Leave it to the Brits to find the joke in being gobbled by zombies. Shaun, played with comic zip and real feeling by Simon Pegg — he co-wrote the script with director Edgar Wright — is a twentyish bloke stuck in soul-sucking North London. Shaun works at an electronics store and tries to hold on, minus commitment, to his girlfriend, Liz (Kate Ashfield), but he hangs happiest at the Winchester Pub, where he and his mates, including the chubby, game-obsessed Ed (Nick Frost), regularly drink themselves into a stupor. That’s why Shaun doesn’t recognize the living dead — he looks like one of them. When the telly advises that you must remove the head to kill a zombie, Shaun and Ed bring out bats, shovels and an LP collection. It turns out that the Batman soundtrack album, properly flung, is a handy decapitator. Though I prefer the hard-core zombie scares of Danny Boyle’s 28 Days Later, Pegg and Wright — who are rumored to resemble a real-life Shaun and Ed — keep the blood and the laughs gushing. Pegg makes you root for Shaun, even when he’s slacking with Ed (did I mention that Frost is priceless?), neglecting Liz and battling with his mum (Penelope Wilton) and cranky stepdad (the great Bill Nighy).
Everyone bonds at the pub, which Shaun deems the ideal place to stand off against the undead. One catch: To get there through ghoul-clogged streets, they need to pass as zombies — it’s the film’s hilarity high point. You may even choke up when Shaun and Liz rekindle their flame. But this blast of fright and fun best catches the spirit of George Romero, whose Dead trilogy defined the genre, by knowing that zombies shrieking, “We’re coming to get you!” is still an irresistible invitation.