It’s that time of year again! Time to celebrate the Resurrection with a weeklong plunge into all things zombie! Here’s the history: In 2008, Dr. Girlfriend and I decided to spend a week or so each year marathoning through zombie films that we’d never seen before and I would blog short reviews. And simple as that, the Easter Zombie Movie Marathon was born. For the curious, here are links to 2008, 2009 (a bad year), 2010, 2011, 2012 (when we left the blog behind), and 2013. This year, we’re going old school and present to you the Easter Zombie Movie Marathon 2014: Classic Edition! Unholy Monday Shaun of the Dead (2004) Written by: Simon Pegg & Edgar Wright Directed by: Edgar Wright Shaun of the Dead is the best zombie film ever made. There. I said it. Granted, it wouldn’t exist without George Romero‘s oeuvre coming before it, but the script by star Simon Pegg and director Edgar Wright, is the tightest, most well-constructed script of any zombie film in history, managing to hit every note with perfectly executed jokes, perfectly executed gore, and perfectly executed emotional moments. This is the only film of the marathon to make me cry. And I wasn’t even drinking. Much. Before launching their “Cornetto Trilogy” (Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz, and The World’s End), Pegg and Wright had honed their skills crafting one of the best British sitcoms in decades: Spaced. Shaun of the Dead was inspired by the Spaced episode “Art,” where Pegg’s character Tim, hallucinates fighting zombies while playing Resident Evil 2 on cheap speed. Pegg and Wright discovered that they were both huge fans of Romero’s Dead trilogy and decided that they should make a film paying tribute to the Father of Zombies, because, to be quite honest, the 2000s hadn’t been all that kind to zombie cinema. The biggest zombie films of the previous few years had been Resident Evil and 28 Days Later in 2002; and 28 Days Later isn’t even a zombie film. However, they opened a floodgate of low-budget horror that was barely memorable (and at times, barely professional). Added to that, 28 Days Later had inspired a new take on the zombie (even though 28 Days Later wasn’t a zombie film) where they ran fast and acted like rabid animals (because 28 Days Later wasn’t a zombie film, but a plague film). The only film to make this new take on zombies work was also released in 2004: Zack Snyder’s remake of Romero’s Dawn of the Dead. In this environment, Pegg and Wright decided to do it up right; concentrating on character and harkening back to Romero’s approach, making the zombies an ever-present threat lurking in the background — manageable if handled right, but overwhelming if you let them get out of control. In essence, the living dead again become a metaphor for the specter of death rather than a plot device; an active, aggressive threat. Although they are plenty threatening. The plot revolves around Shaun (Pegg), an electronics shop employee whose only recourse to authority is that he’s the oldest employee there (at 29). His flatmates, Ed (Nick Frost) and Pete (Peter Serafinowicz) — both alums of Spaced — are not friends, since Pete is a successful something or other and Ed is a jobless part-time drug dealer. Shaun’s girlfriend, Liz (Kate Ashfield) is tired of their dead-end relationship, which mostly consists of hanging out at the local pub, The Winchester, and putting up with Ed’s vulgarities. Liz’s best friends Dianne (Lucy Davis) and David (Dylan Moran) — the two D’s — are not fans of Shaun or Ed and feel that maybe it’s time for Liz to move on. The first thing to note here is that every one of these actors is brilliant. The British comedy scene is a small tight-knit group of performers who all know each other and contribute to one another’s’ projects in a marvelously incestuous orgy of creativity. Pegg and Frost helped make Spaced a groundbreaking comedy; Davis was heartbreakingly funny in the original The Office; Dylan Moran played the iconic acerbic bookstore owner / raging alcoholic Bernard Black in Black Books; while Ashfield made her name as one of the most affecting dramatic actresses of the early 2000s. Nearly every speaking part in this film was cast with a comic actor of impeccable resume and brought an amazing level of complexity and comedic talent to even the slightest of roles. For example, halfway through the film when Shaun and company are making their way to the Winchester they cross paths with another group of survivors, mirroring their own make-up. Those actors include Jessica Hynes (the co-star and co-creator of Spaced) as Yvonne, Martin Freeman (The Office, The Hobbit, Sherlock) as her boyfriend Declan, Reece Shearsmith (League of Gentlemen, Psychoville) as Mark, Tamsin Greig (Black Books, Green Wing, Episodes) as Maggie, Julia Deakin (Spaced) as Yvonne’s mum, and Matt Lucas (Little Britain) as Cousin Tom. And none of them even had lines (aside from Hynes). Did I mention that living legend Bill Nighy plays Shaun’s step-dad? It’s a bit part, more of a cliché than a character on the page, but Nighy invests the role with a humanity that while cold and distant for most of his screen-time, is able to bring out the emotional center of the man and craft one of the most effective deaths in zombie cinema. This is a horror-comedy that emphasizes both the actual comedy and the horror evenly. Braindead comes close to meeting this balance, despite diving head-first into crazy over-the-top gore effects. However, there’s a silliness to Braindead that makes it hearwarming (in its own way) but is more aligned with the attitudes and approaches of the filmmakers rather than the script or performances themselves. Shaun of the Dead is one of the few zombie films to really make you care about the characters. If the living dead weren’t shambling around, I’d still want to see what happened with these people. The zombies are an added bonus. As with the other best films of the genre, there’s more going on here than just gore or just comedy. There’s some social satire included that isn’t so heavy-handed that it takes you out of the film, but adds to the comedy. The classic Romero zombie is almost interchangeable with the majority of self-obsessed psychologically and socially isolated individuals in the world today that simply shooting a sequence of people taking a bus, or shambling through a streets in the early morning, effectively situates the classic “we are the dead” theme that some other works (I’m looking at you, Walking Dead) wear on their sleeves. Maybe the most important thing to note here, is that Shaun of the Dead isn’t just the best zombie film ever made (I’ll stand by that). It’s also one of the best horror-comedies ever made; and quite simply one of the best films of the early 21st century. It has everything you could want from a film: humor, thrills, action, romance, friendship, gore, drama, social commentary, and hope for the future. Plus, I’ve watched countless zombie films where people have to make emotional sacrifices, but Shaun of the Dead is one of the few to actually get it right and deliver a scene that actually touches my cold, black heart. Walking Dead hits the mark now and then, but those are really the only ones to nail both the emotional and psychological impact of dealing with the immediate threat of death and the overall thematic consequences of the zombie apocalypse. But Shaun is the only one to include some hope in the mix. And that’s enough right there to catapult it to the top of the list. Then we have genius director Edgar Wright to add to the mix and there’s no question of where Shaun ranks on the scale of greatest zombie films. Every shot is meticulously set-up; every scene is kinetically cut; every horror beat and every comedy beat is perfectly timed and executed. For a first feature-film, Shaun is a textbook example in how to do it right. And Wright’s films just get better every time he steps behind the camera. See larger image Shaun of the Dead [Blu-ray] New From: $4.48 USD In Stock Share this:TweetShare on TumblrLike this:Like Loading... Related Leave a Reply Cancel ReplyYou must be logged in to post a comment.