Crimson Quill’s Appraisal #19
Number of View: Multiple
Release Date: April 9, 2004
Sub-Genre: Zombie/Black Comedy
Country of Origin: United Kingdom
Box Office: $30,039,392
Running Time: 99 minutes
Director: Edgar Wright
Screenplay: Edgar Wright, Simon Pegg
Special Effects: Waldo Mason, Simon Webber, Paul Dunn
Visual Effects: Jeremy Hattingh
Cinematography: David M. Dunlap
Score: Pete Woodhead, Daniel Mudford
Soundtrack available on: Universal International
Editing: Chris Dickens
Studio: Universal Pictures, StudioCanal, Working Title Films
Distributor: Focus Features (US), United International Pictures (UK)
Stars: Simon Pegg, Nick Frost, Kate Ashfield, Lucy Davis, Dylan Moran, Nicola Cunningham, Penelope Wilton, Bill Nighy, Peter Serafinowicz, Julia Deakin, Jessica Stevenson, Rafe Spall
Suggested Audio Candy:
Grandmaster Flash & The Furious Five The Message
I shall start this appraisal with a poser. Has anybody present ever had the exclusive pleasure of watching Spaced? One of the very finest sitcoms to emerge from the United Kingdom in many a year, it introduced us to the working partnership of Simon Pegg, Nick Frost and Edgar Wright. These three kings have become bone-fide national treasures over the past decade or so and are three of the UK’s most valuable exports. And the trio have never been a more potent working partnership than with their lovingly crafted horror comedy classic Shaun of The Dead.
I’m actually reluctant to use the term zom-com as this glorious film effortlessly transcends such genre trappings and is a more fascinating piece of fiction when viewed as a piece of zombie horror and love letter to undead puppet master George A. Romero. It also represents the first bite of their Three Flavors Cornetto Trilogy, a lucrative trinity comprising Hot Fuzz and The World’s End. Both are decent movies in their own right but Shaun of The Dead is a real one-off as proved by its Stateside success and the fine name it garnered upon its release.
It is when you look beyond the obvious humor that Wright’s film uses as a bargaining tool that it reveals itself fully to the audience. While Pegg and, to a fractionally lesser extent, Frost have endeared themselves to the nation and become darlings of the British media, when you choose to view them as children of Romero’s zombie revolution it becomes more than transparent that they have done their homework.
Indeed, Zombie 101 has given the duo exclusive insight into the mind of the Godfather of all Zombies. Pegg, Frost and Wright are self-confessed fan boys and it is totally apparent that they have put in the necessary legwork and paid every last due in affording Shaun of The Dead the chance of clambering from the topsoil. Through the majesty of Spaced they proved themselves not just as comedy masterminds but also as dutiful horror buffs so the transition is surprisingly smooth.
Wright pays tribute to Romero’s sacred zombie heritage and follows his tried and tested template to the very letter. After Steve Miner spectacularly misfired with his catastrophic 2008 Day of The Dead desecration, the only way possible was up. So it is with great relief that I report that there are no fast moving growlers here and these are just your regular shuffling dead heads. Consequently, the news was greeted with warmth as their efforts endeared them to their master immediately. To three lifelong students of the macabre, there could be no finer outcome than pleasing their personal Jesus and he rewarded Pegg and Wright with cameos in the next phase of his bid for global supremacy, Land of The Dead.
Synopsis seems superfluous to requirements where Shaun of The Dead is concerned as its reputation precedes it and anyone who hasn’t taken a bite of its rotten flesh is likely either vegetarian or a trappist monk. However, in the interest of feeding any fledglings, here is a nutshell low down. Shaun (Pegg) is an affable chap and, on the surface, things appear to be going to plan. He has an attractive girlfriend named Liz (Kate Ashfield) and, in Ed (Frost), the most loyal wingman a man could ever wish for.
The Specials Ghost Town
However, dig beneath the topsoil and things aren’t quite as rosy as they appear. Stuck in a dead-end job, Liz is becoming increasingly exasperated with his refusal to grow a pair, while Ed is clearly holding him back from getting his business in order. When the pair aren’t playing Timesplitters on Shaun’s PlayStation 2 in their underwear, they’re down the local boozer The Winchester sinking pints and acting like fully fledged manchildren.
