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A Primer on the Cornetto Trilogy Films

by Wayne Sisson

It’s finally here: The World’s End, the third and final installment of director Edgar Wright’s “Cornetto Trilogy” of comedy films.

In celebration of the theatrical release of The World’s End, we at Geek Insider thought it would be nice to celebrate these three cherished geek-savvy comedies by taking a closer look at the elements and themes common to each.

A Brief Foreword

For those not already familiar, the Cornetto Trilogy (also referred to as the “Three-Flavors Cornetto Trilogy” or “Blood and Ice Cream Trilogy”), refers to a handful of movies directed by Edgar Wright and starring Simon Pegg (Star Trek) and Nick Frost (Attack the Block), and exploring similar themes of arrested development, subtle recurring jokes, and the inevitable incursion of genre movie tropes into an otherwise ‘real world’ English settings.

These elements that would come to define the collaborations between Wright, Pegg, and Frost were not planned in advance, but grew organically out of fan favorite moments from their debut feature film, 2004’s zombie apocalypse flick, Shaun of the Dead.

*NOTE: Readers should be advised that, despite attempting to avoid revealing major plot elements, due to the nature of this piece, plot points from all three films will be discussed. As such, you can occasionally expect to encounter the dreaded *SPOILER*. Therefore, discretion is advised if you haven’t yet seen the Cornetto Trilogy films**.

**A SECOND NOTE: But, honestly, if you haven’t yet seen any/all of these brilliant Edgar Wright films, why are you even reading this in the first place? You should really just put down whatever variety of Internet machine you’re accessing this article with, and go ‘treat’ yourself to a wee marathon of comedic British genre films first. Like, right now. Then, after you’ve finished all three films, come back here to compare notes. Sound good?

Real People in Surreal Scenarios

The characters found in the Cornetto films are typically average schlubs living mediocre lives. Without exception, these characters find their boring, hum-drum existences shaken up by some form of crazy incident, straight out of a film (literally).

In the previously mentioned first film, the protagonist, Shaun, along with his sort of girlfriend, best friend, and a few casual acquaintances; find their normal routines disrupted in the midst of an infestation of zombies, due to an unexplained disease outbreak.

Wright’s 2007 follow up, Hot Fuzz, follows overly-vigilant law enforcement officer, Nicholas Angel, who is transferred to a quaint little country village from the big city. Though Angel seems overzealous, even paranoid, to the easygoing townsfolk at first, his diligence pays off when he uncovers a dastardly conspiracy is running the show behind the scenes.

With this year’s third film, what begins as a group of former school chums taking a second crack at the legendary pub crawl they failed to finish in their youth, quickly becomes a fight for survival after discovering that their boring hometown has become host to a sinister otherworldly invasion.

In addition to Pegg and Frost playing different characters in each film, a number of other veteran British actors have appeared in multiple films, including the awesome Bill Nighy (Pirates of the Carribbean) and Martin Freeman (The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy).

Their roles vary in prominence from film to film, with some playing fixture characters and others making quick cameo. The challenge level in picking out these actors can be a quite fun Easter egg hunt, and the difficulty varies greatly. While it’s hard to miss Nighy in Shaun of the Dead, but can you figure out where Cate Blanchett (The Lord of the Rings) pops up in Hot Fuzz?

Man-Children as Main Characters

In Shaun of the Dead, Pegg plays the titular protagonist, an underachieving assistant manager at an appliance store, who lives with two roommates, one an mature, if severe, adult; the other a repressed weed dealer, Ed (Played by Frost).

Though the aforementioned Nicholas Angel is something of a hyper kinetic action hero cliche in Hot Fuzz, Frost again plays the bumbling sidekick, Danny.

The tables turn, character-wise, in The World’s End, with Pegg portraying irresponsible cad Gary King, a middle aged party animal unwilling to leave behind the glory days of his teenage years, while Frost takes on the capable, ‘grown up’ friend role, as Andy Knightley.

Blood-and-ice-cream-trilogy-poster-06192013-022431

Comedic Callbacks

Each of the Cornetto Trilogy films have a plethora of recurring jokes, callbacks to previous bits, and even some more subtle elements which could be described as ‘in-jokes’. Some are fairly obvious to the average movie-goer, but others require either an eagle-eyed viewer or an almost obsessive compulsive ability to re-watch and analyze films.

