Shaun Of The Dead – The Alternative Cornetto Trilogy

shaun of the dead

Michael Prescott

24-year-old Welsh writer on all things film. Background in Philosophy. Accidentally in Sheffield for 6 years and counting. Addicted to Kevin Spacey. Tweetable: @M_S_Prescott

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With the release of The World’s End trailer this week, it seems fitting to go back and revisit the wonderful films of Edgar Wright. Parts one and two of the actual ‘Cornetto trilogy’, named as such because of the idea that everyone has their favourite flavour/film, as well as the ice cream appearing as a recurring joke in the films, were Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz, back in 2004 and 2006 respectively. The third is the upcoming summer sure-fire hit The World’s End, which reunites the Wright-Pegg-Frost triangle. But while we wait, I propose Scott Pilgrim vs. the World – Edgar Wright’s third proper film (ignoring his debut as an amateur in 1995) – as the third in the alternate version.

This week I’ll start with Shaun of the Dead, now known for its stylishness that exerts Edgar Wright-isms all over the place, as well as deadly one-liners, brilliant cultural references, and the merging of genres that has led to it being known as the first rom-zom-com. As well as the obvious connections to the director’s first love, Spaced, Wright, Pegg, Frost and other actors including Peter Serafinowicz and Jessica Stevenson/Hynes are all crossovers between both – it also follows up and develops the video-game obsessed, fast-paced style and surrealist, witty juxtaposed humour to the next level from the TV show that lasted just two seasons and fourteen episodes.

The analytical return to Wright’s wonderful foray into film is a daunting one; attempting to explain the genius of Shaun or Hot Fuzz or Scott Pilgrim is not an easy task, but the links between all three films – even the third which has no Pegg or Wright – exist quite clearly to mark his stamp as a true, modern auteur of fantastical, absurd comedies. What is clear is that through several strengths that range from flawless dialogue to great observations, the trio are able to create something distinctly British and truly original in its style and humour.

What all of this stems from ultimately is brilliant writing. This not only sets up great gags that are delivered impeccably via the comedic timing of Pegg and Frost, but also allows the viewer to fall in love with the characters that have been created. A film is almost always on a road to defeat if the characters aren’t engaging, if not likeable, but this trilogy of sorts suffers from no such problems. This also highlights that the rom-zom-com label isn’t merely arbitrary or rhyming convenience, but accurately conveys the love, laughs and scares that we have with these characters, as well as the playfulness that Wright uses within this genre-mashup.

Building on this Wright-Pegg writing collaboration for Shaun is the directorial manner of Edgar W, with his ability to transform simple cultural references into brilliant parody, virtually unmatched this side of the Atlantic Ocean, with the likes of The Simpsons and South Park the closest American comparisons – a wonderful achievement to be associated with such greatness. These aren’t limited to TV, film or video game references per se, as Wright takes something with deep-set rules and conventions in zombies and wickedly blends it into the background of an everyday English romance filled with offices, drugs, games and ice cream.

Whilst the cleverness is displayed throughout, as many forms, figures and ways of life are mocked in their comparison to zombies – from teenagers acting as sheep to Shaun awakening from his daily slumber – it goes further still. The real genius of it is to hype up the Britishness of the reaction so that the zombie movie essentially plays out in the background whilst these ordinary people go about their daily business, not able – or rather refusing point-blank – to squeeze any impending apocalypse into their daily routine.

One of the best examples of their refusal to participate in such doom and destruction is the deliberation over which CDs to throw in order to save their lives; a superb demonstration of Wright’s ability to serve the story and stay true to the characters in a wholly imaginative and side-splitting way. The mixing of the not-so-daring rescue and wish-fulfilment that we experience through Ed’s “we’re coming to get you, Barbara!” and need to drive the Jag with the conflicting desire to let it all blow over whilst chilling at the Winchester is a testament to Wright’s control and comic touch.

Without even getting to the many devastating lines that have already etched their way into movie folklore or the cult status scene of Don’t Stop Me Now (just for starters), we’re already well on the way to understanding Shaun’s popularity and legacy. It revels in the fantastical and ridiculous as much as the two films to follow, though with Scott Pilgrim focusing on traditional love in the face of adversity and Hot Fuzz firmly on bromance, Shaun combines the two by strongly encompassing both in this trilogy of trilogies: Shaun-Ed-Liz, Pegg-Frost-Wright and rom-zom-com; providing the first ice cream with two more to follow in the Cornetto trilogy – actual or alternative – itself.

The quick cuts, astute juxtaposition of dialogue and visuals, and nerdy gaming appreciation would be continued all the way through to Scott Pilgrim, but it’s the increased film references and absurd number of cameos that we turn to next week, in the underrated and rather dazzling follow-up – Hot Fuzz!

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