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Shaun of the Dead (2004)

Ever felt like you were surrounded by zombies?

Rating: 7/10

Running Time: 99 minutes

UK Certificate: 15

Let’s set the record straight. Long before those hobbits won him all the Academy awards, Peter Jackson had already established his genius with the finest film of his career, ‘Braindead’ – the tale of a young man in 1950s New Zealand whose attempts to win the heart of his new girlfriend keep being interrupted by hordes of hungry zombies (led by his dominating mother). ‘Braindead’ was giddily romantic, riotously funny, and quite possibly the goriest film ever made. So do not be fooled: despite the cheeky marketing campaign, ‘Shaun of the Dead’ is certainly not the first ever ‘rom zom com’. It is, however, a hilarious resurrection of this daftest of sub-sub-genres, and unlike the American Scary Movie horror spoofs, it shows a profound understanding of, and reverence for, the original films that it bodysnatches for its gutsy humour.

Shaun has problems. His girlfriend Liz is fed up with spending every night drinking at their local pub the Winchester, and fed up with the constant presence of Shaun’s best friend Ed, who is an unemployed, dope-dealing slob. What is more, Shaun is stuck in a deadend job, and is terrified of his dour stepdad Philip, which stops him visiting his beloved mother Barbara. With everything coming to a head, Shaun determines to make amends and sort out his life – but he does not reckon on just how much his attempts to turn over a new leaf will be hampered by the masses of zombies that have suddenly appeared all over the place. So there is nothing for it but to go with Ed to rescue his mum from Philip, have some tea, pick up Liz and her flatmates, avoid the undead, and head for the Winchester to sort everything out over a few drinks before his problems really consume him and his relationship with Liz is torn apart.

Directed by Edgar ‘Spaced’ Wright, co-written with Wright by Simon ‘Spaced’ Pegg (who also stars as Shaun), and featuring other comic stars from ‘Spaced’ (Nick Frost, Jessica Stevenson), as well as from ‘Black Books’ (Dylan Moran, Tamsin Grieg) and even ‘the Office’ (Lucy Davis), ‘Shaun of the Dead’ is like a who’s who of talent from the most cutting-edge British TV sit-coms of recent times, which is why it is much funnier than British comic films like ‘Bridget Jones’ Diary’, Johnny English and Love, Actually – and unlike those other films, ‘Shaun of the Dead’ is nightmarish for all the right reasons.

Its strength, however, is also a weakness of sorts. For while all the wit, energy and timing which make a sit-com great are in abundant evidence here, the film is at its very best for the first half-hour, as Shaun first wanders his local haunts entirely oblivious to the chaotic breakdown around him, and then starts gradually to realise with Ed that not everything is right; but it is no coincidence that thereafter, at just the point where a typical sit-com episode would come to an end, the film’s comic material starts to wear a little thin – although this relative reduction in laughs is considerably compensated by the Romero-inspired exploding heads and gleeful eviscerations that follow.

It's Got: The thoughts of Bertrand Russell co-opted to help deal with advancing zombies, new uses for ex-girlfriends Sade LPs, zombie make-up by the man (Stuart Conran) who gave Nicole Kidman her prosthetic nose for The Hours, the true meaning of the word exacerbate - and the perennial question of whether dogs can look up.

It Needs: To sustain its humour more evenly - while the first half is a truly unhinged situation comedy with zombies, the second half is more like a zombie movie with the odd joke.


A viscerally funny British comedy about a relationship beset by rot.