Battle of the Zombie Comedies: Shaun of the Dead vs. Night of the Living Dorks

As the decades have passed, there have been spoof movies in pretty much every genre imaginable, from police dramas (The Naked Gun) to teen comedies (Not Another Teen Movie). The legendary Mel Brooks alone has made spoofs of numerous genres throughout his career, ranging from westerns (Blazing Saddles), monster movies (Young Frankenstein), science fiction (Spaceballs), and even silent movies (Silent Movie).

So I suppose it was inevitable that zombie movies would end up being spoofed as well. Curiously enough, 2004 gave us not one but two comedies involving zombies: Shaun of the Dead and Night of the Living Dorks.

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So, which is better? Let’s find out.

Shaun of the Dead (2004)

The title character (Simon Pegg) works as an electronic salesman who hates his job. As the film begins, we see that Shaun also has to contend with co-workers who don’t respect him, his less-than-ideal relationship with his stepdad Philip (Bill Nighy), and dinner reservations that Shaun is unsuccessful at getting. The latter leads to Shaun’s girlfriend Liz (Kate Ashfield) dumping him after he attempts to remedy things by suggesting they just go to the pub they frequent. She heaps further scorn on Shaun that he’s never gone out of his way in their relationship. When he reminds her that they were in Greece together, Liz says that’s because that was where they met.

Shaun’s lack of ambition isn’t helped as he returns home and sees his slacker roommate Ed (Nick Frost) as always with his ass parked in front of the TV playing video games. They go to that pub to drown their sorrows, and upon leaving, see what they think is a couple getting romantic in a corner. But when they turn their backs, the lady rips off the head of the guy she’s holding. They also see a zombie, who they think is simply a drunk, walking slowly toward them, but they just scoff at him before heading back home. Once there, they decide to play records on the stereo at full blast at 4 in the morning. This prompts their other roommate Pete (Peter Serafinowicz) to get pissed off and toss that record outside, telling them that he has to be at work in a few hours. Pete also shouts at Shaun that he just keeps Ed around because he’s more of a loser than Shaun, and correctly guesses that Liz broke up with him. But Shaun and Ed also find out that Pete is pissed because he was bitten earlier by what he assumed was a mugger.

When morning arrives, Shaun, still recovering from his hangover and still in his work clothes, automatically walks across the street to the general store to get snacks, taking no notice of the nearby slow-moving zombies or the man running frantically for his life. Ed wakes up shortly after he gets home and they spot a strange girl in their backyard. She lunges for Shaun, who successfully keeps her away, but he thinks this is a joke. However, he and Ed are soon convinced that something’s terribly wrong when another, blood-coated zombie shows up and lunges for them. Via the news broadcasts on their TV, Shaun and Ed throw everything they can find, including Shaun’s record collection, at the intruders before finally killing them with a shovel and club.

They soon realize that Pete has become a zombie as well before bolting in Pete’s car. Our heroes decide to go grab Shaun’s mother Barbara (Penelope Wilton) and Liz and wait things out at the pub (with the booze there, that should be easy for them). Phillip gets bitten when they reach Barbara’s, but he hangs on while they go to Liz’s and even makes his peace with Shaun before going full zombie on them; how considerate.

But the zombies soon force our group, which includes Liz’s friends Dianne (Lucy Davis) and Harry Potter-lookalike David (Dylan Moran) to continue to the pub on foot, even encountering other survivors going their own route, one of whom is future John Watson actor Martin Freeman. Once there, Shaun finds that the rifle kept above the bar works. Hey, they have to guard that booze somehow. Sadly, Barbara reveals she’s been bitten and gives her approval of Liz (good thing Shaun didn’t tell her about the breakup) before going zombie herself, forcing Shaun to kill her.

David and Dianne soon join her once the zombies break into the pub. Pete is among the army and he bites Ed. Shaun kills Pete before torching the bar as he, Liz, and Ed go into the cellar. The dying Ed insists on staying behind, giving Shaun and Liz time to escape via a hatch that goes into the street. Once the former couple hits the street, they are surrounded by army soldiers who relentlessly gun down the zombies in such a way that I was expecting Shaun and Liz to be riddled with bullets.

The film ends six months later, with things having calmed down. Liz has moved in with Shaun (nothing like fighting the undead to bring an estranged couple closer together), who actually keeps the zombiefied Ed chained up so they can play video games together. How sweet is this?

