Movies are a funny thing. They exist both in the moment and also forever. Some films you forget the minute you walk out the theater, and others stay with you, spawning repeat viewings for years to come. Not unlike music, I’d argue that films are very closely tied to memory. They can act as a sort of sensory time travel machine, conjuring the feelings you had when you were, say, on a very memorable first date or hanging out with friends the night before everyone went away to college. For me, this carries over into a sort of seasonal emotional connection. There are some movies I enjoy watching at a specific time of year because they “feel” like fall or they “feel” like Christmas, regardless of how season-specific the content of the film may be.
As Halloween approaches, we here at Collider thought it would be fun to highlight some of our favorite Halloween movies. My personal favorite Halloween film doesn’t really have anything to do with the holiday at all, but at the same time it’s a movie that I find myself making a point to watch every October. It also happens to be a modern day classic.
Written by Simon Pegg and Edgar Wright and directed by Wright, the 2004 “zombie comedy” Shaun of the Dead is a decidedly non-specific film with regards to seasons (it’s London, so overcast is kind of the default weather setting). Nevertheless, its zombie-centric premise and evocation of classic horror tropes and films makes it a fine fit for the Halloween holiday, complete with impalements, gut-spillings, and headshots galore.
Personally, though, my reason for watching Shaun of the Dead every Halloween harkens back to college. I had certainly seen the film after it became a cult hit following its 2004 theatrical release, but I relished the opportunity to introduce the movie to friends as the years went on. Adding phrases like “You’ve got red on you” to our regular vocabulary became normal, and when October came around we all agreed it was a good excuse to get together and give the film a rewatch. It became a kind of unofficial tradition, and every year as the weather starts to cool down, I’m reminded that it’s a swell time to give the movie another spin.
As with all near-perfect films, though, there’s never really a bad time to watch Shaun of the Dead. When I first saw it, I remember being almost taken aback at how smart and surprising the whole thing was. The film moves at breakneck speed, but it’s exceedingly funny and packs a walloping emotional punch; you’re laughing so hard that you almost forget you actually care about what happens to these people (well most of them, anyway—David’s still a prick). It’s layered as well, which I think is why the film is so lasting. Sure it’s about a group of friends trying to survive a zombie apocalypse, but it’s also about taking command of one’s life, battling apathy, and the evolution of friendship. Wright deftly balances these themes throughout the film without ever laying it on too thick, resulting in an enriching experience for the viewer every single time.
Shaun of the Dead is one of those rare films that refuses to get old. No matter how many times you’ve seen it, it remains hilarious and sweet, and the tightly crafted script rewards subsequent viewings with its whip smart wordplay and quick visual gags. Which makes it a fantastic Halloween movie; even if you’ve revisited the film more recently than the previous October, it doesn’t feel played out. It’s enduring.
There are a number of other films that may be more Halloween-appropriate than Shaun of the Dead—Halloween for one, obviously—but I like to think that seasonal viewing habits are personal. A lot of people are going to watch It’s a Wonderful Life throughout the month of December, but you may have a more obscure or odd film that’s also part of your own tradition, and maybe that’s because you connect to it on a more personal, memory-based level. For me, for Halloween, that’s Shaun of the Dead. The fact that the movie also happens to be a modern masterpiece is just a bonus.
[Note: This feature was initially published at a prior date, but seeing as how Halloween is approaching, now felt an opportune time to re-highlight this original feature.]