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Awesome: 27.22%
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15 reviews, 90 user ratings

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Land of the Dead
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by Peter Sobczynski

"A zombie movie with brains and guts on both sides of the camera"
5 stars

In 1968, Pittsburgh auteur George A. Romero basically redefined the American horror film with his cult classic “Night of the Living Dead,” a gross-out classic that fused together unheard-of levels of gore, jet-black humor and strong social commentary into a grindhouse classic that both terrified viewers and made them think at the same time. Over the next couple of decades, while eking out a career as one of the more idiosyncratic American filmmakers, regardless of genre, with such works as “The Crazies,” “Martin” and “Creepshow,” he returned to his zombie stories with “Dawn of the Dead” (1978) and “Day of the Dead” (1985), films that, like the original, offered up strange humor and state-of-the-art gore while offering thoughtful meditations on the societal ills of their times. After the latter, which was unjustly ignored at the time of its release (though its cult has grown in the ensuing decades), Romero’s increasingly pointed brand of social satire and independent style of filmmaking became difficult to finance and he spent most of the next two decades working only fitfully on intriguing projects that barely received any distribution (his 2000 gem “Bruiser” wound up going straight to video) and even his most commercially viable project, a fourth “Dead” film languished because no one would give him the money necessary to tell the story the way that he wanted it to be told.

Happily, after a string of successful zombie films such as the “Resident Evil” series, “Shaun of the Dead” and last year’s remake of “Dawn of the Dead”–all films that owe a tremendous debt to Romero’s original trilogy, a major studio, Universal, finally saw the light and gave Romero the money to make his own latest entry into the genre that he helped create, “Land of the Dead.” For a certain chunk of the populace, this has been as much of a must-see item as “Revenge of the Sith” or “Batman Begins”–many have been looking forward to it, of course, but there has also been questions about how Romero’s no-holds-barred style would fare under the twin burdens of the studio system and the necessity of a commercially viable “R” rating. In what may be the best cinematic news of the summer, it turns out that Romero has not lost his touch at all after spending 20 years away from his major creation. In fact, this film is as bloody, funny and socially committed as anything that he has done to date–if anything, the passing of time has filled him with a determination to put everything that he has into the film in fear that he may never get a chance to do it again. The result is one of the best films of the year and one worthy of comparison to its acclaimed predecessors.

In the world of “Land of the Dead,” the living dead have pretty much overrun everything and the few human survivors that we see have barricaded themselves within the fortified walls of a small city to eke out a living. Inevitably, even in a post-apocalyptic era, a cruel class system has developed. Living high above the fray are the privileged classes, who reside in Fiddler’s Green, a luxury building with all the comforts of the real world, and who are essentially oblivious to the horror outside the walls. This community is run by Kaufman (Dennis Hopper), a cruel greedhead who is perfectly willing to condemn people to death in order to make himself a little richer. Living in the streets are the lower classes who do most of the dirty work for the rich people while reaping few of the benefits. As the story opens, two foragers–Riley (Simon Baker) and Cholo (John Leguizamo)–go off on their last mission before leaving for different lives–Riley plans to head up north to Canada to live by himself while Cholo, who has been cleaning up Kaufman’s dirty work, plans on moving up to Fiddler’s Green himself to live the good life.

When Kaufman refuses to let him in, Cholo takes revenge by stealing Dead Reckoning, a heavily fortified and armed truck used for the recon missions and plans to use it to destroy Fiddler’s Green unless Kaufman coughs up millions of dollars. As he designed the truck in the first place, Riley, along with loyal friend Charlie (Robert Joy) and tough-as-nails hooker Slack (Asia Argento), are charged with tracking down Cholo and retrieving the truck. What no one by Riley seems to notice is that the zombies appear to be developing a basic form of communication between them–one that everyone else ignores as unimportant–and when one of them (Eugene Clark) gets a hold of a machine gun and dimly recalls what it can be used for, he realizes that is they band together and ignore all the distracting fireworks, their sheer numbers will allow them to overthrow their oppressors for good.

