‘Shaun of the Dead’ turns the dead-serious zombie genre on its head

Nick Frost and Simon Pegg in 'Shaun of the Dead'
Nick Frost and Simon Pegg in ‘Shaun of the Dead’

This will probably be some kind of warped record. First, this film was reviewed months ago when it was released in England (read that review here). Then, our own Horror Guru took a look at it (read that review here), when it was released in theaters here in the States.

Now, it’s my turn. With the release of Shaun of the Dead on DVD, I’m offering my take on the film.

Shaun of the Dead is a sometimes action film, sometimes horror film, sometimes comedy about Shaun, a going-nowhere lay-about. He gets dumped by his girlfriend and chewed out from one of his roommates, both arguing that he needs to get his life in order.

Oh, and a crashed satellite has caused the dead to rise and crave human flesh.

In an effort to regain his girlfriend’s affections and prove he is not just a lazy slob, Shaun races to rescue his mother, girlfriend, and his girlfriend’s friends, all the while killing zombies. At his side is his even lazier best friend, Ed. Unlike Shaun, Ed revels in crushing heads as they race from one location to the next until they finally end up at the Winchester, their favorite watering hole were they hope to hide out from the zombie hordes roaming the streets.

Of course, nothing goes exactly as plan.

Our Horror Guru had trouble categorizing this film, ultimately coming up with the idea of Shaun of the Dead being a “zom-rom-com” — part zombie film, part romance film, part comedy. While I agree, what surprised me was how little comedy there really was. Although the beginning of the film is probably the most humorous, about half way through the humor takes a back seat to the all-out zombie fest.

It’s not that the film stops being funny, it just seemed as if they had made all the jokes they were willing to make, and stopped short in fear of actually satirizing the zombie genre, which is pretty much what I was expecting with the film.

Instead, it really develops into a full out zombie film, and a pretty good one at that. Although it drags a bit once the characters get to the Winchester pub, Shaun of the Dead has some great effects, good action and characters you really care about. That’s where this film excels, because Shaun and Ed are likable guys who suddenly find themselves in a bizarre and dangerous experience.

The visual style of the film was also much more slick than I expected. With a lot of slam cuts and quick transitions, I was caught off guard by the commercial style. For a low-budget film, what they may have lacked in scope they more than made up for in camera movement and their use of their locations.

As I watched some of the behind-the-scenes stuff, the co-writers Simon Pegg and Edgar Wright seem to love zombie films — like the original Dawn of the Dead — and it comes out in the movie.

Along with the film, the DVD is packed with more special features than I’ve seen on a release that wasn’t accompanied with some kind of “special edition” variation. From extended scenes to bloopers to casting tapes, it runs the gambit. The outtakes are funny, but even when they’re cracking up the actors seem a little too controlled. And “Simon Pegg’s Video Diary” shows the cast being slightly more relaxed, and is pretty funny. The commentary has some good moments, and the standard behind-the-scenes doc doesn’t come off as the general promotional love-fest.

Although I would have liked a little more comedy in this zombie flick, it was still an entertaining addition to horror’s undead subsection.

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