Land of the Dead
directed by George A. Romero
starring Simon Baker, John Leguizamo, Dennis Hopper, Asia Argento
Night of the Living Dead has always been my favorite of the Romero films. I know several people who prefer Dawn of the Dead or Day of the Dead, and they all have good reasons, from more iconic socio-political allegory to better deaths. But for me, there was always something about the two sequels that never had the energy of the original. Land of the Dead had that energy for me.
In Land, the story focuses on a city that is serving as a refuge for the living humans, and a group of ragtag soldiers who leave the protection of the city to surrounding towns in search of supplies. The post-modern feudal society that has been set up is a sterling example of the human need to grasp on to the familiar. One man has managed to play on the fear and greed in others to set up a utopia in a high rise center for the Haves, while the Have-nots do their dirty work and subsist on the streets. But hey, at least it’s still not “out there” with the zombies, right? This is the set-up for all good zombie films, as the true conflict is shown when the people turn on each other, setting them all up for their own doom at the hands (and teeth) of the undead menace.
The performances range from solid to superb, with Simon Baker as our lead Riley, holding his own amicably against both John Leguizamo and Dennis Hopper (giving intense yet restrained performances each). Asia Argento and Robert Joy each give convincing performances as the love interest and sidekick, with a couple of memorable lines each. And the remaining character actors all turn in solid, if predictable, performances in their supporting roles.
But the factor that will be the make or break for this movie, whether you will be a fan or not, will be the zombies. After years of mindless hulks shuffling about, searching for human flesh to eat, Romero believes that the way to increase the terror and dread is not to make them fast-moving, like some other recent filmmakers. No, slow and lumbering is still terrifying when the numbers overwhelm you. But what is more scary is that after all of these years, some of the zombies are remembering and learning and starting to think. It’s simplistic, and rudimentary, but it is a progression. And it’s enough to spell danger for the city. Fans of Matheson’s “I Am Legend” will see some similarities. If you can accept the thinking zombies, you will enjoy this flick. If not, you will scream in your own personal terror.
The zombie effects from KNB EFX are top notch, as expected, with some very new and unique kills. The small group of recognizable zombies that are around for the duration of the film include some members of the local brass band, a butcher with his cleaver, and Big Daddy, the smartest of the lot who leaves the comfort of his gas station to venture into the city.
As with all Romero movies, this is a B-movie in all of its glory. With that comes the clichés you expect (rough and tumble loners, back stabbing weasels, etc.) but there are a few clichés that are mercifully absent. For example, we don’t have anyone getting bit but hiding it from his friends this time around. If you are in the mood for some old school zombie fun, that still manages to move the mythology forward, head out to see Land of the Dead as soon as you can. If the thought of thinking zombies makes you want to scream, you might want to wait for rental.
Land of the Dead Movie: http://www.landofthedeadmovie.net/