I'm no horror buff, but I do love the zombies. Well, I love the idea of zombies. I'm not really that interested in watching all the low-budget zombie movies, all the Italian zombie movies, or all the non-Romero Living Dead movies. But it's funny, I was looking over Ryan's recent Cinematical Seven of reasons he doesn't care for zombie movies, and it dually serves as my own list of reasons I like zombie movies. Or at least those zombie movies that apply. Primarily, I like zombie movies for the first reason: the symbolism.
Shaun of the Dead may be a comedic zombie movie, and it may not have any political undertones or serious social commentary, as do Romero's films and other prominent examples of the genre, but it does permit a scholarly subtext reading nonetheless. And because I'm a scholarly sort of gent (or maybe really I just like to over-analyze everything), I'm going to take this opportunity to look at this deeper level of the movie. Sure, I could just write about why I think the movie is one of the most hilarious I've ever seen, but that would be boring; plus, I respect that some people don't have the same sense of humor as me.
Shaun's symbolism comes in the form of the romantic story. The movie, often referred to as a "rom zom com" (romantic zombie comedy), actually serves as a sort of cinematic relationship guide, comically instructing us about dealing with commitment issues. Look at the order in which the members of Shaun's party are killed (killed dead, not undead): #1: his stepfather (Bill Nighy); #2: his mum (Penelope Wilton); #3: the other guy who loves his girl (the underrated Dylan Moran, who must be seen in Run Fatboy Run); #4: his roommate (Peter Serafinowicz); and finally, #5: his immature best friend (Nick Frost). These are the people that have to die in order for Shaun (Simon Pegg) to devote his full attention to Liz (Kate Ashfield). In real, non-lethal terms, they are the people Shaun has to let go of before he can fully connect in a relationship.
Who hasn't had to deal with one or more of these examples when in love? I don't want to get all psychological about it, especially with the mama's boy stuff, but certainly everybody has had that good friend who has to be compromised somewhat because he or she poses a threat to the relationship. The interesting thing is that Ed doesn't actually have to die, whereas the rest of the threats do. The roommate one is a little less obvious than the others, in the sense that he's just representational of the bachelor pad. And there's probably other characters that can also be considered in the order, such as the bartender, who personifies Shaun's penchant for hanging out in a bar and drinking too much.
Okay, so maybe you don't appreciate the academic dissection approach to the film, but the level is there to think about if you want to. The script is also filled with other gems that similarly involve close attention, yet aren't as analytically nerdy. Much of these bits of genius are revealed in the film's DVD commentary, such as the many references to Romero and Raimi and others. The most genius line, though, is the foreshadowing drinking plan of "a Bloody Mary first thing, a bite at the King's Head, a couple at the Little Princess, stagger back here and bang ... back at the bar for shots." It cleverly plots out the events of the rest of the movie. Also, it's great how, whether intentional or not, Shaun's stepfather, Philip, evokes the Black Knight from Monty Python and the Holy Grail when insisting that his bite is not that bad ("I ran it under a cold tap").
Of course, there's also simple slapstick comedy like when Shaun slips on the blood in the market. And there's plenty of gross, bloody gore, too. If there weren't a subtext I would surely enjoy the movie for the surface comedy and horror alone. I might even want to watch it a million times, as I do now. But the symbolism and depth of the movie make me appreciate it as a masterpiece.