Shaun of the Dead is a horror comedy directed by Edgar Wright, written by the director with his long-term collaborator Simon Pegg, who appears in the title role.
The film follows directionless electronics salesman Shaun and his friend Ed as they wake one morning to discover that a zombie apocalypse has overwhelmed London. They form a plan to rescue Shaun's mum and his girlfriend Liz, join up with some other friends and battle the undead.
The film was based on an episode of Wright, Pegg and Jessica Hynes's sitcom Spaced, which sees Pegg's character hallucinate a zombie apocalypse after taking amphetamines and playing the video game Resident Evil 2. Shaun of the Dead was shot largely on location in London's Crouch End during nine weeks in 2003.
A trailer for the film was passed at 15 in December 2003 after two uses of strong language ('fuck') were reduced to one. Examiners noted that the comedy tone 'is clear throughout and various shots of bloodied zombies with SFX faces and limbs missing are unlikely to cause alarm at 15'.
In January 2004, the distributor, Universal International Pictures, sought advice from the BBFC, stating that they would like to release the work at the 15 category. They submitted a finished version of the film and the work was seen by a Senior Examiner. The Senior Examiner informed the distributor that an 18 rating was 'a strong possibility' due to the fact that the zombie fantasy is enacted in a recognisable location. However, they also acknowledged that 'some would argue a 15 for this'.
Shaun of the Dead was submitted for formal classification on 19th March 2004, with its London premiere scheduled for just ten days later. It was submitted with an 18 request, reflecting the earlier advice, and viewed by a team of two examiners.
Both examiners felt very strongly that the film was a 15 and one wrote that 'If ever a horror film was made with a 15 audience in mind it's this one.' The key classification issues were violence and horror, with zombies dispatched in various bloody ways. The strongest moment of violence, acknowledged as 'an 18 moment', is the tearing apart of one man, David, after he's been dragged through a pub window by a hoard of zombies. Zombie hands grab the skin on his stomach and pull out bloody entrails. We also see his severed head as the zombies chow down on his body. Though the scenes of violence and gore are strong, examiners felt that 'the film's comic tone dissipates any real sense of threat or menace'.
The film's language sits comfortably at 15, with several uses of strong language ('fuck' and 'motherfucker') and a single use of very strong language ('cunt'). While very strong language can result in an 18, if it is frequent or aggravated by violence or power imbalance, the single use here is not aggressive. It's an affectionate use as Ed asks his friends whether they'd like a drink from the bar – 'Can I get any of you cunts a drink?'
Other issues include some comic drug references, with the clients of wannabe dealer Ed telephoning him at the most inopportune times to try to buy weed.
The film was passed at 15, with the consumer advice (as it was called at the time) strong language and bloody horror.
Shaun of the Dead was released on 9th April 2004, the same weekend as the romantic comedy 50 First Dates. It took third place in the overall box office chart but its per screen average of £4428 was the highest of that weekend. It went on to take over thirty million dollars worldwide.
The BBFC received just a handful of complaints about the film's rating, with some complaining about the film's violence and gore and others about the uses of strong and very strong language. One correspondent linked the 15 rating for Shaun of the Dead to the fact that 'our society's moral standards are in decline' and noted in bold 'If you are not part of the solution, you are part of the problem.'
The video version of the film was submitted in May 2004 and was also passed at 15.