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Land of the Dead
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by David Cornelius

"Romero's franchise is still very much alive. So to speak."
5 stars

Of course you know that Romero defined the zombie movie with his essential horror films “Night of the Living Dead,” “Dawn of the Dead,” and “Day of the Dead.” Of course you know that his latest entry in this series, “Land of the Dead,” has been too long in the making, its arrival in theaters being the horror flick equivalent of the new “Star Wars” trilogy. And of course you know that “Land” comes to us at the height of a zombie renaissance of sorts, with the genre riding a tide of success (“28 Days Later,” the “Dawn” remake, “Shaun of the Dead”) as well as suffering a flood of failures (the “Resident Evil” movies, “House of the Dead”).

The trick to “Land of the Dead” is to drop expectations. Do not expect a rehash of Romero’s the-end-is-nigh despair; this filmmaker is not about to repeat himself. And do not expect a carbon copy of more modern zombie fare. That’s not Romero’s style either. And guess what? We’re all the better for it.

What we get in this outing is a story involving a luxury highrise in the heart of a nameless city (looks like Pittsburgh to me, though) that’s been blockaded off from the zombie swarm that’s taken over the country. The building is inhabited by the rich and powerful, led by Kaufman (Dennis Hopper, in a pinch of brilliant casting); he opens his doors to anyone who can afford the rich life in a time where you’d think money didn’t mean much anymore. (Oh, but to some, it always will.) Around the building are slums set up to provide cheap housing for anyone unfortunate enough to be both alive and poor. For the lower classes, sex, gambling, and drugs offer distraction from the hell both inside and outside the city walls.

And here’s where Romero deviates from his older films. Both “Dawn” and “Day” were able to crank up the tension by drowning the stories in a sea of nihilism. The world is just about to end, the movies told us, and there is no escape, nothing you can do but wait for your turn to die. Unbearably bleak stuff, to be sure (it’s a sensation that’s so overwhelming that I repeatedly name these as the scariest movies ever made, all from their refusal to provide release), and neither film ever hints that safety is in the characters’ futures.

Yet here we are, in a shiny tower of safety, protected from the menace of the walking dead, protected from the menace of loneliness - even the most desperate slum residents at the very least have a society, which is better than rotting away in a mall or bunker somewhere.

So what’s Romero’s game here? Why, all of a sudden, does he offer a ray of hope in a series built on hopelessness? The answer lies in Romero’s beautiful tendency to make his movies more than mere horror flicks.

Just as his previous “Dead” films had so much to say about humanity, for better (no) or for worse (yes), “Land” offers up a new political perspective. As we watch the zombie hordes gather their wits (they’ve been getting smarter, a logical progression from plot points seen in “Day”) and begin their assault on the city and the highrise, Romero’s point becomes clear: ignore a problem, and pretty soon, the problem’s going to tear you apart. View it as a diatribe against whatever you wish to see. (Me, I’m going with the all-too-obvious anti-Bush rant, with its 9/11-tinged commentary backed by the tower’s obvious divide between haves and have-nots.)

Of course, as with the rest of the “Dead” series, you’re not required to look too deeply into the film in order to enjoy it. Romero makes “Land” his most enjoyable “Dead” feature, sheer entertainment-wise, as he’s placed a heavier hand on the action side of things. Working with a budget that can finally match his vision, the filmmaker builds an action extravaganza, a raucous ‘splosion-heavy affair that, at just over ninety minutes, zooms by at a steady clip. The weight of the plot features a stolen war machine of sorts, a threat to blow up the building, and an effort by our hero to save the day - hardly the stuff of hiding out in a farmhouse for the night.

There’s simply no downtime here, between all the action and the frights and the consistent movement. Everything’s in motion. Zombies are marching on the city. Heroes are racing the streets in decked-out station wagons. Guns are blazing. Something’s always going somewhere. The result is - dare I say it? - a thrill-ride. Not what I was expecting at all, but now that it’s over, who’s to complain?

Yet with all the speed this movie has, it’s nice to see that Romero has ignored the new rule of zombie filmmaking - make ’em faster! - and returned the undead to their sluggish sleepwalk pace. Yes, the super-fast creatures of “28 Days Later” and its companions are very frightening in their own way. But such speed doesn’t fit Romero’s themes, and so he breaks ranks and slows them down. What we get, then, are zombies that individually are little threat (unless they sneak up and grab you from behind, of course), but together, once they swarm, then you’re screwed. It’s their mere number that becomes scary - it’s not one or two zombies, but thousands. (Millions, perhaps billions, if you count those unseen in the film.)

Which helps Romero’s theme. At their rambling speed, the undead here become easy to ignore; you can tear past them on your motorcycle without worry. Laugh at them, even (one scene shows captured zombies used for entertainment). Call them “stenches” in slang mockery. Ignore the greater threat. Live your life of comfort and complacency. And that’s when the greater threat gangs up and eats your face. Oops.

Continuing a theme from “Day,” Romero even allows for some sympathy for the undead. Yes, they are mindless killers who will rip out your spleen in a flash, but there’s something about the way the living treats them that builds a sense of, well, melancholy, I suppose. Consider the zombie known here as “Big Daddy” (Eugene Clark). Like the Bub character from the previous film, Big Daddy is becoming aware, and he’s not too thrilled with the idea of being neglected. Somehow, the audience manages to empathize with Big Daddy, his battle cry sounding like an outlet for all the primal angers of the undead.

So yeah, even in the apocalypse, with millions of flesh-hungry zombies out there, it’s still us pesky living humans that manage to bungle everything. Human nature is dark, unlikable, and unchangeable (watch as Kaufman hordes his bags of useless cash in the final scenes), and sure, some of us can be noble, but the majority of us? Nah.

That’s a lot of beef to pump into a horror flick. But then, Romero’s never made typical horror flicks. He prefers a movie with meaning, all the while maintaining its sense of entertainment. He’s a master of the multilayered story, and with “Land,” he doesn’t disappoint. Better still, he refuses to give into expectations, offering up a “Dead” sequel that’s entirely unlike any “Dead” film before it. Far from playing it safe, Romero sees this sequel as an opportunity to challenge the viewer. The result? A film that may not be even close to being the scariest zombie movie in a long while, but one that is, instead, the smartest.

link directly to this review at https://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=12288&reviewer=392
originally posted: 07/16/05 17:07:56
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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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