Film — George A. Romero’s Land of the Dead (R)

 

By Amy Diaz

Zombie movies can be fun and meaningful, as proven again by George A. Romero in Land of the Dead.

Just like his Dawn of the Dead had plenty to say about consumerism and society’s materialistic values, Land of the Dead is chock full of statements about class, wealth, corruption and oppression. It’s also chock full of excellent neck-ripping-out, limb-biting, bloody-teeth-baring zombie action, to which yay! is my personal reaction. Like kung-fu movies, zombie movies almost always deliver on their promise. They say they’re going to give you lurching, biting legions of the undead and they do it. Grrr, argh, indeed.

This movie gives us a slightly different kind of zombie — a thinking zombie. Like minimum-wage workers fed up with just getting scraps (in this case, scraps of flesh) the zombies of this movie organize and the head of their AFL-CIO is “man” called Big Daddy (Eugene Clark). He doesn’t just lumber about the landscape, seeking out human flesh and being easily distracted by fireworks. Big Daddy seems to be able to communicate with other zombies. He retains enough information about his former life to continue the motions of being a gas attendant. And, when he grabs a machine gun off one of the humans that cross his path, he quickly figures out what to do with it.

That’s right, baby, the zombies are armed, pissed and heading for the nearest metropolitan area.

And, unfortunately, the humans are not really in a good place to fight off the groaning invaders. The leader of the city is a man named Mr. Kaufman (Dennis Hopper). He has built an all-inclusive high-rise —shopping, restaurants and condos — and has built up an army to protect it. He has also whipped up a buffet of vices — drink, women, gambling, zombie-fights — to keep the underclasses anesthetized enough to that they won’t notice that they’re essentially serving as cheap labor and buffer between the zombies and the rich people. Some of the zombie-fighting, supply-hunting mercenaries on his payroll include the social climber Cholo (John Leguizamo) and Riley (Simon Baker), both of whom want out. Riley wants out entirely — he plans to head to the completely uninhabited lands in Canada where there may not be people but at least there aren’t any fences. Cholo wants out and up — he wants his very own condo in Fiddler’s Green, the high rise that Kaufman built. Unfortunately for all, the very night Big Daddy musters his troops is the very night that Kaufman tells Cholo that while his killin’ is good enough for the genteel folks, his presence is not. Cholo steals a trailer-tank and threatens to destroy the apartment. Kaufman hirers Riley to bring the truck and Cholo (or proof of his death) back. Riley takes the job but is ultimately more interested in saving the working class than the denizens of the tower.

Land of the Dead is genuinely creepy, icky and scary, not just for the sudden zombie bites and unseen danger in the dark but also for the social implications where security and law exist only for the very rich and all others are at the mercy of one man’s whims. It’s also unexpectedly funny — I don’t think I’ve ever heard a better line-reading of “hey, look over there” than Dennis Hopper’s toward the movie’s end. And while, yes, we are talking about zombie movies here, for my $7.50, they don’t get better than this.

 
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