It's not a big-budget action flick like the upcoming Alexander or a high-toned biopic like next month's Ray, but Shaun of the Dead (opening Friday) is one of the best movies you're likely to see this fall. A "romantic zombie comedy" from England, Shaun is both a dead-on homage to such genre classics as Evil Dead II, 28 Days Later — and, of course, Dawn of the Dead — and pretty hilarious besides. Director Edgar Wright and star Simon Pegg spent 18 months crafting the screenplay, which follows Shaun, the titular slacker hero, as he attempts to win back the heart of his estranged girlfriend while fighting off legions of the undead. On their recent visit to the States, the Brits allowed TV Guide Online to pick their brains about their love of zombies.
TV Guide Online: Name your favorite zombie film and your favorite romantic comedy.
Simon Pegg: Dawn of the Dead.
Edgar Wright: The '78 version. That's the one they'll still be talking about in 20 years' time.
Pegg: And romantic comedy? Annie Hall probably.
Wright: You beat me to it. I'll say Raising Arizona.
TVGO: Why those films?
Pegg: Well, I think Dawn is really the definitive zombie film. It's where George Romero consolidated the ideas he came up with in Night of the Living Dead, which is brilliant but a little more raw. In Dawn, he really captures the eeriness. I love the way it starts right in the middle of everything; there's no explanation. The zombies are sympathetic, tragic, horrible — they encompass every reaction you can have. It's also a great satire on consumerism and class. As for Annie Hall, it's probably Woody Allen's most crystal film. The structure of it, the devices he uses.... It's a very, very clever movie.
Wright: The other thing about Dawn is that, unlike most horror films, you really care about the characters. Usually, you're waiting for the next murder every 10 minutes, but in Dawn, you don't want any of them to die. As for Raising Arizona, I saw it as a teenager and I thought it was really funny and touching and visually extraordinary. I thought, "Why don't all comedies look like this?" It had a lot of influence on our film because it is crammed with detail, and we tried to do the same thing in Shaun.
TVGO: Shaun is certainly packed with shout-outs to other horror movies. What in-jokes can you clue our readers in to?
Wright: The most obvious one is the line, "We're coming to get you, Barbara," from Night of the Living Dead. One of the supermarkets is called Landis, which is a little shout-out to John Landis [the director of An American Werewolf in London]. A restaurant is named Fulci's after Italian horror director Lucio Fulci. The place where Shaun works is called Foree Electronics after Dawn star Ken Foree. There's one scene where we use a piece of music — "Zombie" by Goblin — from Dawn, and our soundtrack producer told us that it would cost £8000, which is a lot of money for a track that nobody knows. And I said, well you might not know it, but for the 10 percent of the audience that does know it, it's going to make their day. Specificity is something we really strived for.
Pegg: There are jokes you won't get until you see it a second time, and that was all in the script. We were very keen to create a thoughtful and complex screenplay. Too often, genre films are just treated as being schlocky. We wanted to do for zombie films what Ang Lee did for kung fu with Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. Give them a reverence, you know? I read an interview with John Carpenter where he said that horror has become a dirty word, and I think that's a shame.
TVGO: Are you worried about the film's ability to attract non-horror fans?
Wright: That's been the proudest thing about the response to the film. The horror fans like it because it's reverential and doesn't do the genre a disservice. But then other people say it's the first zombie film they've ever seen. If you love the Romero films, I hope you'll get a kick out of it. And if you haven't seen them, then you'll equally get a kick out of it.
Pegg: We never set out to make a spoof. We didn't want to lampoon zombie films. This is a zombie film. And it just happens to be a comedy as well.