Since we here at Geek Insider are no more fans of the blatant spoiler than you, Dear Reader, we’ll highlight a few of these moments, just to get you started. We’ll leave finding the rest in your capable hands.

  • In Shaun, the steps comprising the protagonist’s plan for surviving the zombie onslaught is intentionally worded to also foreshadow many of the film’s biggest plot elements.

  • The foreshadowing doesn’t end there, however, as several character’s eventual fates are unintentionally referenced in specific dialogue exchanges. It’s also discovered that even zombification can’t strip one of certain core traits they had as a human.
  • Also from the first film, comes the oft-repeated line, “You’ve got some red on you,” (whether from leaking pens or bodily fluids, the point remains…)

  • Hot Fuzz’s Nicholas Angel not only takes over a crime scene from the sleepy Sandford police officers, but also has the same done to him in a fairly similar manner.

  • Similarly, Danny’s ketchup packet prank foreshadows a time later in the script where it proves quite handy.

  • A voice-over speech from the intro to The World’s End is later repeated with new meaning by Gary as part of a passionate defense for humanity. More on the origin of that speech a little later…

  • Each of the character surname in World’s is based on the titles of medieval England, and roughly corresponds to each’s place and/or personality in the group hierarchy (King, Knightley, Prince, Chamberlain, and Page.)
  • There’s no arguing the veracity of the oft-repeated statement, “there’s no arguing with Gary,” as is plainly demonstrated numerous times over the course of the third film…

The Beloved Fence Gag

Though only a short, slapstick bit in any of the three films, they always prove some of the most popular ‘fan service’ for Cornetto disciples. No fence makes it out of an Edgar Wright film intact.

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One begins to suspect that the writer/director’s father, or perhaps fiance even, was brutally murdered by a gang of roving wooden fences…

Pop Culture References

When it comes to an undying passion for classic genre films and popular culture, Tarantino has some stiff competition in the form of Wright. In each of the Cornetto films, Wright slips in references to thematically similar movies of the past.

In Shaun of the Dead, several businesses, including the store where Shaun is employed, are named after actors and characters from formative zombie flicks. Also, fans of George Romero’s genre-creating debut film, Night of the Living Dead, may have found Ed’s ominous “we’re coming to get you, Barbara,” line strangely familiar.

Not content to merely parody the over-the-top 90’s action films that inspired the plot of Hot Fuzz, Frost’s character specifically mentions both Point Break and Bad Boys II by name, and is even shown watching them early in the film. The film also pays homage to these “classic” films with shots and lines lifted straight wholesale from them.

The most notable tip of the cap in The World’s End is the twice-repeated monologue from Peter Fonda’s character during the climax of Wild Angels.

The Infamous Cornetto Brand Ice Cream Treats

For the final entry, it seemed fitting to mention the British frozen treat that truly inspired the three films, the Cornetto, and not just as its namesake.

When the creators’ joked that the first two films shared a common element in the form of characters enjoying the treat at some point during the plot, they soon learned this was not the sole link between their works.

This off-the-cuff remark led Wright and Pegg to realize that both films shared similar themes and recurring elements, many named in the above entries, and this epiphany inspired their approach in writing the third film. It also led fans of their genre comedy films to seek out any bits that were common between the films, even inspiring a Tumblr blog devoted to sharing these discoveries, real or imaginary.

The Post’s End

It should also be noted that this article, or the items discussed***, should in no way be considered to be comprehensive or exhaustive. As is implied in the use of the word ‘primer’ in the title, this post is intended as a “beginner’s guide” to recognizing the various elements shared between each film in the trilogy.

For those whose curiosity is not quite sated here, a quick Google search is sure to reveal far more detailed analysis and cataloging of said elements.

 ***THE THIRD AND FINAL NOTE: Along with repeat viewings of the Cornetto Trilogy films, additional reference material originating from IMDB, Screen Rant, and Wikipedia were used in researching this story.

Do you know of any shared or similar moments from the Cornetto Trilogy films that wasn’t mentioned in this post? If so, we encourage you to share your discoveries with us in the Comments section below.

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