The world is ending tomorrow, but all Rachel can think about is the next collaboration between Edgar Wright, Simon Pegg and Nick Frost.
With the end of the world apparently upon us (here’s looking at you New Zealand, let us know how it all begins), it seems appropriate to make what is potentially my last review be about a particular trilogy of films which are also working towards some sort of apocalypse. The first instalment featured the invasion of the world by a groaning zombie horde, the second had the destruction of a once idyllic life in a small country village, and the third episode of the “Three Flavours Cornetto Trilogy” remains an enigma to us for the moment.
The story centres around five friends coming together after twenty years when a member of the group hopes to recreate an epic pub crawl of their youth. The goal is to reach The Worlds End pub (presumably the one in Camden) without ending up in the gutter, but they get more than they bargained for. Greenlit by Universal, it’s set to hit our screens in a spring release in 2013.
If we don’t all die tomorrow.
In the run up to Edgar Wright, Simon Pegg and Nick Frost’s newest endeavour, The World’s End, let’s revisit the first two chapters from this comic, arse-kicking trio.
On 9th April 2004, I reached the magical age of fourteen. But, more importantly, it was the theatrical release of Shaun of the Dead, a film that boasted horror, comedy, and just a little bit of romance. Oh, and zombies.
Shaun of the Dead is a perfect blend of these genres, pairing scenes of fabulous gore with slapstick laughs and excellent dialogue. It’s a thoroughly quote-able film, which is always fun, but it also has a lot of heart and emotion amidst the comedy. It’s an affectionate homage to the zombie genre, with sweet little references to classics such as Romero’s Night of the Living Dead throughout (“we’re coming to get you, Barbara!”). We’re also treated to a big-screen version of director Wright’s unmistakeable style; his slick and energising use of extreme close-ups, smooth and revealing tracking shots, and a generally brilliant eye for visual were first introduced to us in quirky TV series Spaced.
Our hero is Shaun (Pegg), an average man with an average life, sharing a house with his two oldest friends, Pete (Peter Serafinowicz) and Ed (Nick Frost). The walls are dotted with posters for obscure bands and DJs, and mess is abundant. It’s more like a student house than the dwelling of three grown men (though perhaps those two things aren’t too far removed). While Shaun and Pete are both working men, Ed stays in all day playing video games and drinking beer, selling the occasional bit of weed on the side.
Shaun finds himself passing through existence in the same dull routine as befalls every single one of us at some point in our lives, and the opening sequence portrays this in a comedic way; the cashiers at the supermarket and the people going to work as they wait for the bus move in sluggish synchronisation that suggests the drudgery of the morning routine. It’s like a continuous Monday, and there’s very little life in the eyes of these people. We all feel like zombies sometimes, shuffling along in the same way until we’re finally broken out of our stupor.
For Shaun, that moment comes when his girlfriend Liz (Kate Ashfield) finally has enough of his reluctance to do new things and break the routine. She gives him a chance to do something fresh and exciting, which for them is something as simple as going out for a meal instead of the local pub. Shaun is a good guy at heart, but even though he attempts to do what Liz wants, he messes up and ends up being dumped. Heartbroken, he drowns his sorrows at The Winchester, stuck in the very same routine that Liz wished to escape. With hit-and-miss comfort from Ed, and then an argument with Pete when they get home drunk, Shaun realises that he needs to make a change. Before slumping in his kitchen and passing out, he scrawls a very simple plan to fix his life on the fridge: Go round Mums. Get Liz back. Sort life out!
Unfortunately for Shaun, his plans are waylaid by the arrival of the zombie apocalypse, turning his mission to improve his life and relationships with his loved ones into a fight to keep them alive. There is a wonderful tapestry of foreshadowing before the zombies arrive, creating an atmosphere akin to Where’s Wally? for the audience, as you try to spot the changes you were warned about. Shaun tells a boy messing about with a football that “he’s dead” for kicking the ball at him, a homeless man asking for change shuffles around the street, and both end up zombified. There’s even a guy on the bus when Shaun is heading home listening to the dance hit “Zombie Nation.”
When Shaun pops out to the shop, Wright makes excellent use of a long continuous shot which reinforces the idea of being stuck in a dull cycle; Shaun walks the streets but notices none of the zombies, none of the dead bodies, or the front doors flung open. He doesn’t even notice the blood on the fridge door, as he’s too busy trying to make even the smallest improvements to his lifestyle by opting for Diet Coke instead of regular. When we get too used to routine, it’s something we’re all guilty of and we fail to notice things around us. There are so many of these sweet little references – see if you can spot them all on your next viewing.
