The plot focuses on Shaun, an unmotivated young man who is attempting to get some kind of focus in his life as he reconciles with his ex-girlfriend and settles his various issues with his mother and stepfather. At the same time he has to cope with an apocalyptic uprising of zombies that is causing society to collapse.
Shaun is an appliance salesman who is going nowhere in life; he follows a mundane routine, and his girlfriend Liz is dissatisfied with their relationship, primarily because it revolves around going to The Winchester, Shaun's favourite pub. He also has issues with his hated stepfather Phillip, his increasingly unhappy flatmate Pete, and a dissatisfying job where his younger co-workers show him no respect. Following a broken promise to do something special for their anniversary, Liz dumps Shaun. Shaun decides to drown his sorrows at the pub with his other flatmate Ed, his best friend. After a night of drinking, he has an epiphany and resolves to sort his life out.
Unfortunately, this revelation comes at the same time as an uprising of the undead, who begin to attack and devour the living. Shaun comes to realise the gravity of the situation after having a close shave with a zombie. Shaun, along with Ed, proceeds to rescue his loved ones. Shaun and Ed decide to take Liz, along with Barbara, Phillip, and Liz's friends David and Dianne, to the Winchester Pub to survive the plague.
During their journey, Phillip is mortally wounded but manages to make his peace with Shaun before turning into a zombie, forcing the group to abandon him, and their car, and go the rest of the way on foot. The remaining group find the Winchester surrounded by zombies, but Shaun manages to draw the undead away while the others barricade themselves inside. Shaun returns to the pub thinking that he gave the zombies the slip, but the zombies followed him, and soon break in. Barbara is shot by Shaun after becoming a zombie, David is torn apart and eaten, Dianne charges outside in a vain attempt to save David (although it is reveal she survived), Ed decides to stay behind after being bitten, and Shaun has a final confrontation with a zombified Pete. Shaun and Liz, who have reconciled over the course of the day, survive and are saved by the British Army.
Six months after the zombie outbreak, society has returned to normal, and zombies have now become a part of everyday life, being used as cheap labour and game show participants. Shaun and Liz move in together, along with undead Ed, who 'lives' in the garden shed, and has been trained not to bite Shaun. (Though he comments "I wouldn't mind giving Liz a little nibble.")
This movie is notable for the kinetic directorial style used by Wright and its references to other movies, television shows and video games. In this way, it is similar to the British television sitcom Spaced, which both Pegg and Wright worked on (Pegg as co-creator, writer and star, Wright as director). In particular, the movie contains many homages to previous zombie and horror movies, most notably the Dead trilogy of George A. Romero. The name of the film is a play on Romero's Dawn of the Dead.
The film was initially inspired by an episode of Spaced, written by Pegg (along with his writing partner and co-star Jessica Stevenson, who also appears in Shaun as Yvonne) and directed by Wright, in which the character of Tim (Pegg), under the influence of amphetamine, the PlayStation video game Resident Evil 2, and twiglets, hallucinates that he's fighting off a zombie invasion. The two men enjoyed making the episode a great deal and, having discovered a mutual appreciation for the Dead trilogy of Romero, decided to write and make their own zombie movie. Spaced was to be a big influence on the making of Shaun, as it was directed by Wright in a similar style, and featured many of the same cast and crew in minor and major roles (as well as Pegg, Wright and Stevenson, Nick Frost — who played Mike in Spaced — has a starring role in Shaun as Ed, and Peter Serafinowicz — Duane Benzie in Spaced — appeared in Shaun as Pete).
The film is notable for the number of British comedians, comic actors and sitcom stars present in its cast, most prominently from Spaced, Black Books and The Office. As well as the cast members previously mentioned as having appeared in Spaced, Shaun also stars Dylan Moran, well known as Bernard Black in Black Books, and Lucy Davis, who played Dawn in The Office. In addition to this, cameo appearances are made by Martin Freeman (Tim in The Office), Tamsin Greig (Fran in Black Books, Caroline in Green Wing), Julia Deakin (Marsha in Spaced), Reece Shearsmith (a member of The League of Gentlemen) and Matt Lucas (writer/co-star of Little Britain). In addition, the voices of Mark Gatiss (The League of Gentlemen) and Julia Davis (Nighty Night) can be heard as radio news presenters, as can David Walliams ('Little Britain') who provides the voice of an unseen TV reporter. Many other comics and comic actors appear in extremely brief appearances as zombies, including Rob Brydon, Paul Putner, Pamela Kempthorne (Morticia de'Ath in The Vampires of Bloody Island), Joe Cornish, Peter Kay (Phoenix Nights), Antonia Campbell-Hughes (from the Jack Dee sit com Lead Balloon) and Michael Smiley (Tyres in Spaced).
