Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Shaun Of the Dead: The Gateway Drug Of Horror Movies?

It can be really difficult for those of us who dig monsters and freaks to get other people to see a movie with us. In my experience, most of my friends either think that horror movies are garbage for cinematic or psychological reasons, or they scare easily and don't want to watch anything that might give them nightmares. And I get that. Still, I get tired of doing everything by myself. What flick hooks in people who aren't gorehounds? What one movie could be considered the gateway drug of horror? In my opinion, the answer is clear...

At this point, anything I could say about Shaun of the Dead as a delightful film experience would be redundant. Everyone and their mum knows about how hysterical, how geeky, how ridiculously fun this British zomromcom is. So let's figure out what makes it so appealing to folks who really don't like all that blood 'n guts stuff.

1. There's a romantic undertone to the proceedings.

I've mentioned before how watching Shaun scored me a date. Fact is, a lot of female moviegoers who would be turned off by zombies and "boy humor" were able to latch on to the idea of Shaun fighting his way through inner London to save the woman he loves. Fellow horror fans who just so happen to be the opposite sex, please don't misunderstand me. I know there are plenty of ladies out there who enjoy dismemberment and monsters, but this is about how to ease in friends and family who wouldn't typically touch this kind of movie with a bloody 10-foot pole. And when it comes to Shaun and Ed and thousands of zombies, Liz (and Diane) made a huge difference in audience demographics.

2. The movie takes its time getting to the good stuff.

Non-genre viewers find most horror movies to be stuffed with noise and seizure-inducing visuals from the title card, giving up out of frustration and a need to lose their headache. Granted, this problem lies more with recent productions than the classics, but if they've gotten sick thanks to somebody's renting of Saw, you're not going to convince them that Psycho is much better in its presentation (sad but true). Thanks to Shaun's near-universal positive reviews, a lot more people than usual went to see it, and they realized two things: one, that a horror movie didn't have to blare the music every time there was a chilling moment, and two, that the monsters aren't required to jump out from every damned closet, toolshed, shower, and playground. This movie lets us study the characters and begin to care about their relationships for a solid half hour before the zombies take over. And even when they do, it takes Shaun and Ed a full morning to realize the danger, which amps up the humor. And that brings me to...

3. It's funny!

It's no secret for those in the know that there are loads of great horror-comedies out there. For a plethora of reasons, our friends outside the circle are hesitant to watch 'em, maybe because they don't look or sound (at the start) like they have anything comedic going on. Shaun took care of that in a big way. The marketing made it clear that this flick was funny, and the reviews helped. Wisely, Director Edgar Wright remembered to treat the zombies with respect, so none of the jokes involved them acting silly. But when your heroes are arguing over which vinyl records to trash so they can stop two ghouls who are steadily approaching them? Gets me every time.

4. It's not too scary.

Shaun has its moments, sure, but it's nothing for the serious horror movie lover. For a newbie, it's just the right amount. The danger feels real and the emotional turmoil is high (especially towards the end), but there's no stupid jump scares to dissuade the apprehensive viewer, and the creep factor it does have is well-earned through the character development and writing. Also, if you're on a date, that last reel in the Winchester is the perfect time to offer your shoulder.

5. It's a quality film for both the horror fan and general movie-watcher alike.

Either way you slice it, Shaun of the Dead is simply massively entertaining. The jokes land for people whether they know the references or not (even grandfather of zombies George Romero didn't get all the nods to his films upon first viewing and loved it). It stands up to repeated screenings. It features characters that you care about and root for. And best of all, it inspires horror virgins to watch weightier fare. It's the perfect gateway drug of horror movies.

Edgar Wright, Simon Pegg, and Nick Frost continue to produce quality work either together or apart, with films like Hot Fuzz, Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, and Attack the Block. Hopefully, they'll eventually grace us with another bona-fide horror flick. Now that would be a slice of fried gold.

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