One of the intriguing aspects of the “Dead” series has been the way in which Romero has used his zombie mythos to explore the societal ills of the time in order to show how all the institutions and policies that we have ceded our own individual thoughts and freedoms to won’t be able to protect us in times of real strife. In the original, the classic support groups of family and government literally turned on people with a vengeance. “Dawn” showed how America’s shift to a consumer culture led to a similar dead-end as the few remaining survivors founs themselves squabbling over the goods in an abandoned shopping mall. And “Day,” released at the height of the Reagan era and its concentration on military might, gave us a quasi-military state that still failed because of an inability to fully understand the enemy. Here, the behavior pattern that is taken to task is the time-honored concept of simply ignoring the problem by keeping it at arm’s length. The denizens of Fiddler’s Green (whose name suggests what the inhabitants of ancient Rome were doing as the city burned) are so determined to ignore reality and live in a simulacrum of the good life of the pre-zombie world that it doesn’t even dawn on them that they are just like the creatures that they avoid at all cost–both are feeding off of corpses, but the people of Fiddler’s Green just look better doing it.

Although the screenplay for “Land of the Dead” had its genesis in the original script for “Day of the Dead” (before budget problems required a massive restructuring), this is a film that feels as contemporary as today’s newspaper headlines. The parallels between the situations in this film and the current approach to our war in Iraq are inescapable–both are wars in which the rich send the poor off to die without a moment’s hesitation and any idealistic notions have been replaced by naked greed, both use flashy explosions to distract people from discovering that they have no real solution for ending the war and both fall apart because of a general unwillingness to understand the enemy and his motives. At times, characters even use the same lines once spoken by their real-life counterparts–at one point, Kaufman ignores Cholo’s threats by flatly stating “We don’t negotiate with terrorists!” Throw in notions of racial and economic strife and you have a film as unflinchingly up-to-date and accurate in its depiction of America today as the most up-to-the-minute documentary and it shows that Romero’s flair for sharp social commentary has actually deepened over the years. The difference here is that Romero’s cherished Sixties-era liberal-minded radicalism–by casting a black man in the role of the chief zombie who inspires the others to take arms (in every sense of the word), he creates unmistakable parallels with the Black Panthers–winds up triumphing in the end of once and there is even the suggestion in the final scenes of a world where everyone–rich and poor, living and dead–may finally put their differences behind them and learn how to coexist.

Such material may make the film sound a little too preachy–“Fahrenheit 9/11" with the undead instead of Michael Moore–but what makes it so memorable is that Romero deploys all of this commentary in the service of a genuinely effective horror film. You might think that flesh-eating zombies have lost their ability to scare after all this time–indeed, when we first see them here, they are treated as jokes. It is a brilliant gambit on Romero’s part because once we have gotten used to them as sources of humor, he springs their terrifying aspects upon with the force of a wallop and we are once again forced to take them seriously as creatures of unspeakable horror and brutality–gorehounds will be thrilled to hear that even though the film does have an “R” rating, there is enough blood, guts and gristle on display to satisfy even the most jaded fan. (One bit involving a belly ring will forever inspire flinches at piercing parlors around the world.)

There is also a lot of humor on display here as well–everything from in-joke cameos from the likes of Tom Savini and the creators of “Shaun of the Dead” to weirdo bits on the margins (one zombie feast is held in front of a sign extolling the glories of bologna) to perfectly timed gags and line readings, the best being Hopper’s hasty dismissal of an underling–that, for a change in a horror film, adds to the proceedings instead of acting as a distraction. The performances are also better than expected for a film of this type–the actors are all playing classic genre archetypes, yet they still somehow manage to find interesting spins on them. The best acting work comes from Hopper, who turns in a hilarious, scene-stealing performance as a character whose similarities to Donald Rumsfeld are surely just a coincidence.

There are many of you out there reading this who would never in a million years dream of seeing a film like “Land of the Dead” because they perceive it as simply being a gory horror film in which people are torn apart like fresh bread. That would be a shame because this is more than just a superior exercise in gore–it is quite simply one of the best and most memorable films of the year. Creepy, hilarious and as politically astute and aware as anything put out by a major studio in recent memory, “Land of the Dead” is the rare American film, regardless of genre, where there are as many brains and guts in evidence behind the camera as there are in front of it.

link directly to this review at https://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=12288&reviewer=389
originally posted: 06/23/05 23:53:11
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2005 CineVegas Film Festival For more in the 2005 CineVegas Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2005 Edinburgh Film Festival. For more in the 2005 Edinburgh Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

