How Zombieland differs from Shaun of the Dead

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Dec 14, 2012, 3:54 PM EST

Now that Shaun of the Dead turned the zombie apocalypse into a British comedy, the idea of a funny zombie movie might not sound so original, but the makers of Zombieland want to assure you that they have a unique approach. In the upcoming horror comedy, survivors roam the desolate American landscape dispatching the brain-eating undead—and clean their hands with Purell afterwards.

Director Ruben Fleischer called Zombieland more of an American zombie comedy. "Shaun of the Dead is really funny, and I guess that's its closest kindred spirit as far as its approach to the zombie apocalypse, but I think that this is much more grounded, an American version of that," Fleischer said in a press conference last month at Comic-Con in San Diego. "I would say it's more of a comedy than it is a horror-zombie movie. It's really about these characters and their unique experiences, and the zombies are somewhat of a backdrop for it all."

In the movie, directed by newbie Fleischer, Woody Harrelson plays seasoned zombie killer Tallahassee, Jesse Eisenberg is the callow Columbus, Emma Stone is the comely Wichita and Abigail Breslin her little sister, Little Rock. They are an unlikely group of friends who have been thrown together in a post-apocalyptic United States populated largely by the undead.

Unlike Shaun, Zombieland also takes a different approach to its armies of walking corpses: It follows the "fast zombie" approach, as opposed to Shaun's "slow zombie" milieu.

"Shaun of the Dead did slow zombies," Fleischer said. "I think in order to distinguish our movie in a way, it's good that we have fast zombies, so that there's not as much overlap. It was incepted in the script as fast zombies, and it was never intended as anything else, so it wasn't because we were aware of that film or whatever. But I think it is helpful, if you're going to have two horror comedies, that the zombies are somehow different in their makeup. Romero in Land of the Dead made fun of fast zombies, and I know that zombie purists [prefer them slow], but I don't happen to be a zombie purist. I think all zombies can live together in harmony."

Zombie purists need not worry about other changes to the zombie mythos. Purell is just a joke. It doesn't counteract zombie infection, according to co-writer Rhett Reese. "Purell doesn't help," Reese said. "The Purell in the movie, they're disposing of a dead body, so it's not as though they've been sprayed with zombie blood at that moment. Yeah, Purell is like spitting into the wind. It's not going to help."

Zombieland is coming out in advance of a spate of apocalyptic films, including 2012, The Book of Eli and The Road. "There's a bunch of these post-apocalyptic movies coming up, but ours is definitely the funniest," Fleischer asserted.

Screenwriter Reese elaborated: "What we envisioned, more than anything, was an escapist fantasy," Reese said. "This post-apocalyptic landscape, we all dread it, but I think in some ways it would be fun. It would be fun to not have any traffic on the freeway and to be able to walk into the White House and swing from the chandeliers in the Lincoln Bedroom and to be able to kill without consequence, to be able to take out your inherent violence that's within you on these creatures, and not have to worry about getting sued or going to prison or all these things. So, to us, it seemed fun."

Indeed, destroying real-life monuments, even temporarily, was fun for Fleischer. "We shot one day in Los Angeles, which you can see in the trailer," Fleischer recalled. "We had the good fortune of shooting on Hollywood Boulevard and kind of making Grauman's Chinese Theater look destroyed and devastated, and [we] filled the road with zombies. I think it's one of the cooler locations in the film."

Zombieland opens Oct. 9.