COLUMN:Wearin’ that thesaurus might thin…

Denez McAdoo

In an attempt to expand my column’s readership beyond the two nerdy kids who play D&D in the back of the UMB game room, I’ve decided to loosen my normally strict definition of what constitutes the B-movie or exploitation cinema. Maybe you just didn’t notice there was a theme to this column. Because when it comes to movies, I have but one simple rule of thumb: if it’s got zombies in it, it’s going to be good (though this does not necessarily apply to the pre-Night of the Living Dead voodoo-type zombies.) This is because there inevitably will be an endless supply of murder and mayhem and, the best part is, it’s all morally acceptable because they are not human, they are the undead. Technically, zombies are not the same species, which we can see by the fact that they do not eat each other, only living humans and therefore cannot be considered cannibals (as we’ve learned in Dawn of the Dead.) So, when I heard that the new zombie/comedy film, Shaun of the Dead, was being released, I was immediately excited. I also heard that it was generously peppered with horror-nerd zombie related in-jokes and film references, and I was happy to know that all those lonely hours of eating scallion pancakes and watching no-budget gore-fests would finally be appreciated by someone. But then I heard it was British. I decided to give it a chance anyways because, hell, The Mass Media would be paying for it.

First off, Shaun of the Dead has all the undead skull pummeling and devouring of entrails that you could want from a zombie film. The makeup and effects are both grotesque and believable, which seems to be one of the few elements that actually seems to have improved in the forty years of this genre; no more slack-jawed extras in blue face paint. With that being said, I have to admit that the gore is not even the best part of this movie. Shaun of the Dead is billed as “A Romantic Comedy. With Zombies” and it is within this so-dumb-it-works premise that Shaun manages to elevate itself above all other recent submissions to the horror genre. It may seem to be only a stylistic choice in deciding to return to the use of the slower, lumbering zombies as opposed to the more rabid and frenzied zombies as in 28 Days Later and in the recent Dawn of the Dead remake. But this does more than just please the zombie purists, it allows the film to shift its focus to the lead characters themselves and to the more human aspects of dealing with a near-apocalyptic situation, instead of simply turning the genre into a fast paced action film. And it is the human element that really carries the weight of the film- memorable characters that make tough decisions, tell jokes, and develop their personalities. We remember their names and we may even care about them and whether or not they get their ass eaten.

To this end, Shaun of the Dead works as not only as a zombie film, but a romance, and a comedy as well. It tells the tale of sympathetic-loser lead character, Shaun, who having just been dumped by his girlfriend and had forgotten to send flowers to his mother on her birthday, becomes too self absorbed to realize that the dead have risen from the grave to take revenge on the living. When one of the undead makes their way into his backyard, Shaun must take the initiative and prove himself as he struggles to protect his friends and family while they flee to the local pub, where they will hold out the zombies and, well, actually that’s as far as his plan goes. Along the way Shaun must rise to the challenge and mend his relationship with his step-father, his mother, and his ex-girlfriend. All the while his best friend Ed remains a cynical, though likeable, unmotivated slob.

Most importantly Shaun of the Dead is funny. And not just British-funny, but genuinely funny, as the dismembered limbs and jabs at cliché horror conventions provide and endless supply of source material. Maybe with the recent box office successes of the seemingly rejuvenated zombie genre we’ll finally get the long-rumored forth installment of George Romero’s Living Dead series. I guess my review of the new Hilary Duff movie will have to wait till later.