Night of the Living Dorks (2004)

This German production begins with high schooler Philip Fleischhacker (Tino Mewes) being assigned to watch his house while his parents go on a trip. His dad shows how fair he is by threatening to rip off his testicles if he has any parties while they’re gone. Philip’s two BFFs Wurst (Manuel Cortez) and Konrad (Thomas Schmieder) pick him up for school. They also take Rebecca (Collien Fernandes) who has a crush on Philip. But he has eyes for Uschi (Nadine Garmann), who, of course, is dating the school jock Wolfe (Hendrik Borgmann) who, also no surprise, frequently picks on Philip, Wurst, and Konrad.

Rebecca and her two friends Gunther (Oliver Grober) and Frederik (Tom Lass), who are interested in voodoo, give a presentation on the subject in class, although the other students scoff at it. But Philip’s ears perk up when he learns that Rebecca knows of a love spell, which he hopes to use on Uschi. Rebecca tells him of her doubts on that but invites him, Wurst, and Konrad to the nearby cemetery for a ritual that she, Gunther, and Frederik will perform that night. Once there, the voodoo-loving trio produce ashes from a zombie that was apparently killed in Haiti months earlier. With this ritual, they plan to bring a dead chicken back to life by sprinkling the ashes on it, even though the chicken is still in grocery store packaging.

The urn is emptied, but a strong gust of wind causes the ashes to go not onto the chicken but on Philip, Wurst, and Konrad. They leave, understandably unimpressed.

But as they drive home, Wurst loses control of his car, which crashes and apparently kills our three heroes. They awaken in a mortuary and realize that they must be dead when they see tags on their toes. They race home and decide to put raw steak on their diets the next morning.

They soon realize that being a zombie may not be all bad, as they don’t have to worry about feeling pain and have greater physical strength. Konrad quickly uses this advantage to get revenge on those bullies. But Philip goes to Rebecca, hoping she can somehow reverse their condition. But her feelings for him make her think that he wants to spend time with her on her birthday. The downside of being a zombie also begins to set in when Konrad begins lusting for flesh, even imagining girls with no pants on. This leads to him biting a classmate. However, this doesn’t prevent our trio from becoming school heroes when they kick asses (including Wolfe’s) at rugby. This leads to Wurst announcing that there will be a party at Philip’s, with Uschi promising Philip sex, angering Rebecca.

Alas, Konrad’s penchant for biting others soon leads to him eating the gym teacher (Tim Wilde). Philip and Wurst do their damnedest to cover this up by chaining Konrad to a pipe in Philip’s basement.

As the party gets going, Wurst impresses the guests and even impresses one of them when he can keep himself submerged in the hot tub while they have sex. But Wolfe seeks revenge and attempts to frame Philip by planting drugs at his place and calling the cops. That stash, though, is eaten by Konrad as he escapes the basement.

Philip invites Rebecca over and she accepts, but is hurt yet again when she realizes he’s about to have sex with Uschi. Before they do, Uschi rips off his penis, causing him to frantically run off. Wurst staples the thing back on, but Uschi sees this and assumes they’re having sex. She manages to get the guests to start leaving when she informs them of this.

The cops show up but find no drugs. This pisses off Wolfe, but before he can stew for long, Konrad bites him, prompting Philip and Wurst to put his body in the freezer. Well, that should cool off his temper. But this prompts Philip to ask Rebecca about a cure, which leads to him accidentally burning her spell book. They’re able to steal another copy from a museum, and find a spell that will bring them back to normal. One ingredient of this spell is the blood of a virgin, which Rebecca herself offers.

Again not surprisingly, the potion is being prepared as Philip’s parents decide to come home. He and Wurst clean the place up after taking Konrad (whom they accidentally ran over earlier) to the hospital. But Philip’s parents realize that there was a party held here. Our heroes bolt and become their normal selves again after taking the finished potion. They go to the hospital, and after some struggling, manage to restore Konrad as well.

The film ends with Philip and Rebecca in a romantic relationship, of course, and a zombiefied Wolfe still in the freezer holding beers for our heroes whenever they need them. I guess Wolfe’s parents won’t miss him. He must have bullied them, too.

Which is better?

I’d say Shaun of the Dead is the better of the two. This is because, like Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein, the laughs and scares are perfectly balanced. Pegg and Frost have done numerous films together, including the Steven Spielberg movie The Adventures of Tintin, and they’re as fine a comedic team as ever in this one.

Night of the Living Dorks has its enjoyable moments. Who doesn’t like bullies getting their comeuppance, especially from those they’ve tormented? But the film itself has a few of the same tired cliches that many other romantic comedies have, including the guy who fails to notice the hot girl who is devoted to him. Rebecca is certainly the patient, tolerant type, I’ll give her that.

Rob Kirchgassner

Rob is a blogger, critic, and author. His latest novel is a western: The Search West is available now from Amazon.

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