of the Stone Roses
Shaun of the Dead
Dir. Edgar Wright, UK, Universal
Zombies are shambling
down the streets of London, infecting everyone they
bite and banging into lampposts likes drunks in dodge-ems.
One mediocre middle youth man has a plan. Shaun must
rescue his flatmate, girlfriend, and Mum and bring them
to his local pub to survive the cannibalistic onslaught.
Hopefully, one of them will buy the first round of drinks.
The Specials are singing. They’re singing their 1981
UK hit “Ghost Town,” a song that in its day attacked
the social exclusion and economic policies of the then-
incumbent Conservative government (which then Prime
Minister Margaret “Maggie the Milk Snatcher” Thatcher
led by the collar) which was tearing communities apart
through unemployment and reactionary law and order enforcement.
The track’s inclusion near the beginning of Shaun
of the Dead though has less subversive intentions.
Selected like much of the other alternative Eighties
British music that scores this film (accompanied by
the occasional riff lifted from Romero film soundtracks)
it affirms that this is a uniquely British take on the
zombie sub-genre. The seaside organ twinkle of the Ska
band’s backing tune, the spook-house pomp of trumpets
signal this is horror movie-as-pantomime, British cinema
as nostalgic sitcom. Rom-Zom-Com as the makers so eloquently
put it. Unlike Danny Boyle’s recent 28 Days Later,
which styled itself on the X-Box Generation’s interpretations
of survivalist horror within haunting English environs,
Shaun of the Dead’s comedy and rare moments of
actual horror come from how the dead rising would be
treated within the rat-race grind of modern everyday
London life. The credit sequence emphasises just how
zombie-esque the half awake, apathetic dwellers of a
capital city’s leafy brick borough are before the mindless
monster mash begins. If Shaun of the Dead has
any political message it is how lifeless and automatic
person-to-person interactions are these days.
What makes Shaun of the Dead significant in terms
of British cinema is that a) its actually entertaining
as opposed to merely very hyped and b) it doesn’t live
up to the normal stereotypes that we export internationally.
Shaun of the Dead doesn’t feature stripping/tap-dancing
Northerners doing their bit for some extra cash, and
it doesn’t orbit around some upper-class twit falling
for an American tourist. It focuses on people in McJobs,
buying milk and beheading undead intruders with spades
and swing ball poles. At times it approaches documentary.
The goals of the accidental hero, Shaun, are not to
save the world or avenge injustices but merely keep
the status quo running during a time of crisis. His
master plan is essentially to get his social circle
to the pub where they grudgingly spend every other night
anyway. The reason why an essentially average piece
of filmmaking with no artistic pretensions has been
so embraced and accepted by the British public (Shaun
was a modest box-office hit over in Blighty but can
be overheard being discussed in pubs six months later
whether in Glasgow or Brighton) is that it is recognizably
The brainchild of a relatively obscure star from British
alternative sitcom land, Simon Pegg (who co-writes and
plays the eponymous Shaun) it represents the first (there
are more in the pipeline) collective big-screen outing
of the various personalities who have been the vanguard
behind the renaissance of the six-episode-a-series British
sitcom. Over the past few years, reality TV may have
flooded UK screens but a small band of comedic outsiders
have cross-pollinated each other’s TV shows to bring
us a varied bunch —the fly-on-the-wall tragedy of Ricky
Gervais’s The Office, the gothic horror rapes
Monty Python disturbia that is The League of Gentlemen,
the cross-dressing catchphrase cornucopia of Little
Britain, and the sci-fi reference-heavy flat-share
spoof Spaced (from where Pegg and his director
Edgar Wright hail). The latter is fondly remembered
by cultists as being the home to many a John Carpenter
or James Cameron reference but it is also where Pegg
and Wright honed their style of respecting their homage’s
source material as opposed to merely inserting a knob
joke somewhere within a shot for shot parody, à la Scary
Movie. Shaun of the Dead may be a comedy
set within the confines of a horror film but it never
ridicules the genre. Rather Pegg and Wright celebrate
the form, allowing the laughs to fall from the characters’
“ordinary” reactions to extraordinary situations. When
a zombie girl proves to be almost unstoppable, all that
the hungover lads can do is wind the camera to take
another souvenir photo.
Unfortunately the film’s television origins also explain
why it’s often unimaginative outside of its comedic
mise-en-scène, poorly characterized when there isn’t
a running gag to support a decent arc, and somewhat
bogged down whenever it tries to inject some genuine
pathos into the death riddled final act. So what saves
it apart from being a spot-on assessment of British
life and its reverent xeroxing from better films? That’d
be the aforementioned soundtrack. Edit or exposition
is a mix tape of feel good hits and party floor fillers.
The use of Queen’s “Don’t Stop Me Now” as the Winchester
Pub is finally breached, and defense by synchronized
pool cue beatings proves to be the only option, brings
such a moment of rhythmic pleasure (Kubrick’s A Clockwork
Orange is owed a bag of Pork Scratchings for the
influence) that one would expect Chaplin or Keaton to
have choreographed. But what would one expect from a
film that includes a scene where vinyl is selected to
throw at the approaching corpse automaton killers on
order of its musical credibility.
Ed: Stone Roses?
Shaun : No.
Ed : ...Second Coming?
Shaun : I liksd it.
Ed : Dire Straits?
Shaun : Chuck it!
Any movie with priorities that would make fellow North
Londoner and author Nick Hornby proud must be worth
90 minutes of anyone’s dead time.