Land of the Dead Review
George Romero owns the zombie movie. It’s as simple as that. He didn’t invent it – they’ve been getting made since the ’30s – but, with Night of the Living Dead in 1968, he sure as hell re-invented it, taking violence and gore to unprecedented levels, and ushering in the tidal wave of American and Italian zombie and cannibal flicks that infested the ’70s. Dawn followed Night and Day followed Dawn to complete his trilogy of masterpieces and he’s spent the last twenty years trying to live up to them.
The recent resurgence in the popularity of the genre has allowed Romero not just a bigger budget, but the chance to make a new film at all. He’s obviously taken note of the evolutions that have occurred, and is savvy enough to realise that mindless shambling zombies just aren’t going to cut it anymore. Granted, they still shamble, but it seems they’ve started to think, to use tools and to react to their environment. This can only spell trouble for the small pockets of humanity that still exist in fortified cities, venturing out only for supplies. Led by Riley (Baker), teams of well armed scavengers launch nightly raids on mutantly challenged communities, bringing back food and medicine and slaughtering as many of the living dead as they can.
But their safety is jeopardised by Cholo (Leguizamo) who is more interested in pilfering champagne and cigars to sell to Kaufman (Hopper), his master back in the city, who lives in luxury with the rest of the rich in high rise apartments while the poor are squeezed into shanty towns with only Riley to look out for them. When Cholo gets screwed on a deal, he steals the Dead Reckoning, Riley’s near indestructible armoured vehicle, and threatens to blow Kaufman out of his ivory tower unless he gives him the cash he’s owed. Riley has no love for Kaufman, but he knows the Dead Reckoning is the only chance for survival and so agrees to try and stop Cholo while contending with the hordes of smarter, hungrier undead that are making their towards the city.
While not on a par with Romero’s earlier output, Land of the Dead is a lot of fun. Zombie movies have two basic, fundamental requirements: zombies munching people real good, and people hacking up zombies even gooder. And boy does Romero know how to deliver these. Tom Savini isn’t doing his makeup anymore, and he may have embraced CGI, but the splatter factor is still hugely satisfying, with enough entrails and exploding heads to fill the two decade gap. On the downside, by changing the tone from apocalyptic horror to gun toting action, and by having such a large cast, Romero has sacrificed some of that sense of loss and desolation that so characterised his original trilogy – you don’t really get that “last people on earth” feeling of dread anymore, even if there are some startling images.
His satirical eye is still strong though, if a touch on the obvious side now. Where he’s had a swipe at racism and consumerism in the past, he’s now going for Western greed and hedonism, but does end up stretching the metaphor a little thin. There are also some darkly comic moments with schlock legend Hopper providing many hearty chuckles, and there’s even a nice cameo from Savini. Baker is fine, but there could have been fun to be had on the audience by replacing him in alternating scenes by Thomas Jane and Paul Walker and seeing if anyone noticed.
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