Nick Frost’s character gets bitten near the end- we care about the crassest character in a film that ostensibly a farce to begin with.

My other favorite part of the end is the brief clip on the news: “Reports that the plague was caused by RAGE-infected monkeys turned out to be bullsh-” Which is a none-too-sly reference to Danny Boyle’s 28 Days Later- who needs faster, scarier zombies when the original thing is so much fun?


Overall- Should It Be Higher, Lower?

I don’t know- I would have expected this to be higher, but that’s me- I like comedy and I like slow moving zombies for their inherent goofiness, so I get what this film is all about. I suppose, if you forced me to admit it, that I also inherently identify with slackers that need monumental forces to spur them into action, but hey- zombies!

I definitely liked it more that the previous two entries so far, and probably a heck of a lot more than some of the films to come. For me, in determining something like the value of a film in relation to others, the factor most overlooked is how often you would re-watch something.

Some films you can only watch once a year- it can be because it’s a great film with difficult or depressing subject matter (like The Pianist), or maybe it’s just not that great to you, whether you think so or not. Do you really like A Clockwork Orange that much, even if you never watch it?

Shaun Of The Dead I could watch once, immediately watch again with commentary, and then watch again before the week is out. That definitely puts it up in the pantheon, even if it’s not Casablanca.

The Legacy:

This field might be difficult to fill out for a movie that came out in 2004. I would love to say that it's upped the bar for American and British comedy alike, and put a whole new spin on the idea of parody in general- but mostly it's still a bunch of shite out there, as the straight-up Anglos across the pond would say.

It's still led to a generally positive impact on the general pop culture landscape, however- without this we wouldn't have Hot Fuzz, and Spaced probably would have taken even longer than it did to come out on DVD in region one (as it is, it comes out July 22nd).

Plus a minor character is played by Dylan Moran, who I had no idea was sort of an awesome Irish Eddie Izzard type comedian. So there you go.

The Best Video Of It On YouTube:

This is actually an extra on the DVD (and I guess it sort of spoils the end), but come on! Coldplay has a sense of humor? What?

Leftover thoughts:

  • Edgar Wright, even in Spaced and especially in Hot Fuzz, is a huge fan of rapid edit transitions- it's like he's the happy version of Darren Arnofsky circa Requiem For A Dream (currently number 61 on the list (really, people?)).
  • Worst official tag-line for this film: It's just one of those days when you're feeling a little...dead.
  • I'm a Jonathan Coulton fan, so I'd be remiss not to link to this fanvid of SotD set to "Re: Your Brains." Zombies- are they ever not funny?
  • I have not actually seen Dawn Of The Dead, althought I am up on Night Of The Living Dead. Does this make me less of an American? Discuss.

2 Response to "IMDB #248: Shaun Of The Dead"

  1. Anonymous says:

    "28 Days Later" Zombies can beat up "Shaun of the Dead" Zombies.

    Yeah, but then the "I Am Legend" zombie/vampires can show up and make them feel bad about it.

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