Land of the Dead

Having run out of time zones, zombie recreationist George A. Romero rips and shreds his way through a whole new vision, Land of the Dead. Like the living dead, zombie movies never die. They may lose favor, but each new generation brings with it an insatiable appetite for rotting flesh. How else do you explain the whole Madonna craze back in the 1980’s.

After watching everyone and their dead mother chew their way through his trademark umbilical cord, Romero was finally asked back to the table to show the fresh meat how it’s done. Get ready to chow down on some hard-biting social commentary and enough macabre humor to chill anyone to the bone. Romero is at his peak with Land of the Dead.

The three films which originally comprised his zombie trilogy (Night of the Living Dead, Dawn of the Dead, and Day of the Dead) took place is closed quarters (a farmhouse, shopping mall, missile silo). With Land of the Dead, Romero has something bigger in mind. Armed with a generous budget and shooting outside of his native Pittsburgh for the first time, Romero doesn’t just make a bigger movie, he packs it with bigger shocks and scares.

The undead have taken over. They are everywhere. The only safe haven is Fiddler’s Green, a community sealed off from the rest of society by electrified walls and water on all sides. The only entrance is a bridge. Like society, Fiddler’s Green is divided up into two camps: the rich and poor. Those with something to offer tyrannical CEO Kaufman (Dennis Hopper, appropriately vile) get to live on the hill. The rest must make do in the squalor below.

As various groups wrangle to make their way up the hill, Riley (Simon Baker), in charge of the reconnaissance and rescue vehicle Dead Reckoning, realizes the living dead are getting smarter. As we canvas the streets outside the city, we see signs of past life regression in the zombies. Their leader is Big Daddy (Eugene Clark), a gas station attendant who quickly picks up the habits of the living.

Romero paints his crimson masterpiece on a much larger canvas, taking us places and showing us things a limited budget would never allow. Like the remake of Dawn of the Dead, Land of the Dead takes full advantage of the technical and digital wizardry of the time. This allows Romero to complete rather than limit his vision, treating us to a world that no longer resembles reality. Even though Land of the Dead leaves us feeling more hopeful than helpless at the end, the time we spend trapped in Romero’s nightmare leaves a lasting effect.

As the film’s writer, Romero makes relevant references to our current state of affairs. Kaufman and his ilk remain untouched by the madness outside their gilded cage, relying on the poor to do their dirty work and keep them safe. Sound familiar? The rich stay rich by keeping the poor disenfranchised. Fight our war for the privilege of living in poverty. Romero gets even by making sure the oppressors get what is coming to them.

Fans of zombie films will definitely get what is coming to them, a full-fledged, no-holds-barred gore-fest which actually has something relevant to say. Chow down.

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Land of the Dead

Dennis Hopper, John Leguizamo, Simon Baker, Asia Argento, Robert Joy, Eugene Clark. Directed by George Romero. Rated R. 99 Minutes.

Larsen Rating: $8.00

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