This isn’t just a comedy flick, however. Interlaced with the laughs is the horrible truth about what the characters now face. There are zombies everywhere with an insatiable appetite for human flesh, and Shaun’s step-dad Phillip (Bill Nighy) ends up joining them when Shaun tries to rescue him and his Mum. Despite having a prickly relationship with Phillip in the past, they manage to reconcile before he dies, a brief but very touching moment as Shaun realises he wasn’t so bad after all. With the Apocalypse in full swing, he finds himself the unlikely leader of a small band of survivors, composed of his Mum (Penelope Wilton), Ed, Liz, and Liz’s flatmates, sour David (Dylan Moran) and perky Dianne (Lucy Davis). But where can they go? Where’s safe? Where can Ed smoke?
The Winchester. Despite his previous failings, Shaun proves himself to be a better leader than expected. He gets the group to the pub (almost safely) and bravely distracts the zombie horde away from the building after a window is smashed by a panicked David. The film’s comedy has quite eccentric edges from time to time, again harking back to Spaced, which I think is encapsulated perfectly in one particular scene. You know, that scene. How could you forget? Watching the characters whack a zombie with pool cues in time to Queen’s “Don’t Stop Me Now,” while Dianne and Barbara watch (and keep time themselves)… what’s not to love? It pumps up the energy and makes you smile, and yet the tension snaps back seconds after this sequence is over. The zombies once again know they’re in the pub after all the noise and commotion, and now the group is forced to make a stand.
Unbeknownst to Shaun, his Mum is slowly turning into one of the undead, secretly revealing her bite wound to Liz. As a token of love and thanks, Barbara gives her a necklace which Shaun’s real Father had given her. Shaun has to let his Mum go, but then he’s faced with the consequences. David threatens to shoot her with the rifle from above the bar to stop her coming back, and as the tension mounts everyone’s true colours come to the surface.
The finale is tense and gruesome. David is eaten alive and followed by a stricken Dianne, Ed gets bitten in the ensuing chaos as zombies flood the pub, and the trio end up hiding in the cellar, preparing for the end. Ed is slowly dying, and Shaun has to face one more loss before he escapes The Winchester, saying goodbye to his oldest friend. It’s plain to see, no matter how lazy and foolish Ed is, that they love each other, and the depth of their friendship is shown in the simplest of contact.
When we next see Shaun and Liz, they’ve returned to Shaun’s old house, but now its tidy, clean and much more grown up. He’s finally made the changes in his life he needed to make, but there’s still one thing from his past that he can’t quite let go of…
Out of the two films in the Flavour Trilogy so far, the second instalment Hot Fuzz (2007), is my personal favourite. It’s not as simple as you’d think to compare the two, considering they’re taking on completely different genres. However, Hot Fuzz is definitely the film I get the urge to watch more often. It makes me laugh the most, I’ve quoted it the most, and I happily paid to see it twice in the cinema, which is a rarity for me. But why?
Well, just as Shaun combined comedy with mild horror to great effect, Hot Fuzz tackles the action genre to the max, paying tribute to the likes of Point Break and Bad Boys 2 with a distinctly British twist.
The opening sequence is visually interesting, building tension as a mysterious figure strides toward us across a bright foyer of glass and tile. All we hear is the echo of their footsteps as the silhouette draws closer, revealing their face as they reach the camera and thrust forward a Policeman’s identification badge. Police Constable Nicholas Angel (Pegg) is the best police officer you’ve ever seen (and a far cry from the lazy and unfocused Shaun). He knows the law like the back of his hand. He is determined, organised and highly efficient. The only problem is that he’s too efficient, causing every other member of the Met to look useless and prompting The Chief Inspector (Nighy) to promote him to the rank of Sergeant – in the small village of Sandford, Gloucestershire.
While Shaun was unmotivated, Nicholas is the polar opposite. He’s highly attentive and entirely too focused on his job, and yet he too is guilty of relationship problems, both with friends and his girlfriend (played by Cate Blanchett, not that you’d know it). His job is more important to him than anything else, and he is accused numerous times of being unable to switch-off. Whereas Shaun needed to make something of himself, Nicholas needs to reel back his involvement with his career, though both of them have lost sight of the important things in life: making (and most importantly keeping) connections with loved ones.
Pegg is reunited with Frost in the form of Danny Butterman, taking him for a drunkard whom he meets in the local pub, The Crown. But Nicholas can’t settle for a second without thinking of the job, escorting a large group of under-age drinkers off the premises. This fails to impress the infinitely laid back barman Roy Porter (Peter Wight) and his wife, Mary (Spaced‘s Julia Deakin). He also takes in Butterman for attempting to drive a car whilst intoxicated (and nearly running him over), discovering in the morning that Danny is actually a Police Constable and the son of the Chief Inspector, Frank Butterman (Jim Broadbent).
