September 05, 2004

Shaun Of The Dead

For as long as I can remember, I have adored zombies. If you asked me why, it would be difficult to give any kind of logical explanation. There was always something fascinating in the apocalyptic vision of a world overrun by walking corpses, who would do anything to have a nibble at your flesh.

George A. Romero has been a lifelong movie hero of mine. He was the director of Night Of The Living Dead, released in 1968, which forever took the zombie out from the hands of Ju-Ju Men and the sugarcane fields of Voodoo Haiti. The zombie had now evolved into a stumbling cannibal, whose basic instincts propelled it to kill. In hordes, they become a lethal army that relentlessly attack the last vestiges of humanity, barely surviving behind improvised fortresses of farmhouses and department stores.

In Romero's movies, only scant explanations are given for the phenomenon of zombies, and it all seems utterly ridiculous when logic is applied, but the concept nonetheless, has remained a towering canon in the horror genre. It is not surprising that major studios, such as Universal, are now interested in developing big budgeted zombie flicks, which in the past were considered material for "B" or even "Z" grade productions. Finally, the studio suits understand that zombies are marketable.

Shaun Of The Dead is the best British comedy since Withnail and I. It came out shortly after the release of the Dawn Of The Dead remake. Zombies came back into vogue, due to the popularity of the non-zombie, but highly Romero influenced, 28 Days Later. The timing for this British film, could not have been better.

Unlike previous zombie comedies, such as Return of the Living Dead, Braindead, Reanimator and last years, Undead, there is an avoidance to spoof the genre in this latest effort. The zombie genre simply becomes a backdrop to a well-written and beautifully performed story about regular twenty-somethings trying to cope with the mundane patterns of life, but discovering strength in a time of crisis. It has been described as a "zom-rom-com" - a zombie romantic comedy! Yet, the story could have been embedded into any disaster scenario, such as a nuclear war, plague, whatever, and the drama would have played the same.

The movie's star, Simon Pegg, and its director, Edgar Wright, demonstrate an obvious passion for the zombie genre in their screenwriting. Unlike the Dawn Of The Dead remake, which attempted to alter the mythos by having running zombies, the screenwriters demonstrate their affection and respect by changing nothing other than the setting. In Shaun, the undead remain their old familiar selves.

Much of the comedy is achieved by contrasting the normality of these characters with the extraordinary situation they find themselves in. It is as if Pegg and Wright had imagined what it would be like if a real zombie nightmare occurred. How would any of us react? Who would survive and who would die? Of course, there is also plenty of slapstick gore to satisfy the hardcore zombie fan contingent. You'll be happy that you kept your vinyl records after you watch this film.

Shaun Of The Dead is an instant classic, that every fan of comedy or horror should see: Wonderfully funny, always engaging and often touching. What more could an audience want?

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