Sunday, April 7, 2013

Shaun of the Dead: Screwball Comedy Meets Zombies!

Shaun of the Dead, a British 2004 film directed by Edgar Wright, follows Shaun as he tries to get back his girlfriend while battling the onset of a zombie apocalypse alongside his lazy couch-potato friend Ed. Mixing both the genres of screwball comedy and classic zombie flick, this film does a good job of working with and against genre stereotypes in order to produce a riveting, action-packed film.

Zombie film aspects:

In Romero's 1968 film Night of the Living Dead many classic zombie film traits are established. Within the film the characters gain knowledge on their circumstances and what they can do through the radio/television set. This means of communication becomes a really important and sought-after object. In Shaun of the Dead, Shaun and Ed are completely oblivious to all of the information that the television shows them. In fact, while flipping through the channels, the zombie apocalypse is essentially spelled out for them, word for word- but once again, this is to no avail. This lack of realization of the zombie film motif adds to the comedy.

At the end of Night of the Living Dead the protagonist comes to a tragic end. He has managed to escape from the zombies, but ends up being killed by one of his own kind. In Shaun of the Dead, all of the humans are shooting away at every moving thing in sight. A heavy weight was in my gut as I realized: Shaun and Liz were probably going to come to the same fateful end of Ben- they would be shot by the humans! But, rather than that happening, for some odd reason, Shaun's friend immediately recognizes them, so they do not get killed! This twist of what is to be expected helps add to the comedy of the film.

Screwball comedy aspects:

In Billy Wilder's 1959 film Some Like it Hot many classic screwball comedy traits were used. Screwball comedies deal with specific relationship dynamics that cause characters to get themselves involved in sticky situations. In Some Like it Hot Joe, who is disguised as a woman, falls in love with Sugar, deciding that the only way to get her is to present himself as a rich man. In the end she figures out that he is not rich, but they still end up together because she discovers she loves him too. Another relationship motif in screwball comedies is having an already divorced couple come back together. This dynamic is reflected into Shaun of the Dead. At the start of the film Liz, Shaun's girlfriend, breaks up with him. This is because Shaun is just not mature enough and is not being a good boyfriend. But throughout the film he learns how to take charge and get things done, thus redeeming himself and winning back the heart of Liz, just as would happen in any screwball comedy with these sort of circumstances.

All in all the film does a good job of using these well-known motifs in order to trick us into feeling certain ways, adding to the comedic feeling throughout the film.


  1. Great post! As always.

    Clarify: Aside from direct Night of the Living Dead references, what other zombie elements are there?
    Value: A well-written post with insight.
    Concern: You touched on the screwball comedy's ultimate affirmation of traditional values which Shaun of the Dead turns on its head by affirming slacker values. I thought that could have been interesting.
    Suggest: Explore more?

  2. Clarify: Why do you spend so much time at the beginning explaining the movie?

    Value: I like how specific your points can be.

    Concern: None.

    Suggest: I do think it would be nice if you focused your blog down a little more to give more detail on some big ideas you bring up.

    1. Your comments are very vague, Matt. It would help for you to be more specific. What are the "big ideas" that you think need more exploration in her post? Did you think that the explanation at the start of the blog post was not needed?

  3. Clarify: what "Screwball comedies deal with specific relationship dynamics that cause characters to get themselves involved in sticky situations. " mean?
    Value: good writing,

  4. CLARIFY: I believe for your thesis chose to simply point out some of the screwball comedy and zombie conventions in the film as your choice of the assignment.

    VALUE: I like the specific examples you bring in and how you describe them in-depth. I appreciate that you thought to try and bring in examples from the other films we watched to help illuminate those specific conventions you focus on. I think it is also understandable and wise to focus on some specific conventions rather than try to tackle everything (which would make your post much, much longer).

    CONCERNS/SUGGEST: Although I appreciate you brought up examples from NOTLD and SLIH, I'm not sure they were always needed. Specifically the example about Joe and Sugar, you kind of negate that example because you point out that SOTD borrows more from the "divorce-remarriage" screwball comedies. It might have been better to not spend so much time on that examples and instead just explain how screwball comedies have a romance plot to them, romances that do not go as planned. I'm not sure that you support the idea that Shaun's relationship is what gets him into a sticky situation with the zombies - unless you mean that because he has a girlfriend he ventures out to try and save her. It might actually make more sense to talk about how all of the things that Liz has been complaining about him (he doesn't try new things, he isn't spontaneous, he hasn't introduced her to his mom) end up coming about because of the zombie apocalypse.

    I guess I just think your blog post is a little disjointed at points, though it contains some excellent content.

    I feel like there are more important conventions of the zombie genre to touch on rather than the fact that they don't get killed in the end - there are plenty of zombie movies where someone survives. I think that might be a nice way to end your blog post - that you expected them to be killed like Ben and then they weren't (and that certainly played on your expectation) but I don't think that's as important a convention as some of the others you could have focused on, especially since you only focused on two.