My timing has never been more perfect. I was lucky enough to see “Shaun of the Dead” when it was first released in Britain (in April ’04), but held back from reviewing it here because, well…it didn’t seem fair to tease everyone. Until recently, “Shaun…” had no American release date. Now, however, these zombies are invading our shores, and I feel confident in telling you all that, short of the original “Dawn of the Dead”, this is my favorite zombie film. Ever.
The plot is simple: Shaun is a schlub of a guy, an average Joe who goes to work at a dead-end job and drinks at the local pub each night. Liz is his girlfriend (who comes with two friends of her own – neither of whom anyone can stand), and is probably better than he deserves. He lives with two flatmates; Pete is a compulsive control freak, and Ed is a lovable (but quite crude) couch potato who only wants three things in life: a cold pint, Tekken 2, and to make people laugh.
Of course, none of the people around Shaun can stand Ed, and Liz wants Shaun to better his life – a life Shaun is already content with. Then one morning he wakes up to find the world has been infested with zombies, and he must figure out how to save all of his friends when they can’t seem to get along among themselves.
That’s it. The jokes all flow naturally from the characters, which is what makes it work so well. You believe in these people, because you already know people like them; they’re your friends. They react the same way you would.
There is a lot of love and respect for the Zombie genre in “Shaun.” These are people who know the medium and aren’t out to spoof it, but to simply make a damn funny zombie flick. It isn’t satire in the “Scary Movie” tradition but, in some cases, wonderfully subtle humor. Such a moment occurs when Shaun and Ed, leaving a pub drunk and singing “White Lines” at the top of their voices, suddenly realize that a couple is leaning up against the tavern wall making out. As they apologize for being loud and walk away toward the camera, the woman’s head falls off, and we know they didn’t really see what they thought they saw. This isn’t an isolated moment either; there are dozens of great little touches like this sprinkled throughout the film.
“Shaun…” also contains the finest closing scene I have ever seen in a horror film. As soon as it finished, I knew I would be watching it again the next night with my wife. Now, she can’t wait to bring people to see it here. That’s right: “Shaun of the Dead” is a chick-friendly flick that happens to have the Walking Dead in it. Something for everyone.
Is it scary? Not really. There is some decent gore (including a tribute splatter shot dedicated to “Day of the Dead”) and some creepiness in spots but, unless you’re a recent horror convert, there isn’t anything too intense here. That doesn’t stop it from being an instant classic however.
If you are a Horrorphile you’ll get even more out of this: There are so many references to other horror films, both overt and subtle, it’s mind-boggling. See if you can catch the nod to “28 Days Later.”
I hope I’m not over-hyping the film; a glance at IMDb’s voter breakdown suggests I’m not, but I just want to get your ass into that seat. I’m worried that America in general will shy away from “Shaun…” because of the thick British accents and John Q. Public’s fear of taking chances. That would be a shame, for this is truly a refreshing film, and one that deserves to be seen.
Now if they would just hurry up with “Shaun of the Dead 2: From Dusk Till Shaun” I’d be one Happy Taco.
Pros: Very funny. Good Zombie makeup and decent splatter effects. Feel the Love, Baby.
Cons: As far as I’m concerned? Nothing.
Review Rating: 5 out of 5 stars. Yep. My first perfect rating ever.
“Shaun of the Dead” (2004)
99 Minutes; UK
Rated R for zombie violence/gore and language.
Simon Pegg (Shaun)
Kate Ashfield (Liz)
Nick Frost (Ed)
Lucy Davis (Dianne)
Dylan Moran (David)
Nicola Cunningham (Mary)
Directed by: Edgar Wright
Viewing Format: Theatrical release
(Originally published on HorrorWatch)