We continue that solid zombie vibe with two films that take a look at the lighter side of the dead returning to life and eating you – Shaun of the Dead and Night of the Comet. Who will triumph in this undeathmatch? Listen in and find out!
An episode of their sitcom Spaced, in which Simon Pegg’s Tim hallucinates fighting off a zombie horde after an extended, speed-fuelled, Resident Evil 2 session on the PlayStation, provided the germ of the idea for Pegg and director Edgar Wright’s paean to George Romero’s zombie movies.
Marketed as “A romantic comedy with zombies” (though, more accurately, it’s a bromantic comedy with zombies), Shaun of the Dead, co-written by Pegg and Wright, tells the tale of Shaun (Pegg), a sales worker without much drive or purpose, who spends most of his time down the pub or playing games with his friend from childhood, Ed (Nick Frost) or disappointing his girlfriend, Liz (Kate Ashfield) and his mum, Barbara (Penelope Wilton).
When a radiation-contaminated probe returning from space passes over southeast England, Shaun finds himself in the middle of a zombie apocalypse, and must save his girl, his mum and his friend.
As this is both an homage to and pastiche of classic zombie films, particularly those of Romero, the actual plot and events therein are pretty familiar. But, as with all of the best parodies and pastiches, Shaun of the Dead comes from a place of both deep familiarity with, and affection and respect for, the genre which it is parodying (something the Wayans brothers ought to have considered at some point).
There is also a distinctly British spin put on things (beyond the tea references, before any Americans make that joke, though those are in there, to be sure): so many American films have the survivors as, a) instantly gun-toting and, b) crackshots. Shaun and Ed’s first encounter with the walking dead sees them grabbing handfuls of kitchen implements (amongst which a toaster and a mug tree), and then immediately demonstrating them as being completely incapable of hitting a barn door.
The usual breakdown of the group of survivors is present and accounted for, but here it presents itself as name-calling and petty bickering, which is both funny and very realistic. (This sort of casual, believable banter is one of the reasons that Dog Soldiers, for instance, works so well, and so it is here). The film also has fun with the idea of the slow and shuffling zombie, using the time to generate more moments of comedy.
The interplay between the core group is really very entertaining, with everyone in that group being given a moment to shine and deliver at least one really funny line (from Barbara’s, “they were a bit… bitey” to the great Dylan Moran’s David’s, “Lizzy, how can you put your faith in a man you spectacularly binned for being unreliable? A man whose idea of a romantic nightspot and an impenetrable fortress are the same thing?”), though it’s Frost and Pegg who get the lion’s share.
This is all brought together with Edgar Wright’s distinctive directing and editing style, alongside his always entertaining choreographing of action with music: poor old John in the pub (see Wright’s recent Baby Driver for the apogee of this technique).
Pegg and Wright’s script is, as well as very funny, clever, with lots of moments of foreshadowing in what, on first viewing, would seem entirely normal and unremarkable lines.
Shaun of the Dead is, as I have mentioned, a loving taking of the piss of classic zombie films that absolutely stands alone as a comedy horror film, but rewards those familiar with the genre with plenty of extra jokes and references.
Mo’ comets, mo problems. Zombies weren’t perhaps entirely played out in 1984, with Romero releasing Day of the Dead a year later, but there’d certainly been enough of them released that people were starting to have a bit of fun with the genre. People like Thom Eberhardt, writing and directing Night of the Comet, which I’d never heard of, but Wikipedia assures me was a successful outing that’s become a cult classic, influencing the likes of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. So, already off to a bad start, then.
A particularly bothersome comet passes close to Earth around Christmastime, seemingly vaporising the majority of people on earth, unbeknownst to teen cinema worker Regina “Reggie” Belmont (Catherine Mary Stewart), who’d spent the night safety enclosed in a projection booth away from whatever agent has rendered most people to dust, and most of those left as, well, zombies. Sort of.
She emerges into this strange new world and attempts to track down her sister Sam (Kelli Maroney), the two drawn to the apparent broadcast location of a DJ that turns out to be a recording, but does bring them to trucker Hector Gomez (Robert Beltran), and together they must face the dangers of this new Los Angeles, from shop shelf stockers turned criminal kingpins to a team of scientists that might hold the key to survival – but perhaps only theirs.
I do not care about this film in the slightest. It is not terrible, but it’s also not particularly funny, or interesting, aside from the oddity of featuring the retroactively stereotyped fella off the crappy Star Trek show, I have little to nothing to say about it. So in a remarkable turn of events, I’ll just shut up and say there’s no reason to save this from its obscurity. Hard pass would be too extreme. Soft pass?
Thanks to everyone who has got in touch with us on this, or said kind words about the show – it’s all very much appreciated.
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