Shaun (Simon Pegg) is a man with problems.
His life, in London, is going nowhere except back to the same Pub every night. Ed (Nick Frost) his layabout, foul mouthed best friend/flat mate is holding him back, he's getting abuse from his other, high flying, flat mate Pete (Peter Serafinowicz) for even having Ed around, he does not get on with his Stepfather, Philip (Bill Nighy), his job stinks and no one there gives him respect.
And to round it all off his girlfriend Liz (Kate Ashfield) has just dumped him because, well, their life is going nowhere except back to the same Pub every night.
Then waking up one bright and sunny day Shaun discovers that fate, in a most terrible way, has given him a chance to be someone, maybe even a hero. Because on this day, the dead walk...
This delightful horror film, described as a 'romantic comedy with zombies', is the work of some of the best talent working in UK television comedy today.
Pegg and director Wright previously worked together (along with Frost and Serafinowicz) on the wonderful sitcom "Spaced". A show that was a film geeks dream
It was a genuinely well crafted comedy, with likeable characters the viewer could connect with, that was also packed with in-jokes and homages to all their (and yours) favourite movies, comic books and computer games (their homage episode to "Resident Evil 2" would see them work with zombies for the first time).
Using this love of the horror/cult genre's, Pegg and Wright have given us a zombie film that is respectful to the films (most notably Romero's "Night of the Living Dead" and "Dawn of the Dead") it pays homage to, but still remains very much a film in it's own right.
And it's this that gives "Shaun of the Dead" it's validity as something far more than just a 'fanboy' run around.
Pegg and company are most certainly having a heavenly time creating the kind of film they grew up watching and acting out roles and scenes that any horror movie fan would love to do.
They are basically acting like kids let loose in a candy store, of that there is no doubt, and the film benefits from that love and enthusiasm.
But within this style of comedic parody and homage (sometimes broad slapstick even) there is ultimately a serious core that allows the characters, and the film as a whole, to exist outside of the films it pays debt too.
Shaun's lifestyle and relationship with Ed is played for comedy for most of the time (one aspect, slumped with Ed on a saggy sofa blasting through 'Playstation' games, is very much like the way the characters they played in "Spaced" passed the time) but the final 1/3 of the film brings his ultimately empty existence home to Shaun and that, no matter how much he likes him, it's time to stand up to the worst aspects of his best friend.
A light comic touch is also applied to his relationship with his girlfriend and her two friends David (Dylan Moran from cult sitcom "Black Books") and Dianne (Lucy Davis from hit comedy "The Office").
His sometimes selfish attitude to Liz is never condoned and she is the most sympathetic out of the two as far as the relationship goes. Dianne is friendly and even the pompous David has legitimate concerns in the way Shaun and Ed live. Humour is here, but it's always realistically applied.
The other main relationship for Shaun is with his Mum, Barbara (a very nice turn by Penelope Wilton, keeping the, older, sitcom link going as she was in the 80's TV hit "Ever Decreasing Circles") and his Stepfather (wonderfully played by the resourceful Nighy).
And it's this relationship, a well-written and serious aspect of the film, which shows perfectly how the movie works on those two very hard to combine levels. Comedy and serious drama.
In fact, given the high comedy content, it's also a pleasure to see this seriousness providing one of the best, and genuinely moving, portrayals of just what effect the zombie phenomena has on those having to deal with it and the terrible choices it forces them to make as all they know and love becomes tainted. This aspect is as well, if not better, portrayed in this comedy than even Romero's serious classics.
But enough of the drama. What about the laughs and the zombie mayhem I hear you cry!
Well, sure enough, Pegg and Wright deliver both by the bucket full.
Straight up comedy is there before the zombies appear (though there is a nice montage observation that shows how zombie like much of modern existence is) with the relationships and the portrayal of Shaun's day to day life. It's solid and, although far more caustic, will be familiar to fans of "Spaced".
But then of course we have the fantasy comedy as the zombie threat materialises. And there is much here for fans to enjoy.
'Goblin's' legendary score to Romero's "Dawn of the Dead" pops up now and again and it's most welcome and will raise a smile.
As will other audio tips of the hat. The much maligned, and hastily rejected by Romero, explanation for the zombie outbreak in the original "Night of the Living Dead" (the space probe crashing to Earth) is parodied during a radio broadcast, there is an hysterical swipe near the end at "28 Days Later" and it's 'Rage' filled monkeys and listen at the end of the titles for another musical treat for "Dawn" fans.
