Shaun of the Dead: Your gateway drug to zombie fandom
"You've got red on you."
Don't like that one? How about "We're coming to get you, Barbara!" -- which serves as a clever callback to the movie that birthed the modern zombie. Maybe you prefer something like the creatively cursed "Fuck-a-doodle-doo!" There's no question that the abundance of quotable lines in Shaun of the Dead is part of its charm, but that's not what makes it one of the best zombie movies of all time. (If it was, Grandma's Boy, a painfully dumb/bad stoner movie with an abundance of great quotes scattered throughout, would be enjoyable even when you weren't baked out of your skull.) No, while all those quotes are part of what make it such an obvious choice for an Alamo Drafthouse Quote-Along (like, say, the one tonight at the Alamo Drafthouse), the movie's real genius is that it serves as the ideal gateway drug to full-on zombie fandom.
That's not to say it's a zombie movie just for noobs. The thing is, people who like zombie movies? They love it. I interview a lot of zombie people -- writers, filmmakers, zombie-walk organizers and more -- and almost invariably I ask them for their favorite zombie movie. A shocking number of them, close to 75 percent, name Shaun of the Dead. Even George Romero, the father of the modern zombie, likes it -- and he's pretty picky about what zombie stuff he likes, to put it mildly. There's no question that among zombie fans, Shaun is beloved.
It's easy to understand why. Old-school zombie fans like the slow zombies, and the fact that the movie takes a classic scenario -- group of people cope with the sudden, unexpected onset of the dead coming back to life -- without resorting to straight-up copying a classic film. The movie treats the zombie genre with respect, even reverence, and it's hard for zombie fans not to love it.
Of course, plenty of great zombie movies hit those same beats, but they aren't necessarily a good intro to the genre. What really makes Shaun special is how people who don't like zombie movies feel about it.
With rare exception, they love it, too.
Unpacking why that is takes a little more work, but it's not exactly rocket science. The thing is, Shaun is more than a zombie movie. It's also a damn fine romantic comedy, one of the best of the past decade. It takes one of the classic rom-com formulas -- loser guy with a heart of gold gets dumped, decides to change his life to win back the girl -- and plops it in the middle of the zombie apocalypse with absolutely brilliant results. Don't care for rom-coms? That's okay, it's also a classic buddy-comedy farce, putting two loveable goofs together and letting them play off each other's foibles for maximum laughs in a tradition that goes back at least as far as Laurel and Hardy. Oh, and you pop-culture junkies can embrace the clever, self-referential nods to Spaced, the original collaboration between director Edgar Wright and stars Simon Pegg and Nick Frost. Or hell, forget all those pigeonholes and just enjoy the movie for its crackling writing and dead-on situational humor that embraces every aspect of modern life -- from miserable jobs to the familial tension of having a bastard of a step-dad. The point is, the movie works on all these levels simultaneously, so people who would never normally embrace a movie about trying to escape hordes of the ravenous dead come away as happy as any hardcore zed head.
That's what sets Shaun of the Dead apart from so many zombie movies. Faced with someone zombie curious or even zombie skeptical, you cannot go wrong with Shaun. If one angle doesn't hook them, there's every chance that another will. And if they end up embracing the walking dead as well as the smart humor and endearing characters, they'll already have a solid grounding in the fundamentals of the genre that will serve them well when they work their way back to something like the original Dawn of the Dead. And even if they don't ever find another zombie movie they like, well, you'll always have Shaun.
See Shaun of the Dead tonight and August 18 at the Alamo Drafthouse Cinema in Quote-Along form, or catch it along with Hot Fuzz and The World's End, the other two films in Edgar Wright's Cornetto trilogy (aka the Blood and Ice Cream trilogy), August 22 at the Alamo.