Review: Shaun of the Dead

Zombies have taken over London in Edgar Wright and Simon Pegg’s brilliant horror-comedy Shaun of the Dead. Who will survive…let us all head to the pub to find out…

Directed by: Edgar Wright
Written by: Edgar Wright, Simon Pegg
Starring: Simon Pegg, Kate Ashfield, Lucy Davis, Nick Frost, Dylan Moran, Bill Nighy, Penelope Wilton
Released: 2004 / Genre: Horror/Comedy / Country: UK / IMDB
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One thing is obvious when you watch Shaun of the Dead – you are seeing the work of people who genuinely love movies. Not in the way Francois Truffaut, for instance, had an appreciation of cinema, but in the way a ten-year-old kid loves his video games and his Haribo sweets. Director Edgar Wright and co-writer and star Simon Pegg might deconstruct a genre with Truffaut-like masterful precision, but they put the pieces back together like giddy school children feeding on an adolescent heat.

George A. Romero’s Dead trilogy was a particular inspiration behind what Pegg calls a romantic zombie comedy. There are also a number of other references to films, television shows and video games peppered throughout the film. Indeed, the self-reflexive nature of Pegg and Wright’s horror-comedy Spaced is evident in their debut feature film together. Shaun of the Dead is based on an episode of Spaced when Pegg’s character Tim, having overdosed on Resident Evil 2 on the Playstation, begins hallucinating under the influence of amphetamine that he is being attacked by an invasion of zombies. The film takes the concept and runs with it. A script littered with a wonderful sense of self-defeating humour, Wright’s kinetic directing style and the sprightly performances of Simon Pegg and co-conspirator Nick Frost make for one of the best British films of the last twenty years.

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In Shaun of the Dead, Pegg plays the titular title character. He is a twenty-nine year old salesman whose life is stuck in the nine-to-five routine, regularly book-ended by trips to local pub the Winchester. His slobbish best friend and temporary roommate Ed (Nick Frost) is an out-of-work small-time Marijuana dealer who spends his life playing video games in Shaun’s living room. Shaun’s indecisive outlook on life is causing a rift in his relationship with girlfriend Liz (Kate Ashfield), who is sick of their romance consisting of every date occurring at the Winchester.

After finally biting the bullet, Liz breaks up with Shaun. The broken-hearted Londoner wanders home to find Ed curiously looking out the window. There’s a woman in the back garden and she appears oblivious to them. They believe she’s been on a drinking binge but when she tries to bite Shaun and he pushes her away she gets impaled on a metal rod dug into the ground. Shaun and Ed’s initial concern turns to horror when the woman stands up and proceeds to attack them. They escape inside to hear on the television that other people are acting in the same way. The newsreader tells everyone to stay indoors. If the worst comes, he advises removing the head or destroying the brain. Shaun hatches a plan to rescue his mum and Liz. He decides the best thing for them all to do is head over to the Winchester and batten down the hatches.

The first thing that strikes you in Shaun of the Dead is Wright’s kinetic direction and fast-paced editing style. It works terrifically well, not least because it is a striking visual treat but it allows him to move the story forward at breakneck speed. I was particularly impressed by the flash-forward sequence when Shaun is deciding what his course of action is after discovering there is a zombie invasion. There’s a wonderfully inventive sense of style to it – a director having a little fun with the medium without being pretentious – that progresses the story in a way that is also exceptionally funny. The witty reference to enjoying a cup of tea concludes with, ultimately, a preference for a pint of lager.

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It probably helps that the star and director have been working together for years but Simon Pegg makes it all work so handsomely with his geeky styling and self-defeatism. Pegg is a very talented writer and actor, and thanks to him having a hands-on approach to the creation of the film he knows his audience and he knows how to deliver the character to them. He’s a great everyman who perfectly embodies the loser-with-a-heart-of-gold persona. Shaun’s a fragile soul but Pegg knows how to make his rise to hero believable – namely, the promise of a pint and the chance to play cricket with a bunch of zombie heads. And, of course, since this is a zom-rom-com, the opportunity to rekindle his romance with Liz.

That Shaun of the Dead is so intelligently conceived, written and executed becomes an after-thought when you consider just how funny it is. John Landis, the grandfather of the horror-comedy, would be proud of this. The almost insignificant things like Shaun ignoring a horde of zombies because he’s too busy opening a drinks can, or being oblivious to the blood-stained fridge door of the local convenience store are little pieces of genius littered throughout. They perfectly compliment the film’s best gags including Ed declaring Shaun’s break-up is “not the end of the world” with a zombie banging on the window right on cue to the drunken pair mistaking a zombie for a drunk on their way home and encouraging its ogre-like groans to be a part of the song they are singing. But nothing is quite as inspired as the film’s two protagonists deciding which LPs to use as weapons based on Shaun’s appreciation of them. “Purple Rain,” asks Ed. “No!” Shaun fires back, shocked at the mere thought. “Dire Straits,” queries Ed, “THROW IT,” says Shaun, enthusiastically.

Shaun of the Dead is one of the best horror-comedies ever made. It is intelligent, witty, enthusiastically performed and energetically directed. But most importantly, in addition to its self-styled originality, it is a bloody funny film.

Review by Daniel StephensSee all reviews

This review is part of 31 Days of Horror:

About the Author
Editor of Top 10 Films, Dan Stephens is usually found pondering his next list. An unhealthy love of 1980s Hollywood sees most of his top 10s involving a time-travelling DeLorean and an adventurous archaeologist going by the name Indiana.

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    Scott Reply

    HAHA ANd here it is!!

    So glad you have given it a 5* score!! A true classic and probably in my top ten ever!

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    Rodney Reply

    Finally. If you’re going to do a horror month, then SOTD is the perfect one to include…wait, it’s NOT a serious dramatic horror? It’s a comedy? OMG!!!

    Echoing Scott’s statement above, I was waiting for this one to appear earlier in the month…. but I’m glad it has finally surfaced, and I’m equally glad it got 5 stars. If I ever get around to my own review, I’m probably going to make it a full mark film…

  3. Avatar
    Fitz Reply

    My first introduction to Edgar Wright. I will watch this literally any time it comes on.

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    Andy Buckle Reply

    Great review Dan. This is such a clever film, and a real sense of intelligence about Romero’s version and the horror genre. Wright’s use of rapid editing and playfulness with style ensures it has great energy. Pegg and Frost are always great together (and I love Hot Fuzz just as much as this one) and the rest of the cast have a great time too. I can watch this any time. Never gets old – actually I think it has improved over the years.

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    ruth Reply

    This is the first Edgar Wright film I saw and I enjoyed it, despite horror not being my genre.

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    Novroz Reply

    Great review Dan 🙂
    I am going to link it to my post about Shaun vs Zombieland.

    I really really really love this movie. I have watched it countless time but never get bored. We both gave 5 stars to Shaun of The Dead 😉

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    le0pard13 Reply

    Couldn’t agree more, Daniel. I echo Ruth and Novroz on this modern classic. Great review. Thanks.

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    Claire Reply

    Love, love, love this film!

    I watched it on Halloween for the first time and I’d forgotten how good it is. It’s so well written, too.

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    Raghav Reply

    The first time I saw the movie I thought it was okay. I’ve never really watched the horror classics but I still enjoyed this film. Then I watched Hott Fuzz and loved it. Inbetween the two I watched Spaced and Black Books (Dylan Moran) so I understood the frost-Pegg relationship better. Recently I revisited Shaun and absolutely loved it. Maybe a 4 star in my review book 😉

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