Shaun of the Dead directed by Edgar Wright, written by Wright and Simon Pegg, produced by Nira Park, with Pegg and Nick Frost. A Big Talk/Working Title production. 99 minutes. Opens Friday (September 24). For revue, venues and times, see Movies, page 93. Rating: NNNN Rating: NNNN
Zombies are everywhere these days. You've got the rewarmed Dawns Of The Dead and the abysmal Houses Of The Dead, the decent 28 Days Laters and the dreadful Residents Evil. The viewing public can't seem to get enough undead, even if a lot of it is badly packaged and trite.
But there's hope. The cream of this year's brain-eating crop is, without a doubt, Shaun Of The Dead, the smart, funny, scary flick that is a post-mortal offshoot of the successful TV Britcom Spaced.
The film's creators, smack in the middle of a seemingly endless promotional tour of North America, are blinking in the late-morning sun on the Drake's rooftop patio and talking about the whys and wherefores of their newly minted genre, the rom-zom-com (romantic zombie comedy, if you're confused.)
"We weren't lampooning zombie films," the impossibly bushy-tailed director and co-writer, Edgar Wright, explains. "We have a genuine affection for them. Our idea was to do a story about characters who just happen to be funny in an otherwise quite bleak and terrifying crisis. And we decided to do that by starting the film as a romantic comedy, then giving it a lethal injection of zombies halfway through."
The formula works. One of the nice things about Shaun Of The Dead is its multi-dimensional quality, the fact that the comedy and family-drama parts are just as enjoyable as the brain-smashing parts, that its characters are more than just emblems and have funny, believable relationships that evolve in the course of the film.
That way of doing things may seem unique, but it's not. It's just a bit retro.
Wright and co-writer/star Simon Pegg drew on their memories of satirical horror films of the 70s and early 80s, like John Landis's An American Werewolf In London and Philip Kaufman's remake of Invasion Of The Body Snatchers, as well as George Romero's Dawn Of The Dead, for inspiration.
Which is to say that their zombies aren't just voracious monsters from beyond the grave - they also mean something.
"What's great with the original Dawn Of The Dead is that it's a satirical jab at consumerism and the fact that, at that time, and even more so now, the one thing that Americans remember how to do is to go to the mall and shop," Wright explains. "Our zombies stand for the myopic city existence of commuting to work and being on autopilot and coasting your way through relationships."
Pegg, sunburned and bleary-eyed, chimes in. "The idea that you can be swallowed up in a city led to its logical conclusion, that if you're not careful you will be swallowed up - by zombies."
The city in question is a suburban London of townhouses, convenience stores and inescapable pubs. They deliberately avoided the mistake they feel a lot of English movies make, of shooting in Piccadilly Circus and trying to make London look as flashy and exciting as New York.
"Most comedy comes from close to home, so it was a case of making a film about the London we know, within the confines of a zombie film."
Wright and Pegg also keep it real with old-school, slow-moving zombies. "We refer to them as slombies, slow zombies," says Pegg.
In his opinion, they make for better horror. "With slow zombies, you can share some screen time with them - you don't have to run away all the time. That's the scary thing about them. You can outrun them easily, until you get tired. Then when you sit down and have a nap, they'll catch up with you and eat you."
What's next?, I want to know.
Pegg rolls his eyes. "Hard labour."
Wright shakes his head. "Another collaboration."
Nick Frost, Pegg's co-star, groans. "I don't want to be treated like that again."
Wright waves Frost away. "Nick, ssshhh. No, we're planning to do another film that would be a vehicle for the three of us."
Will there be more zombies?
Wright grins. "No, Draculas."
Pegg shakes his head. "Dinosaurs."
Frost speaks up again. "Vampire dinosaurs."
"Jurassic Draculas," Wright announces. "No, we're going to attempt to do the first British entry in the field of action extravaganzas."
Pegg corrects him. "We're going to do a film called Look Who's Talking Apocalypse Now, the story of one baby's journey up the Mekong Delta."
They're all giggling.
Whatever it is, I can't wait.