Filmmakers Edgar Wright and Simon Pegg say they hit on the idea of lensing a zombie comedy while they were collaborating on an episode of the British sitcom Spaced. Wright was the director, Pegg was the co-writer and star, and the scene had Pegg's character trapped inside the video game Resident Evil 2. To the creative duo longtime fans of the living-dead genre spearheaded by the legendary George A. Romero the scene was "an excuse to muck around with some zombies," as Pegg puts it. But it inspired a greater epiphany.
"It just seemed to us that, well, if we can make our own TV show, we can make our own film," the actor/writer recalls.
The movie they ended up making, Shaun of the Dead, is already a smash in the U.K., where it's reportedly outperformed both 28 Days Later and the recent remake of Romero's Dawn of the Dead at the box office. With a U.S. release beginning this weekend, Wright and Pegg are banking on the cross-continental legs of their cinematic debut the story of a retail drone (Pegg again) who has to summon untapped reserves of courage when his community is invaded by hordes of the angrily not-deceased.
"We just set about making a film that was very British, that was set in a suburb of London, `that` wasn't a kind of tourist view of the town," Pegg adds. "`But` the film deals with big themes like love and life and the problems of living in a city. And those themes exist all around the world."
Love ? Absolutely. Shaun is as much concerned with its title character's personal relationships to his long-suffering girlfriend (Kate Ashfield), especially as it is with the comedic potential of felling zombies with perfectly thrown vinyl albums to the head. Just don't expect a clear line of demarcation between the living and the non-living.
"The metaphorical subtext is that Shaun is a zombie already," says Wright of their routine-benumbed creation. "And it takes a zombie invasion for him to snap out of it. In a city, it's very easy to not see the big picture, even though you're living in a metropolis. It's highly conceivable that characters like Shaun and `his roommate` Ed can go through an entire day without noticing that the world is crumbling around them." It's a conceit that supplies the unbridled hilarity of the movie's first act.
Anyway, "zombies are a great metaphor for humanity," Pegg says. "The obvious example is `that` Romero's Dawn of the Dead is a satire on the nature of consumerism and the habit of retail." But where that film's slavering ghouls congregated at a shopping mall, Shaun's action centerpiece is a battle royal between humans and zombies for control of the local pub.
"If the Americans are shoppers, the British are drinkers," Pegg jokes of the switch. And if Shaun's heroic odyssey only takes him as far as the same watering hole he always patronizes in the first place ... well, Pegg says that's part of the gag, too.
"We just wanted him to have the same weekend, plus zombies."