9/13/17 morris campbell decent the original is still the best 3 stars
10/12/10 Josie Cotton is a goddess Through numerous sequels and rip-offs, Romero manages to keep the corpses fresh. 4 stars
12/26/09 art THE 1932 film WHITE ZOMBIE was the best walking dead FILM! 2 stars
8/30/09 Chad Dillon Cooper Better than Diary, not as good as the first three. 4 stars
12/18/08 Craig D. There's a lot more here than a political subtext, Danny. Go watch your Transformers DVD. 4 stars
8/12/08 Shaun Wallner Bloody Awesome!!! 5 stars
6/10/07 Danny.G Ignore the Romero grovelling reviews, this is TV movie stuff.."oh wow, a political subtext" 1 stars
6/07/07 fools♫gold I loved "28 Days Later" much greater (a film I underrated), but this is cool. 5 stars
12/11/06 Angela Saunders Surprisingly better than expected. I actually loved it! 4 stars
11/23/06 David Pollastrini good gore with a little irony. 5 stars
8/24/06 havthat You'll never look at belly button piercings the same way. 4 stars
8/09/06 Dragon The Artist One of the best zombie films since Night of the Living Dead!!!!! 5 stars
7/16/06 mark fun to watch-romero needs to complete this, however, this seems like a build-up 5 stars
7/14/06 drydock54321 lots of gore 4 stars
5/07/06 omar it was ok. the violence was awesome though 4 stars
3/17/06 MP Bartley Lack of doomy finality (unlike the others) makes this seem like a very good tv movie. 4 stars
3/06/06 matt mediocre, the ending was a huge letdown 3 stars
2/25/06 ali profasion 5 stars
2/20/06 Agent Sands Not scary at all. It is action-packed, though, and Dennis Hopper is fucking hilarious. 4 stars
1/13/06 ALDO Feel incomplete....bad character development. 2 stars
1/04/06 Indrid Cold The complete waste of Dennis Hopper is one of this stinker's less eggregious crimes. 2 stars
12/28/05 chris f a very good film 4 stars
12/20/05 JJ now i know how star wars fans felt when they saw phantom menace. romero should be ashamed 1 stars
12/15/05 JeromeBosch P.S. all that money and they couldn’t buy a helicopter? 3 stars
12/12/05 Jeanne Pittsburgh it really kind of sucks 1 stars
12/11/05 gray could have been better 4 stars
11/29/05 JeromeBosch Prompted me to take another look at 'DAWN' and appreciate that film even more. 3 stars
11/26/05 Lord Durvok II Romero + big, ostentatious budget = crap 2 stars
11/22/05 Guy Pretty lame all around. 1 stars
11/19/05 Sam Justus A super enjoyable zombie flick by George A. Romero, the man that started it all. 5 stars
11/14/05 Danny Disappointment. Gore for the sake of gore. Disgusting and not EVEN scary. 1 stars
11/04/05 MAttIFUL Painfully stupid! Dawn of the Dead was so much better... god that was awful 1 stars
10/30/05 K. Sear I don't know, maybe I expectected too much? 3 stars
10/26/05 deadwiz Gotta love zombies. Not romeros best, but it will do. 4 stars
10/25/05 Richard Brandt Who can see zombies being tortured without being reminded of Abu Ghraib? 4 stars
10/25/05 Linda Richardson "Zombies, man they creep me out" sums it up for me. 5 stars
10/25/05 chris fox (the god) good movie worth watching 4 stars
10/20/05 tatum Quite the unpleasant little gore FX resume film, twenty years too late 1 stars
10/19/05 othree sucksallass, Dawn of the Dead 2004 was better, Resident Evil2 was even better, *bleh* 1 stars
10/16/05 Vince Very enjoyable zombie flick by the man who started it all 4 stars
10/13/05 conker_99 Land of the dead was one of the best movies i have ever seen. But it was a little to short. 5 stars
10/13/05 carmen fratto He never explained how the zomie's got there in the first place . 3 stars
9/30/05 Phil Interesting idea........ but no! 3 stars
9/27/05 alvin crap***great effect make up, but the story is borng n no excitement at all, sucks*** 2 stars
9/21/05 Fritz Romero's brand of zombie-ism is old and tired. 2 stars
