Shaun of the Dead & Co.

Abstract from "NOCTURNO Cinema" magazine #31, February 2005

From what we know, even Land of the Dead will draw the horror close to that subtle "sense of humour" which always matched the Romero's cycle subterraneanly. Otherwise, it is a remarkable coincidence that the Pittsburgh master summoned, for two cameo appearances in his movie (as zombies), Edgar Wright and Simon Pegg, the creators of that famous Shaun of the Dead which many people all around the world consider as the ultimate horror movie for 2004 if not even for the last decade. Within the dithyrambic climate which surrounded everywhere its release, Italy marked in the negative with the repeated announcement of a theatrical release for the last September and even with the missed publication of a DVD (we still hope for a stroke of luck).

Shaun of the Dead, as we already pointed out in the massive "Zombi Apocalypse" dossier back in October 2004, urges one to wonder which has been the main reasons for its success: whether it was the satirical key to take hold over the audience, in which case Pegg and Wright should have touched such universally deep and brilliant chords of humour as to make even the strongest zombie-movie fanatics swallow it - since they are talebans, disinclined to accept satirical contaminations; and we bow our head to them. Or was it rather its so to speak "serious" appearance, so strong and successful as to make everything else fall behind, what made the movie's fortune? Even including those gags involving the existential and sentimental misadventures of Shaun, a nerdy media-store clerk who. in the lapse of a single night, suddenly find himself in the middle of an upside-down world, where zombies rule and his own life's course become, to say the least, unpredictable. Or maybe, thirdly. Shaun plays around the genre's stereotypes in a very intriguing and skilful way but without degenerating into a gratuitous farce and. most of all, without violating the traditional and mythical status of the living dead.

What really struck about this movie is actually the "philological" approach towards zombies, who came out as the most believable and elaborate we saw on the screen since the times of Tom Savini's remake of The Night of the Living Dead, whom they resemble in few very specific details, such as the white-membrane eyes. For being able to play around with such a tradition you have to know it deeply, and Pegg and Wright don't lack knowledge in this field.

One of the most genial inventions of the script comes out at that point when Shaun and his mates try to fool the living dead by pretending to be just like them and by walking by their side, which is an idea simple and effective at the same time -- that could easily belong to a classic zombie-movie -- as much as Patricia Tall man used to make a similar proposal in the above quoted Savini's remake. Nonetheless, Wright and Pegg have the entire merits for having put this into practice, with a good mixture of humour and suspense.

It is very likely that the two young Czech filmmakers who wrote and directed Choking Hazard , Marek Dobes and Stepan Kopriva. hadn't already seen Shaun of the Dead before shooting their film (which first made its appearance in the festivals’ circuit last April, simultaneously to the British release of Shaun), Hence they certainly deserve a bigger acknowledgement for having succeeded in making something conceptually very close to what Pegg and Wright have done. All this in spite of a slightly less than 100.000 dollars budget and in spite of the difficulties in finding a place in a market such as the Czech one, where the horror genre (of any sort) is practically vacant.

Even Dobes and Kopriva are conscious and respectful of the zombie-movie tradition in a wide scaie (from Romero to the Italian classics) and they choose a peculiar "story-cut" so to balance a zombie-movie in a comedy key together with a comedy interpreted by zombies. And we have to admit they manage to do it for almost the entire 90 minutes’ length, episodically running into just few-idiot tricks a la Peter Jackson - like an exhausting electrified zombies' disco ballet - but on the other hand reaching such cruelty peaks unknown to Shaun - the ashtray smashing of a zombies" victim, for how much elliptical can be. still left behind a really vivid impression.

It all starts from a group of people reunited around a blind guru-philosopher in a desolate hotel nearby a wood where, for unknown yet very likely reasons connected with the matters of Reason and Instinct. Life and Death, being discussed by the main characters, some woodmen buried in the surroundings come out of their graves and get ready to attack human beings (the word coined to allude to these creatures is "woombies". literally zombie-woodmen). The lack of means, however, goes unnoticed, or better still: the direction is inventive and very up-to-date (sometimes even too much) and the make-up of the zombies partly from the old school, goofy, slow and clumsy (Instinct), partly clever and Machiavellian (Reason) - plays its own part.

Actors are all big names in their own country, particularly Jaroslav Dusek who interprets the blind professor and Roman Izaias, a famous porn-star, who plays himself as a fervent Jehovah's witness. Choking Hazard has presently been released on a Czech DVD only, but is apparently scheduled for an American digital edition under Fangoria label and there are pending negotiations for a theatrical release in some European countries.

We can easily guess that it will take a long time to come here in Italy, probably so long as the five years it took Undead, shot by a couple of Australian brothers, Michael and Peter Spiering, in the year 2001. But in this last case waiting fever is quickly decreasing, at least for all those zombologists who don't find the Peter Jackson style neither attractive nor entertaining, especially when - like this one - it tries to find a path toward Raimi and gets corrupted with far eastern virtuosities. The living dead hordes enrage, this time, in a small Australian town hit by a meteor storm and they have to face, among the others, a guerrilla farmer who realized that behind the immediate danger lurks an even more dreadful menace for the human extra-terrestrial descent. The Spiering brothers self-funded their film with their own relatives' and friends' money (the total amount being approximately one million Australian dollars) and we have been informed that the special effects are home-made, in post-production, with the aid of their own computers. Still there's no doubt that someone, watching the sequence with the zombie-fish jumping from the pan. could be even touched by the thought this is a cull-movie...