Just suppose that you woke up one Sunday morning and there was a zombie in your back yard. What would you do?
Would you run inside and grab a video camera in hopes of breaking into reality television? Or would you fire up the chainsaw and show the undead who's boss?
That's exactly what British screenwriter/actor Simon Pegg and director Edgar Wright, who co-wrote the romantic comedy/horror flick "Shaun of the Dead," (which hits theaters Friday) wondered. They opted for a variation of the latter option: When the main character, Shaun, discovers listless, pulse-less, guts-craving creatures in his back yard, he and his friend Ed decide to slice off their groaning heads with the best weapons they could find — Shaun's record collection. The first casualty? The "Batman" soundtrack. (Sorry, Bruce Wayne).
The concept for "Shaun" was inspired by a zombie scene in "Spaced," a popular British comedy about 20-something slackers that Pegg and Wright worked on in 1999. Both men are huge fans of the original zombie-master, director George A. Romero, who gave the dead their big shot at fame in 1968 with the horror classic "Night of the Living Dead."
"Me and Simon are big fans of zombie films," said Wright, who wrote the script with Pegg in just eight weeks. But Pegg and Wright's zombies are not the rabid-dog-like creatures found in modern-day zombie films like "28 Days Later." Instead, Shaun's dead pay tribute to the original "Dawn of the Dead" with their sluggishness and comical moaning. "Imagine your organs and muscles decaying as you walk," Pegg said. "They're like lava. [Zombies are] almost sympathetic, in a way: They do not have a moral agenda, they just feed and breed. That's all they do." In what might be the funniest scene in the film, Shaun and his friends pretend to be zombies by moaning and meandering their way to safety through the mass of undead.
It's also no mistake that Shaun and his slacker buddy Ed's apathy mirrors the zombies' torpor (and, thanks to hours of indoor video-game playing, their pallor too). Shaun is stuck in a rut professionally, his girlfriend is ready to hand him his pink slip, and Ed's social graces basically render him unemployable. Pouring these elements into the script was easy for Wright, who has had similar experiences. "I remember during the foot-and-mouth [epidemic] in the U.K., I hadn't read the papers or watched the news for, like, two weeks, and the first thing I saw [on] TV was piles of cows burning and I didn't know what it was about," he said. "I felt like such an idiot! That sort of informed the film. I thought, it's plausible that the world could be ending and these two guys could be the last to know. And in some respects, I think Shaun was a 90-minute apology for [me] being a lousy boyfriend."
Naturally, other parts of Wright and Pegg's lives seeped into the film. "There are some moments when there was no acting required," Pegg said. The two main characters, Shaun (played by Pegg) and Ed (played by "Spaced" actor Nick Frost) are actually on-screen versions of Pegg and Wright, respectively. So when Shaun's girlfriend Liz complains about the fact that their sole activity is hanging at the local pub, "That is, in some respects, me talking to Simon and Nick because they always used to go to the same bar all the time," Wright said.
"Edgar was always trying to get us to go somewhere else," Pegg said. "When I was writing [the script], I wanted to represent this pub that I love so much." The beloved pub eventually becomes a safe haven for Shaun and Ed, and the location for the final showdown between the humans and the zombies.
Music also played a big role in the film. Wright, who is a big fan of Prince and Queen, suggested that the soundtrack for Shaun's final duel with the zombies should be Queen's "Don't Stop Me Now." "We had kind of a mixtape of songs we wanted to use before the film was made," said Pegg, who pleaded that Shaun and Ed not hurl a Stone Roses LP at the salivating undead. But albums by Prince and Sade were not as lucky. "We love using Sade as a weapon," Pegg laughed. And when it came time to film the scene, Shaun and Ed had to watch out for more than bloodthirsty zombies — they had to be careful not to show all of the album covers on screen. "Only Sade and New Order gave us permission to show the cover," he said.
Though it is uncertain how "Shaun" will play to fans of straight-ahead zombie flicks, it's drawing attention for pioneering what Pegg and Wright like to call "rom-zom-com" (romantic zombie comedy). "The film is a romantic comedy," says Pegg, "And people always think it's a romantic comedy about Shaun and Liz; it's not. It's a romantic comedy about Ed and Shaun."
"We wanted it to dawn on you, as the film goes, that it's a romantic comedy and a zombie film, going in parallel," said Wright. "In that sense, I hope that makes the viewing experience more of a full meal." Want guts with that?
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