Land of the Dead Review
Written by: Tim Hannigan
It’s been two decades since George Romero unleashed Day of the Dead on horror fans. After years of rumours and disappointments, it took a series of successful zombie flicks, ALL of which borrowed heavily from Romero’s original trilogy, to allow the money machine in Hollywood to actually finance the vision of one of the true geniuses in horror. It’s hard to believe how long the idea for this film has been floating around, and yet no one would put the money together to make it (less money than what some actors get paid to star in shitty movies no one will ever remember).
This is the man who created the modern horror genre. This is the man who inspired two of Hollywood’s current top directors – Sam Raimi and Peter Jackson. This is the man who showed that horror can be more than just cheap scares – that horror can have a message. He showed that horror can be about society, and about all of our places in it. If there is any justice in this world, this movie will make huge money at the box office, and Mr. Romero will finally get the respect he deserves. The film is set after the films of the original trilogy. People have sought refuge in a large island-city. Protected by a river on three sides, and electric fences, the humans have managed to keep the living dead out. The citizens seem oblivious to the world outside. The wealthy elite live in luxury in a giant tower.
Shopping, dining out, and living the lives of the dining-dead which they had become accustomed to. The poor and undesirables are prevented from accessing the good life inside the tower, living in slums around the building. The city is run by Kaufman (Dennis Hopper) with an iron fist. In order to provide food, and goods for the elite, Kaufman has a group of men and women lead by Riley (Simon Baker) and Cholo (John Leguizamo) who, using "Dead Reckoning" – a well armed transport, loot the outlying cities for goods to provide to the citizens. The living dead have continued to evolve, and Romero takes the abilities demonstrated by Bub in Day of the Dead to the next level. The dead become organized under the leadership of Big Daddy (Eugene Clark) and begin to learn. Big Daddy leads an army of the dead against the city to avenge the atrocities committed against the dead by the humans. When Cholo steals Dead Reckoning in order to blackmail Kaufman, Riley and his friends, including Slack (Asia Argento) set out to stop him. With Dead Reckoning out of the city, the citizens are defenseless against the zombie horde attacking the city.
Riley must recover Dead Reckoning and help the citizens of the city flee with their lives (and appendages) still in tact. This is definitely a studio film. The film has lost much of the independent spirit of the original trilogy. Land of the Dead is a fast-paced action/horror hybrid, and is probably closer to the 2004 "re-imagining" of Dawn of the Dead than it is to any of the films in the original trilogy. There is a lot of explosive action which should keep the ADHD post-MTV crowd happy (ironic that the mindless zombies of the film instinctively look to the sky every time fireworks are set off). For those of us who love the original films, there is plenty of flesh for us to feast on. The movie is very gory, and many of the effects which made earlier installments rated X, actually make it to the screen in this R-rated version. Shots to the head, decapitations, and good old fashioned disembowelings. Everything that the gorehounds expect is here. And if this is the R-rated version, just wait for the Director’s Cut!
One of the main things that sets Romero’s Dead films apart from other horror films is that they make a comment about our society. There’s plenty of commentary going on in this film, from issues of class and race, to the exploitation which can take place in the name of protecting the public. Kaufman runs the show, feeding simple vices to those lacking in wealth to distract them from the reality of their own imprisonment. Overall, however, the social themes are not explored as fully given the pacing of the film. The action is terrific, and there are some fantastic scares in the film. I watched as people jumped from their seats and buried their faces in disgust at the carnage splattering across the screen. The performances are great, including Leguizamo, Baker and Argento (Dario’s daughter starring in a Dead film -> what more could you ask for?).
I was not familiar with Baker prior to seeing the movie (he starred on TV in The Guardian), but he does a very good job of carrying the film. Overall, the corporate/studio feel of the film is a small price to pay to finally see Romero return to the big screen with a great zombie-fest. It provides just the right formula to please the 28 Days Later and Dawn 2004 crowd, while giving the fans what they’ve waited so desperately for. Now that I’ve finished the review, I think I’ll go see it again. As George Romero would say, "Stay Scared".