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The funniest zombie movie of year is 'Shaun of the Dead'

October 28, 2004
By Franklin Harris

If you see only one romantic comedy with zombies this year, see "Shaun of the Dead." Of course, offhand I cannot think of another romantic comedy with zombies. But that is beside the point. By any measure, "Shaun of the Dead" is the funniest comedy of 2004.

As the title suggests, "Shaun of the Dead" is, on one level, a parody of zombie movies like George Romero's 1978 classic, "Dawn of the Dead." And like Romero's movies, "Shaun of the Dead" has its share of blood and guts.

Ed (Nick Frost), left, and Shaun (Simon Pegg) debate the best way to kill the undead in ''Shaun of the Dead.''
Copyright © Rogue Pictures
Ed (Nick Frost), left, and Shaun (Simon Pegg) debate the best way to kill the undead in "Shaun of the Dead."
But on another level, "Shaun" is a lighthearted comedy that asks, with understated British wit, how much of a difference is there, really, between zombies and ordinary working stiffs who lead lives of quiet desperation? Not much, as it turns out, except that zombies do tend to eat people. (On the up side, they talk less, too.)

"Shaun of the Dead" is the brainchild of director/writer Edgar Wright and writer/star Simon Pegg, and it has already gathered a loyal cult following in the months since its release in Great Britain.

Pegg stars as Shaun. Shaun has a dead-end job as a clerk at an electronics store, where he is the "old man" among a staff of teenagers. His roommate and best friend, Ed, played by Nick Frost, is an even harder case. Ed is unemployed and does nothing but stay home and play video games. The only thing Ed has produced in years is gas.

Shaun's lack of direction is, needless to say, a major turn-off for his girlfriend, Liz (Kate Ashfield). He never takes her anywhere special, unless you count the neighborhood pub, which she doesn't, and he hasn't even introduced her to his mother (Penelope Wilton). It's no surprise when Liz, encouraged by her friends David and Dianne (Dylan Moran and Lucy Davis), kicks Shaun to the curb. (As it turns out, David has an ulterior motive, but enough about that.)

Then, as is its wont in the movies, fate steps in. A freak accident involving a downed satellite causes the recently deceased to return to life, afflicted with bad motor skills and a hunger for brains.

At last, Shaun sees his purpose in life. With a cricket bat in hand and Ed by his side, he sets out to rescue Liz and his mother from the zombies, kill his zombie-bitten stepfather (played by the ceaselessly entertaining Bill Nighy) and hole up in a safe place until the zombie madness passes.

Mind you, the safe place in question is the aforementioned pub, but you can't expect a man to change completely overnight, now can you?

"Shaun of the Dead" works on every level. As a zombie movie, it manages to transcend its genre, which, let's face it, hasn't given us anything new since Italian director Lucio Fuci picked its bones clean in the 1980s. There are only so many ways that a zombie can eat a person or that a person can bash a zombie's brains in. We've seen zombies as stand-ins for the "oppressed proletariat" ("Plague of the Zombies") and as a symbol of "mindless consumerism" ("Dawn of the Dead"). "Shaun of the Dead" makes them into symbols of the slacker generation and does so with panache. The prosthetic makeup effects by Stuart Conran would work just as well in any straightforward zombie movie.

For the benefit of zombie aficionados, Wright and Pegg have done their homework. "Shaun" is littered with references to its cinematic forebears, including an offhanded nod to "The Evil Dead," which I will not spoil.

But despite zombies munching on innards and the occasional bit of human drama, "Shaun of the Dead" is first and foremost a comedy, brimming with quotable lines and memorable set pieces. As always, humor is subjective, but how can anyone not love a movie in which a shop clerk and his friends bludgeon a zombie to death to the blaring refrain of a Queen tune?

How, indeed.

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