The production was filmed entirely in London, primarily at Ealing Studios, and involved production companies Working Title Films and StudioCanal. An early working title was Tea Time of the Dead, as was Dwight of the Living Dead. Zombie extras were mainly fans of Spaced (who responded to a casting call organized through the Spaced fan website Spaced Out) or local residents who, curious at what was happening, asked if they could take part.
Shaun of the Dead was released on April 9, 2004 in the United Kingdom and September 24, 2004 in the United States.
The film proved both a commercial and critical success. In its opening weekend in the U.S., Shaun earned $3.3M, taking 8th place at the box office despite a limited release to only 607 theatres (compared to the usual 2000-3000 for other top 10 entries). In the UK it took in £1.6M at 307 cinemas on its opening weekend and netted £6.4M by mid-May. The film has earned $30 million worldwide in box office receipts since its release.
Critical reaction was largely positive, with the movie receiving a score of 90% at the comparative review website Rotten Tomatoes (with a Cream Of The Crop score of 94%) and a score of 76 out of 100 at Metacritic. In 2004 the magazine Total Film named Shaun of the Dead the 49th greatest British film of all time. In 2005, it was rated as the 3rd greatest comedy film of all time in a Channel 4 poll. Horror novelist Stephen King described the movie as "...a '10' on the fun meter and destined to be a cult classic...". With positive reviews, the film has acquired a certain cult following among audiences, especially those who were fans of Pegg and Wright's work before the film was released.
Pegg and Wright also scripted a one-off tie-in comic strip for the British comic magazine 2000AD entitled "There's Something About Mary". Set the day before the zombie outbreak as depicted in the film, the strip follows and expands on the character of Mary, the first zombie whom Shaun and Ed encounter (discounting the shadowy figure they were unaware was a zombie, the previous night) and details how she became a zombie. It features expanded appearances from many of the minor or background characters who appear in the film. The strip was made available on the DVD release of Shaun.
George A. Romero was so impressed with Simon Pegg and Edgar Wright's work that he asked them to appear in cameo roles in Land of the Dead, the fourth part of his "Dead" series. Pegg and Wright insisted on being zombies rather than the slightly more noticeable roles that were originally offered (as revealed in a DVD interview).
When talking about the American version of Spaced, Edgar Wright mentioned that he had been approached to do sequels and a TV show version of Shaun of the Dead, but turned them down to preserve the memory of the original and not to insult the fans by milking them for gain.
In 2006, the National Entertainment Collectibles Association announced that they would be producing action figures based on the film as part of their Cult Classics line that features fan favorite characters from various genre films.The releases so far are: -12" Shaun with sound -7" Shaun (The sculpt being based on the 12" figure.)which was released in Cult Classics series 4. -"Winchester" two-pack, featuring 7" versions of Ed and a Bloodied-Up Shaun with the winchester rifle. -Zombie Ed, which is a re-deco of the "Winchester" Ed, to be released in Cult Classics: Hall of Fame.
Upper Deck Entertainment released a card for the popular World of Warcraft Card Game in 2007, an ally named "Shawn of the Dead", with the power of bringing back allies from the enemy graveyard.
As with Spaced, in keeping with Pegg and Wright's adoration of the horror genre and specific films within that genre, as well as popular culture in general, there are many in-jokes and references to other films, television programs and pop-culture artifacts. Many of these references are mentioned in the 'Trivia Track' subtitling feature on the movie DVD and take the form of character names, scenes, snippets of dialogue and background materials. They are made both overtly (such as David's death scene in Shaun, which reflects the similar death of Rhodes in Day of the Dead, and the use of the phrase "We're coming to get you, Barbara!") or in a more subtle fashion (such as Foree Electric, Shaun's workplace, being a reference to Ken Foree, a star of Dawn of the Dead).
Prominent are many references to George A. Romero's earlier Dead movies (Night, Dawn and Day of the Dead, with Dawn in particular being referenced). In particular, the plot of Shaun relates directly to the plots of Romero's zombie movies — all of which involve several people trapped in a building, with flesh-eating zombies attempting to break in to devour them, without a direct explanation for the cause of the zombie plague. The title Shaun of the Dead is also both an obvious parody of and homage to the title Dawn of the Dead. Numerous lines, scenes and background details also directly refer to the Romero movies, including the music playing over the Universal logo, which is the synthesizer soundtrack to Dawn of the Dead.
Other than Romero's work, many other references to horror movies are made, such as the The Evil Dead series, 28 Days Later and the movies of horror directors Lucio Fulci and John Carpenter. More diversely, references to Blade, The Deer Hunter, Reservoir Dogs, the films of James Cameron and the Star Wars trilogy can be found. Several references to video games involving zombies, including Resident Evil, TimeSplitters 2 and Zombies Ate My Neighbors, are also present.
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10. "Shaun of the Dead (2004) Trivia. Retrieved on 2007-11-15.
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