8/24/05 Tiffany Faye Hawthorne A fairly ineffectual and banal-retentive effort at making a horror flick 2 stars
8/18/05 ES An ok movie, cool premise, but the zombies are as unscary as can be 3 stars
8/16/05 alice very average, never suprised me 3 stars
8/12/05 Mark Louis Baumgart So-so FX & make-up. A heavy-handed, illogical & pretentious social message movie. *Yawn* 1 stars
8/09/05 John excellent. anyone who disagrees is wrong. 5 stars
8/05/05 Pierre Masterpiece! 5 stars
8/01/05 Ric Good cinematography, but that's about it. 1 stars
7/20/05 Shena Johnson It was an okay movie, but I think it can be better.Use your heart. 3 stars
7/11/05 the untrained eye sorry guys, disappointed 3 stars
7/09/05 asina better than any of that wes craven crap. 5 stars
7/08/05 ROY L. CAIN Nobody scares the hell out of you like Mr. Romero ! 5 stars
7/08/05 KingNeutron Some good "jump" moments, good FX, and good acting all around. 4 stars
7/07/05 lucas completely reinvents the genre of horror movies 5 stars
7/07/05 Dave Pretty Good movie even if its not up to par with Dawn or Night. 4 stars
7/06/05 Cedric It's AMAZING, go see it! 5 stars
7/05/05 Ole Man Bourbon Completely and utterly asinine. Looks like it was written by a 4th grader. 1 stars
7/04/05 ajay not really a gore fan, so this movie was laugh-out-loud bad. 2 stars
7/03/05 ART This film has the underlying theme of class struggle. 4 stars
7/02/05 Joe This movie sucks trust me, dont trust the high ratings on this movie 1 stars
7/02/05 Malcolm this was whack 2 stars
7/01/05 Eric Rollins Glossy revisionism - totally unnecessary 2 stars
6/30/05 eleni the unrated dvd will be the REAL version. still good, though. 4 stars
6/30/05 Caiphn Disappointed, pretty crazy gore however. The last bit of dialogue extreme cheese. 3 stars
6/29/05 John Gruber Social Commentary on political situation in USA... with zombies! 5 stars
6/29/05 Gray Could have been better 4 stars
6/29/05 John A Zombie film done right - great! 5 stars
6/28/05 dolemite Pretty sweet gore. I'd give it 5 just for that 5 stars
6/28/05 Kankasaur Zombie films satirizing social decay have been reborn in an era of ivory tower arrogance 5 stars
6/27/05 carlos r guzman Romero still has it(1978's Dawn still best), a bit hurried; still great - DVD maybe better 4 stars
6/26/05 Agent Sands The best American movie I've seen in the theater in 2005. No gratuitous formulaic subplots. 5 stars
6/26/05 vagile Better than worth a look if not really quite awesome. 5 stars
6/26/05 Sarah Reece I really did love this film. It's a shame that the movie did go by in a hurry. 5 stars
6/25/05 Lord Jiggy Swiftian satire it is not...easy shots at Bush...oh, so original (NOT). 2 stars
6/25/05 Darren Shea Satisfying, if a bit obvious and heavy-handed. Better acting than usual for a Romero flick. 4 stars
6/25/05 malcolm everything a zombie movie is supposed to be. take a lesson copycats. 4 stars
6/25/05 Uncle Phucker Would like to see MORE of the good stuff. Hopefully a DVD will reveal this. Worst of the 4. 4 stars
6/25/05 DennyRoss Zombie fans (like me) rejoice in spite of the cliche dialogue from the main characters. 4 stars
6/25/05 asina romero's swan song is also his masterpiece. 5 stars
6/25/05 K. Sear The weakest one yet, but still not a terrible film. 4 stars
6/24/05 maysin willie aames It's no DAWN, it's not even DAY but it's still better than the imitators... 4 stars
6/24/05 Trenchtown Awesome, Except Dennis Hopper Did his Water World Character all over again 4 stars
6/22/05 David Hollands Note quite Dawn, but well-acted, with excellent tonal balance, and wonderful direction. 5 stars
6/19/05 payback Finally, this is how you make a zombie flick 5 stars
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  24-Jun-2005 (R)
  DVD: 18-Oct-2005



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