Land of the Dead review by The Grim Ringler

Land of the Dead

Land of the Dead


I, like a lot of horror nerds from the seventies and eighties, fell in love with zombies and zombie movies thanks to one man – George A. Romero. I remember first hearing about his seminal Dawn of the Dead when I was only eight and thought it sounded like the silliest thing I’d ever heard – zombies, on escalators, getting pies in the face? Wha? But as I got older and was finally able to see the film, I was in love. At first I only got the first level, that of a very gory, very grim zombie film. But the older I have gotten the deeper I have been able to see, until now, I see it not just as a great zombie film but as a great political marker of where America was at that moment, and where we were headed. And I remember, all too well, the hours my friends and I spent discussing What If scenarios should Romero return to his Dead films. There was always a rumor that, yes, he would do one more, one that would be entitled Twilight of the Dead and just that news alone meant to us what the news that Lucas was to do episodes 7, 8, and 9 some day meant to Star Wars nerds. I am a dyed in the wool horror fan, and for us horror nerds, the coming of another zombie film from George A. Romero was a thing we had dreamed and fantasized of for years. There had come imitators, wanna-bes, and even a well-made remake, but no one new the dead like the man that made them so scary. And now that we have it, now that the dawn of a new zombie holocaust as come, how well did it turn out?

Well after the world has been besieged by a plague of the living dead, the humans are learning to adapt. But then, so have the dead. Living in a walled in city, one human outpost has reverted quickly to the habits of old and the rich live high and well in their tower while the poor live in an unending ghetto where vice is the only way to pass the time. There are jobs, and duties, but the world is not progressing but merely limping forward in the service of the rich. One man controls this city, the man who created it, Kaufman, and it is his will and vengeance that keep things running smoothly. Contractors are sent out into the outlying towns and cities to retrieve any food, medicine, or other items that are deemed necessary and then they return with the booty. Usually this runs smoothly, thanks to the help of an armored personnel carrier that has been designed and engineered by one of the contractors. But on a trip outside of the city walls this man, Riley, sees something that disturbs him. The dead are not just going through the motions, but they are falling into old patterns and routines, in a mimic of their past lives. Worse still, they are developing the ability to work together towards a goal. They are adapting. Evolving. No one wants to hear this from Riley though but he can see that the rules of this game are changing, and that the game is about to get far, far more risky. The humans have become complacent and lazy. Assuming that they can push the dead aside or run them down to get what they want. The dead now not unlike foreigners or the homeless and there to be pushed back into place when they act out. But one zombie has evolved faster than the others, and on seeing how the other zombies are slaughtered and made sport of, it is he who leads the dead towards the city and to its walls. But the biggest threat is that of the arrogant Kaufman (Dennis Hopper) who dares to turn a blind eye to what is happening outside of his city. And it is his greed and arrogance that brings the dead not just to the city, but within it. And hope will lie then in the hands of the very people that have no reason to help the city, or Kaufman, as they now have the armored carrier, but it is these people who must choose – will they run, or will they stand and help the innocent of the city as it falls to the invading zombie army?

Having seen a slew of recent zombie movies with fast moving zombies it takes a couple moments to re-adjust to the ‘realism’ of the Dead universe, and sadly, the film suffers a bit for that re-adjustment. It isn’t that slow moving zombies aren’t scary, or that the fast ones are – and let’s stop with the whole ‘oh, well fast moving zombies are unrealistic, ‘cause ya know what, we’re talking ZOMBIES here. The entire premise is a tad bit on the fuzzy side of logic. So yes, slower living dead are closer to what the actuality would be, but it’s a movie, so get over it – but that you have to get back into the idea that the fear is not necessarily of one zombie, but of a hundred. Romero plays off this idea wonderfully though by showing a distinct evolution in the dead where they are no working together and can be lead and directed. So what these zombies lack in speed they make up in their ability to work together, which is far deadlier in the long run. And there is an interesting dynamic that Romero has shown throughout the four zombie films he has made, and it is coming into play in this one - that the humans have consistently underestimated the dead and have been taking for granted that they are the dominant race. Man has not worked to either 1. eliminate the threat or 2. to limit the danger. What Man has done is to create safe havens, or perhaps I should say SAFER havens that serve to keep the dead out and to allow the humans to still live in relative luxury should they be able to. It’s fantastic that in this film there are those that still cling to the notion that money can make you important. It is as real a falsehood as the idea that the humans are safe in their walled city. There are some very heavy handed moments in this – it might be a little too soon to ironically quote President Bush for one – but while this film isn’t as eloquent as the previous ones, this does have the social subtext. I just wish they were left non-verbal and as images and not words. Oh well.

The strength of this film is the story, which is a true evolution for this universe and shows that while the humans have been rolling in the excrement of their indulgence the zombies have been progressing. They are learning new things, to a degree through repetition, but they are also able to learn new things if they are taught. The film is very well made and it’s nice to see someone that doesn’t feel the need to jam their film with up and coming metal bands or whatever hit single is on the radio. The acting is solid, and even Hopper, who is a bit hammy, turns in a decent performance. And props to Leguizamo for creating a character from someone who could have easily been a stereotype or cartoon. The pace is slow but then that’s what Romero does. He doesn’t need to show you zombies eating people every five minutes to build tension, though there are still a few kills that reeked of ‘come on now’ such as the kid that is wearing headphones and gets killed. I mean, I dig that he is saying that people are asses and assume that if they have a gun they are safe, but you’re telling me that in a land of zombies that people are not always on edge? I suppose. The score isn’t as fun as the previous films but is still well done and effective. And there is no pat, happy ending, which also works with the series. It is not the downer that NOTLD was, but if you think about the big picture, well, things ain’t so rosy. And hell, the gore is fantastic and I cannot wait until we get to see an unrated version.

As good as much of the film is though the real drawback was the zombie makeup, which seemed like a step back from the stuff that Tom Savini did for Day of the Dead. I appreciate the things they were doing, and the zombies look good, but not nearly as great as even in Shaun of the Dead, which is a shame. And as I said before, some of the messages are crammed down our throats and feel a bit heavily handled.

In my heart, this is about on par with Day. Not to piss off the masses but the Dawn of the Dead remake was a scarier film, as was 28 Days Later, but this is a damned solid zombie movie and a very good horror film. While not a great one, this shows that Romero still has it, can do this stuff as good as anyone, and that I think, the best is yet to come. Knowing the synopsis, I had doubts that this could be as good as the other entries in the franchise but I am happily wrong. Not everything works for me, but there is far more good than bad here. I give it an 8 when I think it’s more of a 7.5 but will round up. I like this film a lot, and don’t find it a disappointment as much as a new beginning. This is one that might be more fun the more you see it and the more you warm up to this world, but on an initial viewing, I have to say I am happy to see Romero back where he belongs. And it’s nice to see someone who respects the genre, the fans, and the general audience enough to make a serious film that doesn’t use cheap tricks, fancy editing, or hip actors to create a compelling and scary film.

Welcome back Mr. Romero, we missed ya.


8 out of 10 Jackasses
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