Shaun of the Dead (2004) – WTF Happened to This Horror Movie?

Here’s WTF Happened to Shaun of the Dead, the 2004 horror comedy from Edgar Wright, starring Simon Pegg and Nick Frost

Over the years horror has evolved into many weird, wonderful and gruesome as f**k genres; the 70s saw slashers emerge with films such as Prom Night and Halloween, then by the 90s (and beyond) the Scream franchise took on the horror mantle for slasher flicks. We’ve also been treated to classic monster movies that began with the likes of Frankenstein in 1931, to the sexy, arthouse stylings of Giallo horror, while splatter flicks, also known as torture porn, burst onto the scene in the brutal eye-gouging form of Hostel, while the supernatural still play a major role in scaring audiences nowadays. Of course, these are just the tip of the spooky iceberg when it comes to the delightful smorgasbord of horror subgenres, and there’s one that continues to thrill fans on both the small screen and theatrically; the zombie movie. However, up until 2004, the zombie genre had offered some amazing titles, but not any that managed to shoe-horn as many unexpected genres as the movie we’re talking about today. Thanks to a love of George A. Romero’s classics such as Night of the Living Dead, plus an episode of Spaced, director, and huge horror fan Edgar Wright, helped to spawn a whole new subgenre of horror; the Romantic Zombie Comedy, or Rom-Zom-Com, with 2004’s Shaun of the Dead (watch it HERE). It brought us a tale of slackers, family, zombies, a love triangle, and vinyl records being used as lethal weapons. But, does it blend all of these elements into a gory, funny and satisfying new subgenre? Let’s find out, here on WTF Happened to Shaun of the Dead!

Before Edgar Wright entered the cultural zeitgeist with his Cornetto Trilogy, starting of course, as we all know, with Shaun of the Dead, he helped to create a small screen love-letter to horror and science fiction with the UK made series, Spaced. Starring Simon Pegg, Jessica Hynes, Nick Frost and directed by Edgar Wright, the episodic single camera show is a hilarious love letter to pop culture such as cartoons and video games plus, more specifically, Star Wars and horror films. Simon Pegg and Jessica Hynes (who was known as Jessica Stevenson at the time) play aspiring comic book artist, Tim, and writer Daisy respectively, who meet by chance in a cafe while flat hunting, and soon form an inseparable bond.

Every episode of Spaced is designed with such passion for its influences, and the series’ writers inject superb sight gags and bizarre cutaways at every possible opportunity. Just take the ‘Scooby Doo’ moment from episode one, for example, or when Tim is fired from his job at the local comic book store for berating a kid for liking Jar Jar Binks. He’s also seen burning his Star Wars merchandise after watching The Phantom Menace for the first time. It’s these nods and winks to pop culture, and especially the zombie moment from episode three, season one, that led Spaced to ultimately inspire Shaun of the Dead. While playing Resident Evil 2, Tim fantasizes about killing zombies with familiar, non-diegetic zombie sounds. It’s hilarious, and looking back on Shaun of the Dead, you can see the clear influence and love Pegg and Wright had for the genre right there in that scene.

Shaun of the Dead

I’ll get right to the point, Shaun of the Dead is awesome. It’s funny as f**k, gory when it wants to be and features endless quotable moments, all set to a banging soundtrack. Plus, Prince’s Batman soundtrack gets deservedly smashed in one hilarious scene. Also, when it was released in 2004, British cinema was chucking out the likes of…erm…Sex Lives of the Potato Men, a so-called comedy featuring…You know what, it doesn’t matter, it was atrocious and despite the UK releasing some admittedly excellent movies that year, nothing revolutionary was happening for UK horror. Yet.

Thankfully then, along came a wunderkind director, who had already established himself with the aforementioned Spaced, and was primed and ready to unleash his unique visual style upon the cinematic landscape. Following that classic episode of Spaced, titled ‘Art’, in which Tim hallucinates a zombie invasion while high on amphetamine, Simon Pegg and Edgar Wright set about writing their own horror comedy, with Wright describing the process as, ‘One evening, I was round at Simon [Pegg] and his pal Nick Frost’s flat for drinks when I said we should make our own zombie movie, a horror comedy. It would be from the point of view of two bit-players, two idiots who were the last to know what was going on, after waking up hungover on a Sunday morning.’ By 1999 they had pitched the film to Film 4, who had to pass due to a lack of funding. Other companies also passed on the movie, citing their confusion about what it was trying to be exactly, simply not getting the premise. Hindsight really is a wonderful thing.

Ultimately, UK based production company Working Title picked the movie up which was somewhat ironic, given that the film mocks the rom-coms they’re most well known for producing. However, Tim Bevan and Eric Fellner, two of the most prominent top brass at Working Title are shrewd operators and, along with producer Nira Park, they knew they had something potentially very special with Shaun. The script was written by both Simon Pegg and director Edgar Wright, and heavily influenced by movies such as Braindead, The Birds, Raising Arizona, Back to the Future and, of course, Night of the Living Dead. The cast was soon assembled and alongside Simon Pegg was his long time friend Nick Frost, who incidentally had never acted before, as Ed, and Kate Ashworth as Shaun’s girlfriend Liz. Most of the actors were made up of British comedians, comedy actors and sitcom stars from not only Spaced, but other shows such as Black Books and The Office.