The general 'Joe Public' characters also create many chances for comedy, as such normal people try to combat the undead and just simply come to terms with what's happening.
The script cleverly has the zombie threat slowly spread but only makes it obvious to the viewer. Stumbling corpses in the dark streets are simply assumed to be people who have had too much drink, a female zombie chewing into the neck of a man in a dark corner is assumed to be a necking couple.
But the best example of how oblivious Shaun is to what's going on is a sequence where, badly hungover after a night of drinking, Shaun does he daily walk to the corner shop too tired and bleary eyed to notice the carnage and corpses around him!
There is a wonderfully funny, but spot on realistic, scene where Shaun and Ed actually come face to face with their first zombie, staggering about in their back garden, and simply think it's a drunken girl. That she is an undead corpse never crosses their mind!
One of the best comedy sequences has Ed and Shaun scurrying around trying to find weapons to defend themselves, after hearing on the news, which has a welcome cameo by actual 'Sky News' newsreader to convey the story, that only destroying the head will stop the zombies.
In a panic they resort to throwing remote controls, pottery, cushions and then vinyl LP's at the corpses! And hysterically, as the flesh eating zombies stagger closer to them, they argue over which ones to risk throwing! 'Prince' is saved, 'Dire Straits' and 'Sade' are not!
Another highlight, though very silly, is a scene that has Shaun, Barbara, Ed, Liz, David and Dianne attempt to walk through a horde of zombies by pretending to BE zombies! Much cliché staggering and moaning follows with Pegg, horror nut that he is, doing a delightful undead impression.
The Zombies themselves are surprisingly numerous and look marvellous. Horrible wounds, pallid flesh, gnashing teeth and opaque eyeballs. It's top class zombie make-up folks.
As for the essential gore, despite the comedy content of the film, it's never stinted on.
We have some bloody zombie bites and entrail eating, very messy bullet hits and head wounds and well used bit of CGI for a great bit of zombie stomach damage and one of THE best deaths seen in any zombie movie as Wright treats fans to a wonderfully gross scene of an unfortunate being literally ripped to bits. It's very reminiscent of certain parts of the classic massacre at the end of Romero's "Day of the Dead", and fans will love it! Truly wonderful FX work on a budget by Stuart Conran, Dan Frye and their team.
And talking of loving it, Pegg and Frost are giving their as Shaun and Ed. Relishing this long awaited chance to make their film.
Pegg and Frost compliment each other perfectly, and they both work superbly with the ever welcome Serafinowicz (best known for not being known, as he was the voice of "Darth Maul" in "Star Wars:Ep 1"). Pegg especially plays the slapstick as well and the relationship humour with great zeal and equal ease and is obviously in geek heaven during the sequences where he wades through the zombies, swinging a trusty cricket bat like a Samurai sword
smashing undead heads with great gusto!
'Homage' wise, although the title is obviously a nod to "Dawn of the Dead", the film actually owes more to "Night of the Living Dead". The hold up in Shaun's favourite Pub plays out like the famous siege of the farmhouse in Romero's iconic original. With the strained, and later seriously violent and deadly, relationship between David and Shaun bringing back memories (some very obviously on purpose) of the friction between Ben and Cooper, with David standing in for Cooper. The argument about whether or not they should have stayed in the flat and not moved to the Pub for example is very like the argument about going down to the cellar or not in "Night".
The finale also has a funny, yet somehow ultimately quite sad, nod to "Day of the Dead's" most enduring character, 'Bub'.
Pegg works at 'Foree electronics', a wink to "Dawn's" actor Ken Foree, and there's a spin on "Nights" famous "They're coming to get you Barbara" line.
Away from Romero's films, look out for the name of the fish restaurant Shaun tries to book a table at,
And throwing in some non-horror homages, we also get a nice twist on "Reservoir Dog's" finale, both visually and aurally.
The finale, a hard thing to pull off given the storyline, works just fine and provides some nice laughs. And is perhaps closer to how it would all probably end up... than we would like to admit!
With some fun (and really for Brit fans only, though as a whole the film is very careful not to alienate the monetary important American market) cameos by other friends/sitcom/comedy actors including his "Spaced" co-star Jessica Stevenson, "Shaun of the Dead" is definitely an 'all chums together' comedy romp made by fans for fans
But it's also a technically excellent and polished film that manages to hold it's own place in the crowded 'Undead' market on the strength of it's own well crafted set-pieces, solid script, top performances and, above all, by making sure that at the heart of this very funny, exciting, gory homage, their lies a serious zombie film in it's own right.