Shaun has other ongoing tribulations to deal with also. His beloved mother Barbara (Penelope Wilton) is shacked up with the humorless Philip (Bill Nighy) and Liz’s old flame David (Dylan Moran) still harbors a soft sot for the one that got away, much to the frustration of his current girlfriend Dianne (Lucy Davis). Then there’s the more pressing concern of an unforeseen zombie apocalypse, which has thrown a scabby cat amongst the pigeons and forced this unlikely bunch to join forces in order to not become hors d’oeuvre. Bottom line is that Shaun is the unwitting recipient of one helluva shit sandwich and losing valuable drinking time to boot.
Pegg and Frost’s credentials have never been in question and, in Wright, they have found the perfect ringmaster for their on-screen shenanigans. Moreover, the pair are assisted by an able broth of home-bred talent, from Peter Serafinowicz as their brain-dead flatmate Pete to Nighy, whose turn as Shaun’s alienated and rapidly decomposing stepfather is priceless. In addition, there are a whole host of cameos that reads like a who’s who of British comedy.
However, Shaun of The Dead really does belong to likely lads Pegg and Frost (the latter excelling as Shaun’s heterosexual life mate and cross to bear) as well as those flesh-eating shufflers of course. The two actors thrive during any screen-time shared with the rotting cadavers of the title and the fact that such a formidable pairing have to share their accolades with their shuffling adversaries is testament to the skill and commitment of Wright and his entire crew.
Returning to Pegg for a moment, I feel it necessary to point out his performance in the titular role of Shaun in particular. Comedy is second nature to him but what is far more fascinating is his ability to play it dead straight and emote with the best of them. When certain unsatisfactory events play out, he is left soundly devastated, and the laughs dry up in an instant. This is never more evident than during the closing act where he is finally required to man up and face up to both his responsibilities and the loss of those he holds dearest. He does melancholy decidedly well and is a far more versatile actor than given credit for. Shaun of The Dead affords Pegg a showcase for his emotional range and he proves himself more than up to the challenge.
Once Wright’s film hits its stride and starts building to its inevitable crescendo, there is actually some delightful splatter on the platter. The practical FX make-up bleeds authenticity and is implemented beautifully which, I’m sure must’ve pleased Romero no end. Pegg is a self-confessed eighties nut and never happier than when stating his preferences, and the wonderful death by vinyl scene is a perfect example of this in action. However trying to choose a favorite moment is like attempting to decide which one of the original Charlie’s Angels to use for the purposes of self-defilation as Shaun of The Dead is stuffed to the gills with standout scenes.
What is especially commendable given the sheer wealth of different genres it nods towards is how cohesive and complete a package Wright’s film actually is. I’m unsure whether the amalgamation of Wright, Pegg and Frost will ever again yield the results on offer here and I’m emphaticcally not one of the brigade who believe Hot Fuzz to be the better overall film but, one thing is evident, and that is that Shaun of the Dead represents and celebrates all that was grand about the era it depicts and they go about their work with such wide-eyed enthusiasm and appreciation of their idols that it ends up almost autobiographical. In the history of love letters, there is none quite so poignant than that.
Crimson Quill’s Judgement 9/10
Grue Factor 4/5
For the Grue-Guzzlers: Make no mistake, this is bloodthirsty fare. There is a plethora of gore on exhibit, especially when the film begins to steer towards darker territory towards its tail end. Wright takes a magnanimous approach to the all-important gore and throws in enough deep red to fill an estuary. Naturally, with its comedy leanings, the impact of certain scenes is neutered ever so slightly but one particularly generous moment of decisive evisceration would have had Romero clapping those giant hands of his and probably Lucio Fulci too (from beyond the gates of hell of course). Humongous kudos to the entire team responsible for the practical effects, which are way beyond adequate.
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Copyright: Crimson Quill: Savage Vault Enterprises 2014 (Revised Edition 2016)