Exploring Intertextuality and Pastiche in Shaun of the Dead

Last Updated: 25 May 2023
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This essay is going to investigate the concepts of intertextuality and pastiche of Shaun of the Dead. To do this, the two concepts will be briefly explained and how, although the film is completely made up of references to different films, it is still wholly original because of this.

“Intertextuality is the shaping of texts’ meanings by other texts. It can refer to an author’s borrowing and transformation of a prior text or to a reader’s referencing of one text in reading another. The term “intertextuality” has, itself, been borrowed and transformed many times since it was coined by poststructuralist Julia Kristeva in 1966. As critic William Irwin says, the term “has come to have almost as many meanings as users, from those faithful to Kristeva’s original vision to those who simply use it as a stylish way of talking about allusion and influence” (Irwin, 228).”

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“The literary term “pastiche” is used in two slightly different ways, and the concept can be found in other arts, not just literature, ranging from architecture to film. In the first sense, a pastiche is a form of homage which is accomplished through imitation. In the second definition, a pastiche is a medley of items which are imitative in origin. The term can be used in a derogatory or complimentary way, depending on the work under discussion.

The origins of the word lie in an Italian word meaning “medley,” a reference to a type of cake or pie which is made from a broad mixture of items. The idea behind either form of pastiche is that it integrates themes, ideas, concepts, and characters which have already been seen and used before. These items are integrated in a new work because the author finds them interesting, compelling, or useful; a pastiche is not plagiarism or outright imitation, but a more complex literary concept.” (Smith, 2011).

Shawn of the Dead was a 2004 film written by Simon Pegg and Edgar Wright. It was billed as a ‘British romantic zombie comedy’. The main plot of the film is that a man (Shawn) decides to turn his life around by winning his girlfriend back and fixing the relationship with his mother. Unfortunately he also has to deal with the whole community coming back from the dead to eat the living.

Shawn of the dead is jammed packed with references to other films, most of which can be found in the following part of this essay.

Firstly, in the opening credits, during the company logo, ‘figment’ by S. Park is playing. This is the same music that was playing during the airport scene in Dawn of the Dead. (Shawn of the Dead is obviously paying homage to Dead of the Dead in the similar film title reference as well). In Day of the Dead a zombie staggers into the screen shot and as a nod to this Shawn of the Dead has a shot of Shawn staggering across the floor after waking up.

Pete, Shawn’s flatmate answers his mobile phone with the line, “Hi Dom.” Peter Serafinowicz (who portrayed Pete in the film) was also in BBC series Spaced (starring Simon Pegg) where he frequently used the same line. As Shaun walks to the corner store, he passes a road sweeper. On the operator’s radio, you can hear a report of how a space probe named Omega 6 entered the atmosphere several days early over the southwest of England and broke apart over a heavily populated area. This ties in with Night of the Living Dead, in which a space probe breaks up in the atmosphere and causes the dead to return to life.

Throughout the film we see multiple references to a made up pizza chain called ‘Bub’s Pizza’. This is a reference to the smarter than average zombie Bub from Day of the Dead.

Shawn walks past a sign for Weston Park. This sign is in Crouch End in London. It is the same place that the BBC series Spaced was set and was also where Simon Pegg resided in 2004. They pay tribute to Ashley J. Williams, who played Bruce Campbell. hero from the Evil Dead Trilogy. This is during the scene when Shawn calls a staff meeting. He mentions that the manager and ‘Ash’ have both phoned in sick.

There is an exclusive seafood restaurant called Fulci’s in the film at which Shawn tries to make a reservation. This is a nod to Lucio Fulci, the famed Italian horror director. Ed, Shawn’s best friend, is known for his hilarious impression of Clyde, the orang-utan from Every Which Way But Loose with Clint Eastwood.

The zombie in Shawns back garden, Mary, worked at Landis Supermarket. This is a reference to John Landis who is the director of the horror film An American Werewolf in London. As Shawn and Ed are watching news reports on the television they come across a reporter who speaks the same lines as the reporter in the Night of the Living Dead (1968)

There is a poster of a bleeding cartoon schoolgirl in the background of the scene where Shawn and Ed get attacked by the one armed zombie. This is a stylized recreation of a scene from Battle Royale, a Japanese film. At one point, Ed warns Shawn’s mum over the phone, “We’re coming to get you, Barbara.” This line is a reference to a line from the beginning of George Romero’s seminal zombie movie Night of the Living Dead (1968).

We hear ‘Zombi’ by Goblin, in the scene where Shawn and Ed try to work out how to rescue Liz and Barbara. This music was featured in Dawn of the Dead.  When Shawn and Ed get to the idea of seeking refuge in the Winchester pub, a delighted Ed exclaims, ‘Yeah, boy!’ this is a reference to Public Enemy rapper Flavor Flay.

As they are making their way to the Winchester, Shawns mum falls behind and gets attacked by a zombie. She screams for help and Shawn rushes to help her jumping on a small trampoline and using it to propel him through the air. This is the same shot that was used near the end of Sam Raimi’s film, Army of Darkness. It was also a popular mode of transport in the computer game ‘Zombies ate my neighbours’ in which you have to bounce from back garden to back garden in order to kill the suburban zombies.

