”Shaun of the Dead” director: My top horror films
As unique as its blend of gut-busting comedy and gut-churning gore might seem, the instant cult classic Shaun of the Dead (in theaters) didn’t spring out of nowhere. Granted, no previous zombie movie had its heroes battle the undead with a cricket bat and Sade LPs. But director Edgar Wright, who cowrote the film with star Simon Pegg, grew up gorging on classic horror films, many of which weren’t, um, afraid to go for laughs. Wright, previously known for the geek-friendly U.K. sitcom Spaced, muses on his favorite fright flicks.
An American Werewolf in London (1981)
John Landis, dir.
Definitely a big inspiration on Shaun in terms of the tone. It combined so many things: big belly laughs, sympathetic characters, full-on gore, amazing special effects, and one of the first ironic pop culture jukebox soundtracks. The combination of werewolves and blood and naked females was burned into my synapses as a 9-year-old kid. It’s so deadpan and brilliant. There’s a bit in Shaun that we take straight from American Werewolf: closing the bathroom mirrored cabinet and seeing somebody behind you. It’s one of those films I could endlessly watch.
Dario Argento, dir.
Jessica Harper (Stardust Memories) plays a ballerina who’s going to an Italian ballet school, which turns out to be a coven of witches. It’s kind of like a primary-color assault of your senses. It has one of the loudest soundtracks I’ve ever heard. It’s prog-rock by this band Goblin, and it’s almost like if the Mars Volta or Radiohead at their noisiest were doing the film soundtrack — this enormous freakout jam. The sets and the colors were really vivid: reds and blues and greens, shot on old Technicolor stock. Argento apparently originally wanted the film to be with 12-year-old girls, but the producer said no. [Laughs] So Argento said, ”Okay, we’ll use 20-year-old girls and make the sets bigger [Laughs]. So all the sets are massive; Harper is reaching up to doorknobs. It’s an absolutely crazy film.
Evil Dead 2: Dead by Dawn (1987)
Sam Raimi, dir.
Besides being a completely kick-ass bubblegum horror film, it’s like the ultimate kind of Looney Tunes cartoon gone badly wrong. [Raimi] becoming one of the biggest directors in the world is the vindication of people who watched this film in the ’80s and said: This guy’s really good. Usually horror films are about people being picked off. But Evil Dead 2 is about one person being picked on. It’s like watching an 80-minute assault on [star] Bruce Campbell, and it was one of the funniest movies I’d ever seen. Along with Airplane! and This is Spinal Tap, this must be one of my most-watched films of all time.
Dawn of the Dead (1978)
George A. Romero, dir.
Obviously a major influence on Shaun of the Dead, the clue being in the title. Even though the makeup effects are superior in [the sequel] Day of the Dead, there’s something about Dawn that is so timeless. It’s not just funny and exciting and scary, it feels like it’s been beamed in from another dimension. One of the things they veered away from in the  remake is the idea of it being a horror film that takes place over a long period of time; they’re holed up in the mall for months. It ends up being less of a horror film and more a satire of consumerism and a black comedy about the end of the world. I could watch the images of zombies walking on ice rinks or up the down escalator endlessly. And the music — half Italian prog-rock and half strange library music from the ’50s — creates this otherworldy feel. It’s not like any other film.
The Thing (1982)
John Carpenter, dir.
It’s got some of the most amazing freak-out alien scenes you’ve ever seen, the transformation sequences. The first time I saw that I was 10 or 11. Me and my brother were watching it on network TV, and it was so frightening that we had to flip channels during scenes. Aliens [usually take human-like form], but The Thing goes into morphing and bizarre hybrids of spider and man and and alien and dog. It’s the product of some warped minds, and it’s still one of the freakiest horror films. If you showed Psycho to kids, you’d have to say: Well, this was really shocking at the time. But The Thing will always stand up. And Kurt Russell’s beard looks great.
Brian DePalma, dir.
I have this theory that horror films make better date films than romantic comedies, and Carrie is the ultimate horror chick flick. There are so many similarities between Carrie and Grease. They’ve both got John Travolta; they both involve the prom. They both have elements of teen angst and growing pains. It’s just that Grease doesn’t climax in a huge welter of telekinetic violence. Maybe Grease would have been better if it had. The prom scene and the famous tracking shot leading up to the bucket of blood is the best five minutes of a horror film ever. And it had such an effective shock ending: It then became par for the course that you had to have a hand grabbing something.