Movie review: ‘Shaun of the Dead’

4sht_SOTD_Master_5-2ÄI hadn’t re-watched “Shaun of the Dead” for several years until a couple of days ago when I noticed that its star and co-writer, Simon Pegg, is in the new “Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation” film. Since I’m not into “MI” and won’t see it (I might break down when it comes out on DVD), I thought of “Shaun of the Dead” when I saw Pegg in its trailer. Since “Shaun of the Dead” is making the rounds on one of the movie channels right now, I recorded it since I’m too lazy to get the DVD out of my library. In re-watching it, I was again amazed at the wonderful work that went into the film – from the creativity, to the dialogue and especially to the work by actors from whom you most likely haven’t seen much. In any case, “Shaun of the Dead” is worth another visit anytime and it ranks high on the list of best-ever zombie films.

‘Shaun of the Dead’
(2004; 99 minutes; rated R; directed by Edgar Wright and starring Simon Pegg, Nick Frost and Kate Ashfield)

SHAUN IS ANYTHING BUT DEAD

I like zombie flicks. It’s simple: they’re fun; they’re gross; and, when done well, are entertaining. When they are done perfectly you get 1978’s “Dawn of the Dead” and even its remake of the same name in 2004 or, especially, “Zombieland” from 2009 – click here for my review. Still, running close behind is the especially wonderful “Shaun of the Dead” starring Simon Pegg, who was relatively unknown to U.S. audiences when it came out the same year as the “Dawn” remake.

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Pegg is the co-writer as well as headliner and did a magnificent job on every count. The film sparkles with things such as different details in scenes that pay homage to the horror flicks that came before and set a new standard of creativity for the new millennium in zombie filmmaking. In just one case, Pegg and co-star Nick Frost fling LP vinyl albums at the zombies … but only after picking carefully through them and squabbling over which ones to keep and which to throw.

Shaun of the Dead” opens up with Pegg, who plays “Shaun,” having relationship troubles with his girlfriend that include the fact that his friend “Ed,” played by Frost, lives with him and is an interference with them. Further, he’s not enamored of his stepfather of 17 years and is supposed to be headed out to see his mother. Well, of course, the zombie apocalypse happens … but slowly.

There are a few signs at first and it kicks into gear on a morning when Pegg ambles over to a convenience store for a soda and ice cream. It’s a really neat detail that he is oblivious to shambling zombies in the street, bloody handprints on the soda cooler and no clerk in the story. From there things pick up with zombies in the guys’ yard (they can’t kill them by flinging LPs at them so they use a shovel and a cricket bat), their roommate having turned into a zombie and trying to cook up plans on how to escape the zombies while saving Pegg’s girlfriend as well as his mother.

Ultimately the group winds up in a pub, where they make a last stand. Ultimately only Pegg and his girlfriend survive to be rescued by heavily armed soldiers – but there’s a really superior twist to the plot at the end that you’ll want to see and I won’t reveal here for those who haven’t seen “Shaun of the Dead.”

Here`s a look at the work of some of the principal cast:

  • Pegg is pitch perfect here as the title character. He’s perfectly blue collar with a hint of desperation in his relationship. He pulls this one off with ease and aplomb and is just the kind of guy you’ll probably see at your local pub this coming weekend. Pegg has also been “Scotty” in the current “Star Trek” franchise as well as his work on Cruise’s “MI” franchise. He was also in “Grindhouse.”
  • Frost has the perfect physique for his character, who is a video game playing weirdo. However, he’s a fun weirdo and you know you’d hang out with him, too. Frost does good physical comedy as well as being a good comedic actor. He’s also been in “Hot Fuzz,” which is another film co-written by Pegg with Edgar Wright, who is also the director of “Shaun of the Dead.”
  • British actor Kate Ashfield plays Pegg’s girlfriend “Liz.” She, like Pegg, is pitch perfect in the role and looks to revel in trading verbal punches with the headliner and has the requisite strength in both person and personality to survive the zombie apocalypse. Ashfield has a career primarily on British TV and films but you might have seen her in “The War Zone.”

I can’t tell you much more about the supporting actors other than they do a solid job throughout. From Pegg’s mother and her husband to Ashfield’s friends who wind up in the pub for a last stand, they all do good, solid work.

Some of the things in scenes I really thought was creative in the film and well-executed include:

  • One is the “planning” dreams of Pegg as he tries to map out how to save his mother, kill his stepfather who has turned into a zombie and rescue his girlfriend. Sharp smash cuts in the three scenarios are excellent and cleverly worked by Pegg.
  • Another is when Pegg and his group encounter another group of survivors. The other group is led by a woman Pegg knows and they essentially exchange social chitchat and finally give a friendly hug as each group goes on its own way.
  • The last is the final scene as it shows a post-apocalyptic society that has zombie participating on TV game shows and a woman talking on TV about how she’s still married to a zombie.

In the end, as any good film does, “Shaun of the Dead” closes the circle and ties up the loose ends.

It is a complete and utter shame that “Shaun of the Dead” was only 129th at the U.S. box office in 2004 with $13.5 million in ticket sales, according to Box Office Mojo. Worldwide it made $30 million on its budget of $6.1 million, according to Wiki. It was coming over to the U.S. six months after its premiere in Britain and released on DVD within two months of its premiere here, but it still should have done better than the weak “Welcome to Mooseport” (123rd with $14.4 million) much less the tiresome “Jersey Girl” (94th with $25.2 million). The “Dawn of the Dead” remake was 51st with $59 million. The No. 1 film was “Shrek 2” with $442.4 million.

Other films I’ve reviewed from that year include the amazingly funny “White Chicks” (41st with $70.8 million – click here for my review) and the simply terrible “After the Sunset” with Pierce Brosnan and Salma Hayek (91st with $28.3 million – click here for my review).

Assorted cast and film notes (via IMDb.com):

© Chuck Curry and A Gator in Naples, 2015.
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