Rounding out the secondary roles were Peter Serafinowicz, Dylan Moran, Martin Freeman, Tamsin Greig, Julia Deakin plus Penelope Wilson as Shaun’s mother, and the great Bill Nighy as his stepdad Phillip. The movie also features several cameos playing zombies in the movie; including Rob Brydon, Joe Cornish and Michael Smiley. Also, for the zombie extras, the production called upon Spaced fan communities for the scene in which Shaun and friends are holed up in The Winchester, with the marauding undead outside. Over one hundred and fifty zombie extras were used until local children saw the zombie make up and pleaded to be involved, resulting in an extra fifty child zombies being added.

However, despite being a firm favorite of mine, what’s the verdict on the movie, twenty years after it first shuffled into cinemas, demanding brains and dodging the Batman soundtrack? Well, it’s safe to say that it still holds up as an all time classic piece of not only British cinema and horror, but also as it was marketed at the time – as a Rom-Zom-Com! Simon Pegg plays Shaun, a down on his luck slacker who works in the local electrical store, shares a flat with his even lazier mate Ed in London’s Crouch End, and likes a good old drink in his local pub. His girlfriend Liz has finally had enough and dumps him just as a plague hits Britain and the streets are filled with vicious, flesh-eating zombies. Not that Shaun notices at first though, as exemplified by the scene where he wanders past the living dead, on his way to buy a cornetto and a diet coke from the local convenience store.

Liz wants nothing more from Shaun, other than to grow up and be a man, and while this seems initially impossible, once the gravity of the zombie infestation becomes apparent, he goes on a zombie dodging quest to protect Liz at all costs. And his mother too. Some may have seen Shaun of the Dead as a parody, but instead it pays homage to the horror genre with great affection. The opening section showcases Wrights’ clever cinematography and in-camera transitions by showing several montages of Londoners going about their day, like zombies themselves; they’re either glued to their phones, staring into space on the bus or trudge about their daily existence while at work. It’s a great bit of foreshadowing and also a neat commentary on how we’re all basically zombified in some way, just without a penchant for eating brains that is.

Shaun of the Dead WTF

Ultimately, the movie works because every element of it is razor sharp. The comedy is spot on and the script zings with endlessly quotable lines while the gore doesn’t let the horror elements down. You can’t help but have a massive cheesy grin on your face when the slimy prick David has his entrails ripped out, or when Shaun, Liz and Ed face-off against the zombies to Queen’s classic, ‘Don’t Stop Me Now’. The fact that it plays out like a feature length episode of Spaced is also no bad thing.

Shaun of the Dead opened in the UK on April 9th and grossed upwards of $3 million dollars over its opening weekend, across 367 cinemas. It managed to hold out a top ten spot in the UK for five consecutive weeks, while its US and Canadian release on September 24th saw it gross $3.3 million over its three day weekend, across 607 theaters. Following a brief re-release in 2020 and 2022, Shaun ultimately made $38.7 million worldwide, against a budget of $6 million dollars.

Critically, the movie was met with much, well deserved, praise. On Rotten Tomatoes, because you know, some folk like to see the stats from that website, it holds a 92% fresh rating from 218 reviews, with the critics consensus saying, “Shaun of the Dead cleverly balances scares and witty satire, making for a bloody good zombie movie with loads of wit”. In the UK the BBC called it a “side-splitting, head-smashing, gloriously gory horror comedy” that will “amuse casual viewers and delight genre fans”. Similarly gushing with praise were The Guardian who awarded it four out of five stars, saying how it, “boasts a script crammed with real gags” and is “pacily directed and nicely acted”. In the US, film critics Roger Ebert and Robert K. Elder praised the movie for bringing something new and refreshing to the horror genre overall.

Ultimately then, Shaun of the Dead set its stall out to be a loving homage to the sci-fi and horror movies that influenced Edgar Wright and Simon Pegg, and it delivered in spades. It even made cricket bats cool again. Well, almost…Of course, it was just the beginning for Wright, Pegg and co, with two more movies in their ‘Cornetto Trilogy’ following; the excellent Hot Fuzz in 2007 and the divisive The World’s End in 2013. As usual though, it’s YOUR opinion that means the most to us here at JoBlo, so what do you make of Shaun of the Dead? Does it successfully re-invent the horror genre, while also creating a new sub-genre, or should it be chained up like zombie-Ed? Let us know in the comments, and we’ll see you beautiful gore-hounds next time. Thanks for watching!

A couple of the previous episodes of WTF Happened to This Horror Movie? can be seen below. To see more, head over to our JoBlo Horror Originals YouTube channel – and subscribe while you’re there!

Source: Arrow in the Head

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