Danny, too, shows similarities to the character portrayed by Frost in Shaun of the Dead – just like Ed, Danny is childlike but drastically more so. His immaturity is innocent, a naïve country boy with a love of Hollywood action movies who can’t help but be in awe when introduced to Angel’s advanced policing skills. Danny is highly impressionable and Nicholas makes life more exciting, becoming a role model to the younger Police Officer.
Unfortunately, the same can’t be said for the rest of Nicholas’ new colleagues, a close-knit group who don’t appreciate him coming into their station and shaking up their nonchalant approach to police work. Even the Neighbourhood Watch Alliance (NWA), inviting Nicholas along to their weekly meetings, reveal that the most serious crimes in the village consist of shoplifters stealing biscuits and the relentless presence of The Living Statue, all threats to the upcoming “Village of the Year” competition.
Life in the village is dull for Nicholas, who misses the action of London and is completely at odds with the eccentricities of country people, as well as the limit to privacy which seems to exist in a small village. That is, until the deaths of amateur thespian Martin Blower (Frank Gallagher himself, David Threlfall) and his lover Eve Draper (Lucy Punch), both decapitated in what seems like a freak accident.
After Nicholas and Danny are invited to an awful production of Romeo and Juliet by Blower – an apology for speeding down a country lane – we see a mysterious figure in a hooded black cloak lingering around the back of the theatre. This is who dispenses them, but until a fourth death occurs, they remain unseen by anyone else but the audience. Nevertheless, Angel isn’t convinced that “accident” is the correct term for what happened to Blower and Draper, and as further “accidents” occur, he becomes determined that something sinister is going on in Sandford.
The prime suspect is the delightfully sinister yet charming Simon Skinner (Timothy Dalton), the grinning manager of the local Somerfield supermarket (which Wright worked in growing up). He’s responsible for a lot of the little references which Shaun of the Dead was peppered with (although, Hot Fuzz has plenty of its own tricksy visual references too), providing sly comments and musical “coincidences” which cause Nicholas to suspect Skinner further. Businessman George Merchant (Ron Cook) is killed via an “accident” with the stove, and Skinner drives past the scene playing “Fire.” The night before, while Merchant had been drowning his sorrows over the Merchant/Draper deaths (which Skinner had also driven by with his well-timed radio), Skinner craftily comments “hell be in bits tomorrow…”
Both movies also dabble in playful homoerotic undertones, more so Fuzz than Shaun. The relationship between Danny and Nick certainly becomes a bit of a bromance, and in the end Danny becomes a much better police officer and partner to Nicholas. There’s a sneaky little reference to what will come to pass at the church fete, where inept but enthusiastic local journalist Tim Messenger (Adam Buxton) is killed before he can give Nicholas some important information. Danny convinces his reluctant partner to have a go at the shooting booth manned by Dr. Hatcher (Lethal Weapon 3 baddie Stuart Wilson), who informs Nicholas that if he “takes out all the little people,” he can “waltz off with the cuddly monkey,” a teasing jab at the bromance between Nick and Danny.
And, indeed, that’s just what happens, with Nick taking down the NWA. Nicholas finally convinces the rest of the Sandford Police that their Chief Inspector is a part of their murderous conspiracy. Nicholas and the team go on a no-holds-barred attack, guns blazing from both sides as a war is fought for the village of Sandford. Needless to say, the commotion results in the village losing the prestigious award.
In the end, good prevails and Sandford is now protected by a much more efficient police service than ever before. Nicholas is promoted to Chief Inspector, politely declining the offer from his old colleagues to go back to London and help them improve their statistics. He’s found a home in Sandford, and his partner, now Sergeant Danny Butterman, has grown and matured not only into a better officer but a good friend.
Now, if you’re unfamiliar with the idea of the Three Flavours Cornetto Trilogy (known to some as the “Blood and Ice Cream Trilogy”), you may be thinking: What does that even mean? I see blood but where does ice cream come into it? There is a running joke through both films regarding Cornettos as the perfect hangover cure, and indeed each film features that most important of establishments: the British pub. Shaun of the Dead features the strawberry flavour – red to represent the bloodiness of the zombie apocalypse. Hot Fuzz, meanwhile, features the blue wrapped “original” flavour Cornetto, a nod to the police force. The World’s End is a mystery as yet, although it appears set to make use of the green mint/choc-chip edition of the cone-shaped ice cream, so one can only speculate as to what this could mean. Interestingly, the trio of colours isn’t just an in joke – it’s a little nod to the Three Colours trilogy of films by Krzysztof Kieślowski.
“Want anything from the shop?”
And whether the answer is given out loud or not, the answer is always the same: Cornetto.