Twenty years after his last installment of the classic “Dead” zombie genre, landmark Horror writer/director George Romero has returned to the delight of fans worldwide.
After years of various horror projects, and remakes of his previous “Dead” films, fans had begun to wonder if they had seen the last of Romero’s Zombie films and had to content themselves with the remakes and rumored offshoots and sequels from such.
Thankfully, with Land of the Dead Romero has returned to his basics and has crafted a Zombie thriller that is not only better than 85’s disappointing “Day of the Dead”, but on par with the ground breaking “Dawn of the Dead and the classic Original “Night of the Living Dead.”
For those who are not familiar with the series, the dead have arisen and now walk the earth looking for humans to feed upon. Gone is any memory of their former selves, only the insatiable desire to feed remains. How this event happened is never explained in the films viewers simply have to accept that it is happening and that those who are bitten by zombies are destined to join the ranks of the undead.
Like the previous films, the story follows a group of humans who are attempting to survive against the zombie hordes and who seek shelter and a way to stave off the zombie masses.
In Land of the Dead, a group of survivors have taken refuge in a fortified city where the common folks live in the streets while the affluent live in pristine high rise complex with many of the luxuries of their past lives.
One such survivor is Riley (Simon Baker), who spends his time venturing beyond the walls of the city with his team as they attempt to locate food, medicines, and other needed items in cities that have been abandoned due to zombie infestation.
As the film opens, Riley is completing his last run as he plans to venture north to find a cold and desolated area that is devoid of zombies and huddled masses.
His second in command Cholo, (John Leguizamo), is anxious to take over, as he sees the expeditions as a chance to obtain valuable items such as cigars and whiskey, which he can in turn sell to those who live in luxury. This desire causes much friction between Riley and Cholo but with the pending departure of Riley, Cholo realizes he may be able to finally purchase a home of his own in the luxury high rise.
Things do not go as planned for Cholo as when he tells his boss, Kaufman (Dennis Hopper), about his plans to move into the new complex, he is shocked to learn that Riley’s prediction of class exclusions in the building apply to him as well.
Furious over being used and cheated of his dreams and money, and an attempt upon his life, Cholo decides to hijack a well-armed armored vehicle that defends the city in an effort to extort his payment from Kaufman.
At the same time, Riley has learned that he has be swindled from his car, and soon finds himself working with Kaufman in an attempt to recover the armored vehicle from Cholo before he unleashes a hail of rockets upon the city. In short order, Riley and his support team are forced to enter the zombie infested streets to save the day.
Of course with “Land” being a Zombie film, the city will soon find itself overrun with all manner of ghouls and there will be plenty of flesh splitting, blood spattering, gore spewing scenes that will delight fans of the genre and elicit more than a few shrieks and cheers from the audience.
It is learned that the zombies have started to evolve and as such, now communicate with each other in a basic way, which makes their attacks even more dangerous as they are organized and starting to use tools and weapons.
What this all ads up to is a thrilling romp that will delight fans of the genre. Sure the story and characters are not the deepest, but as horror films go, there is a complexity to them. Hopper does great work as Kaufman as his malicious and selfish nature provides the perfect focal point to the films numerous commentaries on topics ranging from social class, to politics and well fare as well as the plight of the inner cities.
The genius of Romero is that he can insert so many topics into the film without it every seeming heavy-handed or over the top. The use of social commentary adds strength to the story as while the characters are in a very unrealistic situation, their base desires, motivations and behaviors are easily identifiable and strong.
Some may see Land of the Dead as just another blood and guts film with a basic story that lacks depth. To those who are fans of the genre and series, “Land” will likely be seen as a triumphant return to the genre he made his own by Romero and will enjoy the ride.
3.5 stars out of 5