On the way to Winchester, there is a brief reunion of characters from the television series The Office, when Shaun’s group encounters Yvonne’s group. Lucy Davis (Dianne) and Martin Freeman (Declan) played Dawn and Tim on the popular BBC series, and their relationship was a central plot of the show. Noel calls Ed on the phone and refers to him as Noodle. This is the name of one of the teenagers on Spaced. The Mexican standoff at the Winchester pub is straight out of Reservoir Dogs, with the characters holding broken bottles and corkscrew rather than guns, (with the exception of David who is holding a rifle). Shawn exclaims, ‘Stop pointing that gun at my mum!’ in Reservoir Dogs Chris Penn yells, ‘Stop pointing that gun at my Dad!’ Liz’s friend David’s death scene is almost identical to that of Captain Rhodes in Day of the Dead.

In the scene where Shawn and Liz escape from the Winchester’s pub cellar via an elevator platform is a direct tribute to Day of the Dead which also heavily features an elevator platform. The way in which Shawn drops the ‘hand box’ after activating the elevator is done in exactly the same manner used by Bill McDermott (Played by the actor Jarlart Conroy) in the Day of the Dead. The choreographed pool-cue beating of the zombie in the Winchester pub, which was synchronized to the Queen soundtrack, is a carefully referenced homage to the balletic assault on the homeless man in A Clockwork Orange, (1971)

Shaun berates Ed for calling the creatures “zombies” (which they are, of course). This may be referring to the fact that many zombie movies (including Night of the Living Dead (1968) and Resident Evil (2002) never mention the word “zombie” at all. More likely this is a reference to Danny Boyle – director of 28 Days Later… (2002) – and his insistence that it isn’t a zombie movie.

When Shaun finds his zombie house mate in the shower he utters the words “Join us” in a half whispered tone. This is a reference to the first two Evil Dead films where the zombies are always asking Ash (also mentioned in the department store) to “join us”. The scene in which Shaun and Liz leave the basement via the lift through the hatch into smoke and orange light, turning as they do so, is a direct reference to a scene in Star Wars: Episode V – The Empire Strikes Back (1980) when Lando leaves the Millennium Falcon to rescue Luke.

Towards the end of the movie when the soldiers arrive to save Shawn and Liz the logo on the side of their trucks read ‘Biohazard’ This is the same name that the Japanese use for the uber popular zombie video game Resident Evil, which is also very heavily featured in Simon Peggs BBC series, Spaced.

Liz flicks through the channels and we hear a report refuting the news that the zombie attacks may have been caused by rage infected monkeys. This is a direct reference to the Danny Boyle film 28 days later. When Shawn and Liz are watching television after the zombie attack they come across a zombie game show called ‘fun dead’. In the background the shopping centre music from the Dawn of the Dead can be heard.

Finally, the end credits of the film features the song ‘The Gonk’ by H. Chappell. This again is the shopping mall music for the Dawn of the Dead but remixed by Kid Koala.

There are many more references of intextuality and pastiche in this film and as Simon Pegg and Edgar Wright have said in interviews that the film has many levels that you have to see to understand.

“Shaun of the Dead. Like Dawn of the Dead, this film follows what happens in the event of a zombie epidemic. However, Shaun of the Dead is done in a more light-hearted and comical way. That raises the question as to whether it is parody or pastiche. Shaun of the Dead has all the elements of the zombie invasion film. However, it is handled in a very different way, with comedy. Shaun of the Dead is a classic example of parody, given Jameson’s definition, “Now parody capitalizes on the uniqueness of these styles and seizes on their idiosyncrasies and eccentricities to produce an imitation which mocks the original” (1963). Shaun of the Dead takes those things that are specific to almost every zombie film and makes light of it. The film could be thought of as pastiche, as Jameson writes, “Pastiche is blank parody, parody that has lost its sense of humor” (1963). Since Shaun of the Dead is meant to be humorous, it cannot be a pastiche.”


  • Irwin, William. ”Against Intertextuality”. Philosophy and Literature, v28, Number 2, October 2004, pp. 227-242.
  • S.E. Smith. (06 April 2011). In Literature, What is Pastiche?. Available: http://www.wisegeek.com/in-literature-what-is-pastiche.htm. Last accessed 13th April 2011.
  • Anon. (2004). Shaun of the Dead Pop Culture References. Available: http://www.shaunofthedead.com/plot/pop-culture/. Last accessed 18th April 2011
  • B, Nick. (2007). What was once for theory is now used for postmodernism. Available: http://ryancallander.wordpress.com/2007/05/03/group-project/. Last accessed 5th April 2011.

Cite this Page

Exploring Intertextuality and Pastiche in Shaun of the Dead. (2019, Apr 07). Retrieved from https://phdessay.com/apply-the-post-modernist-concepts-of-intertextuality-and-pastiche-to-shaun-of-the-dead/

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