(2004)  

Alan:+

Ebert: Rolling Stone: TV Guide:1/2


Warning, minor plot points revealed!

Wow! It's been a great year for Zombie movies. And it seems that the British are becoming the new masters of the genre (28 Days Later). I only heard about Shaun of the Dead a couple months ago and I'm so glad I did. I know I tend to disagree with the "other" reviewers from time to time, but this time we are all in agreement. Shaun of the Dead is a comic/horror masterpiece. It is one of my favorite films of the year so far and will definitely be in my Top 10 of 2004.

I don't even know where to begin when explaining how great this movie is. First of all it's hilarious. And by that I mean it is absolutely one of the funniest films I've seen all year. Here's an illustration to prove my point: In one scene, Shaun and his roommate Ed defend themselves against zombies in their backyard by throwing record albums from Shaun's collection at the zombie's heads. But they actually take the time to flip through the records and discuss whether the album can be sacrificed. Some, like Dire Straits or the Batman soundtrack can be used in the name of survival, but an original pressing of New Order's "Blue Monday" just can't be parted with.  George Romero (Night of the Living Dead) would be proud.

The film is also scary/gory. There are some genuine scares and lots of guts and gore. Unlike many zombie films, this movie has a heart and actually makes you feel attached to the characters. Therefore it's all the more shocking and difficult as they are lost to the zombie hordes during the course of the film. You can't really be scared unless you have some investment in the characters and pretty much everyone in Shaun of the Dead is well fleshed-out. heh heh.

The story is basically the Dawn of the Dead zombie tale we are all familiar with but it has been spun this time from the perspective of a couple of London slackers. Shaun, a clerk at an electronics store, and his stoner loser friend Ed spend most of their days and nights drunk, high and playing video games. Shaun's relationships with his girlfriend, parents and other roommate are crumbling. At the same time, unbeknownst to these drunken goofballs, society is collapsing and everyone around them is turning into flesh munching zombies. By the time they realize what is going on, most everybody has been "turned" and it's up to Shaun to finally demonstrate his leadership abilities as he collects his parents and girlfriend in a rescue mission that will ultimately lead to the pub where Shaun and Ed spend most of their time and where they feel they will be safe from the undead onslaught.

OK. Now I want to be serious for a moment. I honestly think that this is a truly great film. I know I tend to think everything is a truly great film but this time I need you to believe me. You may have noticed that I recently gave the critically panned Resident Evil: Apocalypse a 5 star score. That was because I loved it for the rip roaring non-stop action frenzy that is was. Now according to my sub-genre specific grading scale that is a great score for what I consider to be a great film of the zombie genre. Shaun of the Dead got my "perfect" + star movie rating because it's not just a perfect zombie movie, it's actually a super terrific comedy and drama as well.

Another great comedy scene involved Shaun and his friends "acting like zombies" to get through a zombie crowd that has gathered outside the pub where they plan to hide. This is just another of the many, many hilarious scenes in the movie.

The special effects are very good for a zombie movie. Very gory, ala Peter Jackson's Dead Alive but also cartoonish enough to be reminiscent of Sam Raimi's Evil Dead II: Dead by Dawn. The zombies are not the shrieking and sprinting variety that made 28 Days Later and the remake of Dawn of the Dead so exciting. These are the familiar lumbering type that you can actually outrun but who tend to assimilate their victims by outnumbering them and
relentlessly pursuing regardless of their retarded gait. And as per zombie mythology, the only real way to stop them is decapitation or destruction of the brain.

The music for the film is notable as well. As Shaun flips through the channels on the TV and skips past the news casts warning of the zombie infestation, he stops for a moment on The Smiths video for 'Panic' [on the Streets of London.] Then during one of the scenes at the bar they fend off a full scale zombie attack to the sound of a somewhat obscure, but favorite Queen song of mine, 'Don't Stop Me Now.' The end credits also use Queen's 'You're My Best Friend' (which was the first dance for my wife and I at our wedding) and the goofy muzak from the mall in the original Dawn of the Dead.

The actors in this film are all brilliant. Simon Pegg plays Shaun and also co-wrote the film. He makes Shaun a character that you really want to see succeed. He can be both funny and serious when need be. There are a few moments of genuine drama in the film. These moments, usually featuring Shaun, are the reason that the film does not dissolve into parody. Nick Frost, the actor who plays Ed is one of the funniest characters I've ever scene. One of the best Ed moments is when he intentionally crashes their escape vehicle in order to commandeer a cool Jaguar that he would rather drive instead. The rest of the cast is equally great. Kate Ashfield is splendid as Shaun's long suffering girlfriend Liz. Lucy Davis and Dylan Moran (who looks like John Cusack during his Better Off Dead days) are fun as Liz's flatmates. And finally Shaun's mom and step-dad are wonderfully played by Penelope Wilton and Bill Nighy.

At the end of the film we find out that not all the zombies have been destroyed and we see some of the ways they have been incorporated into society such as contestants on reality shows and doing simple low wage tasks like collecting shopping carts from the parking lot at the grocery store.

Even though missing Shaun of the Dead at the theatre would be a crime, it will probably play just as well when it comes out on DVD. As said, it is a British film so those of you who can't understand English with a British accent may want to wait for the subtitled DVD. The accents are not that think though and nobody in the theatre with me seemed to miss any of the jokes.

Will there be a sequel? I heard there are a few clues on the already released British Shaun of the Dead DVD which hint toward a sequel. Simon Pegg mentions during a commentary track that the sequel will be called "From Dusk 'Till Shaun". Shaun versus vampires eh? Brilliant!