LAND OF THE DEAD
(director/writer: George A. Romero; cinematographer: Miroslaw Baszak; editor: Michael Doherty; music: Reinhold Heil/Johnny Klimek; cast: Simon Baker (Riley), Dennis Hopper (Mr. Kaufman), Asia Argento (Slack), Robert Joy (Charlie), Eugene Clark (Big Daddy), John Leguizamo (Cholo), Jennifer Baxter (No. 9), Pedro Miguel Arce (Pillsbury); Runtime: 93; MPAA Rating: R; producers: Mark Canton/Bernie Goldmann/Peter Grunwald; Universal Pictures; 2005)
“More than just another zombie movie, a better zombie movie.”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
More than just another zombie movie, a better zombie movie. George A. Romero gave the world in 1968 the instant classic groundbreaking zombie flick Night of the Living Dead. This is Romero’s fourth zombie presentation after a pause of twenty years (“Dawn of the Dead” (1978)/ “Day of the Dead” (1985)); it’s well-crafted, highly entertaining, has a good working political subtext and fine acting on the part of those playing humans (Simon Baker is terrific as the sensitive lead character, while John Leguizamo gives an overwhelmingly powerful brutal performance). The narrative is built around a class warfare framework, which holds up throughout the main course served of continuous gore, heads being ripped off torsos, fallen human limbs munched on as if chicken legs and a variety of twisted gags that are seemingly thrown against the wall to see which stick (many do). It’s filled with plenty of cartoonish graphic violence and a good sense of profane humor to satisfy Romero fans and possibly gain new converts to such delightful macabre nonsense. Everything about it, including its silliness, is much better than most other B movie horror flicks, even though it’s still stuck in the limited conventions of its genre to ever be compared to works of heavyweight filmmakers.
It opens on a ghoulish nighttime deserted suburb called Uniontown, which features a diner’s “EATS” sign ironically lying on the ground in a place overrun by hordes of flesh-eating undead. We learn “They kill for one reason. They kill for food.” The undead are led by the beastly looking Big Daddy (Eugene Clark), who is still in his gas-station uniform and carrying an automatic rifle he picked up from a mercenary soldier who was attacked by a zombie. He assumes a Che Guevara pose and leads the zombies on a slow march to the forbidden city. The mercenary force of outrunners, led by the war-weary altruistic techie Riley (Simon Baker), hired by the big boss, the tycoon empire builder Mr. Kaufman (Dennis Hopper), to go on a scavenger hunt and bring back supplies for the remaining survivors. Kaufman profits in the misery of others and dwells in a restricted gated skyscraper city he created from scratch, selling residences only to a small number of his rich and socially privileged clients (very much like a Bush thing). They dwell in a luxury high-rise called Fiddler’s Green–resembling somewhat a Las Vegas hotel with a shopper’s mall, a steely-looking Manhattan glass skyscraper and because of its riverfront it could be taken for Romero’s native Pittsburgh (in reality, it was filmed in Toronto). Anyone who tries to cross the river or penetrate the electric fenced barricade of Fiddler’s Green gets electrocuted or shot by the army Kaufman hired as a security force, that includes the subhuman zombies (still dressed in the clothes they wore when killed) or underprivileged humans living in a shanty town outside the barricade. There’s no other place to run to that has a civilization, since the undead have overrun the rest of the world.
Everything builds to an apocalyptic-like conclusion, as a depraved ruffian mercenary outrunner, Cholo (John Leguizamo), Riley’s second in command, is rejected by Kaufman as an applicant to Fiddler’s Green after doing him special favors for years. Cholo, no longer a loyal soldier but now considered as a terrorist, steals Kaufman’s uniquely designed armored assault vehicle named Dead Reckoning designed by Riley — and threatens to blow up Kaufman in his fortress unless he forks over millions of dollars. By this time the zombies have crossed the river and penetrated the fortress while the stoical Riley, his comical loyal sidekick, a disfigured retarded marksman named Charlie (Robert Joy) and new pal, the hardened hooker Slack (Asia Argento, daughter of notedItalian horror director Dario Argento, who was the co-producer of Dawn of the Dead), have overtaken Cholo and taken back the vehicle to try and go to Canada–hoping to find there a land without borders and zombies.
The decadence of the unjust three-tiered society is pictured as an allegory of the modern world’s political landscape, which seems like pretty heady stuff for a film with no arty pretensions.
I found the film’s best gross out yuk was when Hopper lets out with the plea “Zombies, man, they freak me out,” and while he’s saying this he’s picking his nose. If you’re into zombie movies, man, you shouldn’t mind that this one greatly resembles how most of us unfortunates look in these vexing days of Bush’s War on Terrorism and tax cuts for the most privileged in the land–the Prez would have been perfect for the Hopper part.
REVIEWED ON 7/13/2005 GRADE: B +