Shaun of the Dead (2004)

The first time I watched this movie — the first of hundreds of viewings, mind you — I realized: this was made by people who love zombie movies as much as I do. Now, the intervening years may have diminished my zombie adoration, but I still love this film. It takes what most of the cast had been doing on the BBC show Spaced (particularly the “Art” episode) and truly takes it to the next level.

Shaun works in an electronics store (named for Dawn of the Dead star Ken Foree) with a really bad life, to be honest. He has family issues, girlfriend issues, roommate issues, work issues — man, he has issues. When he wakes up to a zombie apocalypse, however, he finally finds purpose in life.

The storyline is simple, but the film is anything but. I’ve always been struck by how much emotion this wrings out — Shaun finally connecting with his stepfather Phillip (the always great Bill Nighy) moments before he dies and comes back from the dead, the final talk between our hero and his mother, and how the ending keeps status quo while allowing Shaun to claim a new life alongside the woman he loves.

No less of a zombie luminary than George Romero loved this movie. In fact, he invited Pegg and Wright to appear in 2005’s Land of the Dead. However, the duo insisted on being zombies rather than the human roles they were offered.

My favorite scene in the film is when Shaun and his friend (potentially ex-girlfriend) Yvonne and her friends as they’re both on the run. Beyond their friends being mirror images of one another, they’re also famous British couples: Simon Pegg and Jessica Hynes were Tim and Daisy from Spaced; Lucy Davis and Martin Freeman were Dawn and Tim from the British version of The Office; Dylan Moran and Tamsin Greig were Bernard and Fran from Black Books; Julia Deakin and Nick Frost were also in Spaced.

There are a ton of zombie movie references here, like an Italian place named Fulci’s; the Winchester bar having a Winchester model 66, the same gun from Night of the Living Dead; a restaurant named Bub’s Pizza after Bub from Day of the Dead; an employee named Ash is mentioned in Shaun’s speech in the beginning, referencing Evil Dead; the song on the bus is “Kernkraft 400” by Zombie Nation; plus there’s debate as to what to call the zombies, as many modern films refer to them as infected instead of the actual word. And of course, Ed shouting “We’re coming to get you, Barbara!” comes directly from the movie that this all comes from, Night of the Living Dead.

Even though this film is nearly 15 years old, it hasn’t aged in my eyes. But I’m biased — I loved Spaced, as well as the two films that follow this, Hot Fuzz and The World’s End. Even if you don’t love gore and zombies, there is still plenty of heart that you’ll enjoy in this film.

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