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 V.14 No.26 | June 30 - July 6, 2005 

Film Review

George A. Romero's Land of the Dead

The living dead are back in town and ready to chow down

George A. Romero’s Apocalypse Now
George A. Romero’s Apocalypse Now

George A. Romero's Land of the Dead

Directed by George A. Romero

Cast: Simon Baker, Dennis Hopper, John Leguizamo, Asia Argento

These days, there are two camps of horror movie fans: those who speak in reverent tones about past masters of the genre like George Romero, Tobe Hooper and Dario Argento and those who had no idea that recent films Dawn of the Dead and Texas Chainsaw Massacre were remakes. Believe me, I've had my tent set up in the first camp for a long time and treat everyone in the second camp with the same disregard I reserved for those dorks at Hummingbird Music Camp when they dragged me and all the other prepubescents at Camp Shaver over for stupid “recitals.” Clueless bastards.

It's only fair then that the recent remake-fueled revival of horror films would spark a career resurgence for someone like George Romero. After a decade or so rotting away in the direct-to-video dungeon (Bruiser, anyone?), Romero finally landed enough funding to make his loooooong-awaited fourth film in the “Living Dead” series (following 1968's Night of the Living Dead, 1978's Dawn of the Dead and 1985's Day of the Dead). Though Romero owes this opportunity to the success of such recent “Romeroesque” movies as 28 Days Later, Shaun of the Dead and the Dawn of the Dead redeux, it must be noted that Romero was still forced to bring his new film in at barely half the budget of the Dawn remake.

Asia Argento demonstrates that you can still be sexy, even with a zombie plague ravaging the planet.
Asia Argento demonstrates that you can still be sexy, even with a zombie plague ravaging the planet.

Despite a lingering lack of respect, it's good to see Romero back in the subgenre that he helped spawn, lo those many decades ago. I can't say that Land of the Dead is an unmitigated masterpiece, shaking the very bones of the traditional zombie film and showing MTV-addicted whippersnappers what real horror is all about. But it is good, clean, blood-spattered fun.

Land of the Dead picks up a few years after the last Dead film. (Don't sweat renting the originals before you see this one--zombie movies require very little continuity.) Seems the world has been taken over by mysteriously reanimated corpses. Humanity survives in small pockets, however. The pocket this time around is an upscale housing development called Fiddler's Green. Enterprising corporate asshole Kaufman (Dennis Hopper, underacting slightly) has turned this former chunk of urban renewal into a fortified glass-and-steel castle stocked full of all the world's former amenities--for a price, of course.

In order to keep up the status quo of his privileged clients, Kaufman employs a ragtag gang of hunters to patrol the zombified wasteland looking for food and supplies. One day, a hardworking hunter named Cholo (actor/comedian John Leguizamo) decides it's time to move “uptown.” Even though he's got the cash in hand, our boy is told that he isn't “desirable” enough to enter the earthly paradise of Fiddler's Green. Miffed at the postapocalyptic discrimination, our boy steals the city's main line of defense--an enormous, armored, 18-wheeled tank called Dead Reckoning--and threatens to blow up the whole shebang.

In short order, the rebellious engineer who built Dead Reckoning (The Ring 2's Simon Baker) and a tough-chick prostitute (Italian sexpot Asia Argento, whose daddy produced the original Dawn of the Dead) are conscripted to go out into the wasteland and recover the übervehicle.

Meanwhile, the omnipresent living dead are starting to develop a form of rudimentary intelligence. One ambitious corpse named Big Daddy (the identification on his gas station uniform) even goes so far as to organize a zombie revolution with Fiddler's Green as the object of his undead wrath. This unexplained evolution in zombie thinking may sit uneasily with longtime fans, but Romero at least hinted at it in his last controversial outing, Day of the Dead.

Oddly enough, Land of the Dead plays like a sort of a gut-munching remake of Fritz Lang's Metropolis. We've got the poor, downtrodden underclass (in this case, the living dead) rising up to overthrow the lily-handed overlords in their ivory tower. Although it's a bit weird watching the filmmaker trying to garner sympathy for some ambulatory corpses, it's good to see Romero hasn't ditched his social agenda.

While it's doubtful this popcorn-pumping crowd pleaser will inherit quite the same level of reverence as his previous films, Land of the Dead does find room for some timely social commentary. In addition to class struggle, Romero's witty script touches on current world fears, with citizens gladly giving up their rights and freedoms for a little perceived security.

Obviously stung by criticism of his last, somber outing (1985's Day), Romero has cranked out a lightweight and efficient killing machine. There's action, humor, gore galore and even a (relatively) happy ending. Personally, I prefer Romero's older, more cynical persona; but this one will play better in the cineplexes with its colorful characters, black humor and clear-cut heroes and villains. In other words: Zombie lovers, old and new, should enjoy themselves.

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