By Chad Nance
Editors Note: a/perture cinema will be screen Shaun of the Dead several times over Valentine’s weekend.
“Hey Ducky, let me stick the 7-inch
In the computer
HA, HA, HA
Hey, we got the power
Oh, we got the soul
Hey, we got to sho’nuff get off
2 make the devil go, go…”
– Prince, Batdance
Italian horror film director Lucio Fulci once told me:
“Zombie movies are about the degradation of human flesh in every way possible.”
While even the casual viewer of a Fulci Zombie film will know- Fulci meant precisely what he said. Following George Romero’s seminal classic, Night of the Living Dead, Italian horror directors explored the more lurid and cannibalistic aspects of the modern “Zombie” ramping up the gore while dropping the social satire found in American films of the genre. American films such as Romero’s sequel Dawn of the Dead were more about the degradation of the spirit through the modern scourges of consumerism, bigotry, and social conformity. In 2004, British television director Edgar Wright (Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World, Ant Man) and his creative partner Simon Pegg re-ignited the Zombie genre with the Zom-Rom-Com, Shaun of the Dead. Before there was a Walking Dead, Shaun and his pal Ed were kicking the sh*t out of Zombies in North London. Shaun combines the heavy grue content of Italian Zombie films while offering the satirical culture commentary of Romero’s film (as well as Dan O’Bannon’s Return of the Living Dead).
Shaun addresses the Generation X’s tendency to produce either Peter Pan-like man children and professional consumers who go from one big box retail store to another with glazed over suburban striver-eyes. At its heart, the film is a less than genteel romantic comedy, however, with the break-ups and break-downs of our lead’s relationship played out along the blood soaked roller coaster ride of gore and mayhem associated with a Zombie apocalypse.
Pegg’s slacker charm is in full effect here punctuated by Edgar Wright’s uniquely rhythmic shooting and editing style. It is Wright’s film language (pioneered on the legendary BBC sitcom Spaced) that truly makes Shaun a seminal moment in 21st Century filmmaking. Even through the heavy lifting and superficially self-conscious grittiness of indy filmmaking in the 1990’s- movies by Gen-X filmmakers seemed to really be trying to “say something.” It was not until Shaun of the Dead’s release that Generation X truly founds its voice. (Sorry Kevin) The film predicts the current “Geek” trend in popular culture. What used to get my ass kicked in middle school has now become the prevailing popular trend from teen girl-doms current obsession with Dr. Who to Hollywood blockbusters based on comic book properties.
The pop-culture Easter eggs come hard and fast in Shaun of the Dead. Some things to look for are:
- The first zombie killed is Darth Maul! While Maul was played by martial artist Ray Park in TPM, British actor Peter Serafinowicz provided the voice… and he plays Shaun’s roommate and the first zombie that Shaun and Ed must battle.
- As Shaun walks to the corner store, he passes a road sweeper. On the operator’s radio, you can hear a report of how a space probe named Omega 6 entered the atmosphere several days early over the southwest of England and broke apart over a heavily populated area. This ties in with Night of the Living Dead, in which a space probe breaks up in the atmosphere and causes the dead to return to life.
- When Shaun holds an employee meeting, he mentions that the manager and Ash have both called in sick in reference to Ashley J. Williams, the hero of the Sam Raimi’s Evil Dead trilogy.
- When the one-armed zombie attacks Shaun and Ed, there is a moment when a poster of a bleeding cartoon schoolgirl can be seen in the background. This is a recreation of a scene from the Japanese cult-film and manga, Battle Royale.
- On the way to the pub, Shaun’s mum falls behind and gets attacked by a zombie. When she screams for help, Shaun rushes to her aid leaping from a small trampoline. This same was a popular mode of transport in the video game Zombies Ate My Neighbors, in which you must bounce from backyard to backyard in order to slay suburban zombies.
- The Mexican stand-off, in the pub that is Shaun’s central location, is taken from Tarantino’s Reservoir Dogs. The characters hold corkscrews and broken bottles instead of guns- although one character holds a rifle. Shaun exclaims, “Stop pointing that gun at my mum!” In Res Dogs, Nice Guy Eddie (Chris Penn) yells, “Stop pointing that gun at my dad!”
- The end credits of the film feature the song The Gonk by H. Chappell. This is the shopping mall music from Dawn of the Dead, remixed by Kid Koala.
There are many more pop-culture shout outs in Shaun of the Dead, including one to a particularly awful record by a particularly awesome musician embedded into this very article. If you are looking for something to do with a special someone for Valentine’s weekend you could do much worse than taking them to see Shaun of the Dead on the big screen. Where else will you find a sweet, gentle relationship movie bathed in blood, conflict, and cannibalism?
On the way to a/perture it will enhance the film-going experience if you listen to Prince’s Batman soundtrack in the car.