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Shaun of the Dead - Without noticing, we're in a situation where we are under an enormous threat

Feature by: Jack Foley

THERE can be no greater validation for a movie, than receiving a nod of approval from the man who inspired it.

Yet this is exactly what happened to Shaun of the Dead creators, Simon Pegg and Edgar Wright, after receiving the ultimate accolade from original zombie luminary, George Romero, after he had been shown a print of the film.

"It was validation beyond all that we could possibly wish for," recalled Pegg, at a London press conference held to mark the film’s recent UK premiere.

"He viewed the film, in America, on Friday, and then we were given his phone number and called this hero of ours, the man who invented the contemporary modern zombie (not the running, shouting one, but the shambolic slow one, we all love), and he really, really enjoyed it. It was a real joy to hear him talking about how much he liked our film.

"It's a bizarre thing to say, but it was amazing, because daddy approves, and what more do you need? Everything else is a footnote."

Adds Wright: "I think he was genuinely very flattered that we'd kind of, within a comedy take on it, taken a very reverential approach to his films, and he really loved it. That was the icing on the cake really."

Pegg and Wright were inspired to write the film after an early episode of their television series, Spaced, in which Pegg’s character was trapped in the game, Resident Evil 2, fighting off zombies. But it is also born out of their passion for the genre, and their admiration for the zombie phenomenon.

Rather than being an out-and-out horror film, though, the duo decided to take a comic look at what might happen if a zombie holocaust hit London, particularly given the introverted nature of city folk, who frequently fail to notice what’s going on in the world around them.

"Much of the film is about the way in which city people can live their lives and ignore each other, and ignore people," explained Pegg.

"I mean, you can walk past someone who is dying in the street, as we often do every day, in London, and just kind of step over them. So in some respects, that's one of the things the zombies represent, in a way."

Adds Wright: "It is not so much us attacking other Londoners; it's rather us kind of commenting on ourselves. One of the inspirations for the script, when we were writing it, was that I remember not having read a paper for two weeks, and then feeling utterly stupid when I was watching the TV and burning cows, and not really knowing what was going on, and having to ask somebody what exactly foot and mouth was.

"A lot of people walk around in their own little bubble of their own little problems and don't really see wider things going on. We just thought that having Shaun do that with a zombie apocalypse was like the ultimate end of that joke - that he can walk around on a Sunday morning, with a hangover, and not really spot the living dead."

The ensuing movie has been earning rave reviews for the writing duo and seems to have further fired the public’s imagination for the genre, particularly in light of recent successes such as 28 Days Later and The Dawn of the Dead remake.

And while both Pegg and Wright confessed to being a little depressed when they first heard that other zombie films were in the works, while writing, they now believe that the rush of films has probably worked in their favour.

"While we were initially cheesed off with the other films, it has turned out to be great timing," explains Wright. "They have worked as an excellent primer for younger audiences who maybe haven’t seen the original movies.

"In fact, the Dawn of the Dead, in particular, works as a brilliant set-up, in that every time someone shoots a zombie, they shoot it in the head first-time, even though they've never used a gun before, while in our film, Shaun shoots someone in the head after, maybe nine attempts.

"A lot of the comedy in the film was born out of that literal 'what if?' approach, in terms of we've seen hundreds of American genre films, and played a lot of PlayStation games, so it was always sort of 'what would I really do if I woke up on Sunday morning, had a hangover, and there were zombies outside my door'.

"We're not equipped to deal with it in the same way that characters in American films, that have guns under their beds, or are expert marksmen and stuff, so we wanted to do a genre film where you'd have a pretty ill-equipped hero as you're lead, you know."

Pegg also believes that the new-found popularity of the zombie genre has much to do with the fear factor which has crept into modern life.

"Art always reflects where it comes from, and these are concerns that are with us at the moment, I think.
Horror films in the early 80s, for instance, like The Fly, were all about body horror, and fear of viruses and stuff; now it seems to be that we are frightened of each other.

"The greatest threat we face today is a fear of ourselves, or the enemy within. It is a fact that we are the greatest threat to each other now, and nowhere has this been more relevant than the in the idea that, suddenly, in this city now, we could all be killed at any moment.

"Without noticing, we're in a situation where we are under an enormous threat."

Given the reaction to the film, which contains its fair share of gore as well as laugh-out-loud hilarity, it is little wonder to find that both Pegg and Wright have developed a taste for the big screen.

Pegg, especially, believes that cinema is the way forward for harnessing creativity and concluded the press conference with some well-chosen words on behalf of the UK film industry.

"I think TV is becoming less and less the domain of art, as the creativity is becoming less and less important. It's a bit more about people being on TV, and I think the opportunity to make good, creative drama, or comedy, is diminishing.

"Film remains entirely about that, however. You can't put Big Brother on the cinema, and thank God for that! So it would be nice to do more films ourselves, and it would be nice if our film industry was able to be a little bit more prolific.

"Obviously, money and what have you is a factor; but it's certainly not about lack of talent or ability, because we have very rich comedy and dramatic talent in this country, as we do with producers, directors, set designers and every aspect of film. We're all here. We're just waiting for an opportunity."

Hopefully, Shaun of the Dead will provide a springboard for it.

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