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LAND OF THE DEAD, 2005
Movie Reviews!

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LAND OF THE DEAD MOVIE POSTER
LAND OF THE DEAD, 2005
Movie Reviews

Directed by George A. Romero
Starring: Simon Baker, John Leguizamo, Dennis Hopper
Review by Daniel Green



SYNOPSIS:

The world has been over-run by the living dead leaving the last remnants of humanity barricaded inside a seemingly secure city. In this microcosm, the rich prosper leaving the poor to fend for themselves on the dangerous streets below. However, when the city’s primary defensive weapon Dead Reckoning (a fully armed, mobile fortress) is hijacked by a vengeful, renegade mercenary, the remaining survivors find themselves at the mercy of the ever-evolving zombie hoard.

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REVIEW:

Land of the Dead (2005), the fourth instalment of Romero’s living dead saga, was a film many critics thought would never see the light of day. His last entry, Day of the Dead (1985) had been made two decades before and was commercially (and undeservedly) a ‘flop’. It appeared that the …of the Dead films had run their course, destined to remain a trilogy, Romero having lost touch with the pertinent issues of the day. Fortunately for Romero, contemporary American society has continued to supply him with a rich vein of fresh material, an anonymous ghost-writer providing him with the perfect location, premise and subtext for his first effort of the 21st century. Truly, Land of the Dead remains as socially aware, bitingly satirical and of course, spectacularly gruesome as any of his previous work.

Released at a time when the United States was (and remains to be) embroiled in not one but two violent wars on foreign soil, Land of the Dead’s human military contingent have moved on since the events of Day. Relieved of their allegiance to the US government, they have now become roving mercenaries, loyal only to the highest bidder. In Land of the Dead, this highest bidder is Kaufman (Dennis Hopper), the feudal lord of an isolated, barricaded city, one of the last remaining sanctums of humanity. Residing in Fiddler’s Green, the city’s luxurious centre inhabited by the ultra-rich and powerful, Kaufman controls and manipulates the population’s hierarchy, from soldier down to

street-thug. He supplies and operates the gambling, prostitution and liquor rings in the city’s slums, keeping the poor subservient through vice and destitution. For a while, he even manages to contain the ravenous zombie threat, distracting them with fireworks dispensed from Kaufman’s personal mobile fortress, Dead Reckoning.

However, after a raid in a nearby town, an evolving zombie nicknamed Big Daddy (Eugene Clark) decides to wage war on the humans. Gifted with basic leadership skill and the ability to wield weapons, the former gas-station worker assembles the zombie hoard, shuffling on towards the city. Romero has taken much criticism from ‘die-hard’ zombiephiles, dismayed at his portrayal of an evolving living dead. In Day of the Dead, the bunker’s lead scientist Dr Logan (Richard Liberty) attempts to domesticate a seemingly intelligent zombie named ‘Bub’ (Howard Sherman). Land of the Dead takes this to the next level,

attributing the undead with basic problem-solving and even communicative skills (Big Daddy barks to draw the attention of his fellow flesh-eaters). However, the zombie’s evolution is cleverly developed by Romero and by the film’s finale it is with the flesh-eaters that our strongest sympathies lie. They are the Land of the Dead’s true under-class; exploited even by the poorest humans, they are shown chained up and abused as tools of amusement on the city streets. Through the evolution of the undead, issues of race are once again addressed by Romero. He portrays an African-American taking the mantle of leader of the living dead where as conversely, amongst the humans, Kaufman keeps a black servant who obeys his every order.

Caught between Fiddler Green’s psychotic dictator and the army of the living dead we find the usual Romeronian array of nihilistic survivalists (Cholo [John Leguizamo]), honourable fighters (Riley [Simon Baker]) and strong women (Slack [Asia Argento]). When Cholo is betrayed by Kaufman, he threatens to use Dead Reckoning as a weapon against his old employer and his city. Riley and his companions are dispatched to stop Cholo, fearing for the safety of the city’s poor who would suffer huge casualties. Riley manages to take control of Dead Reckoning, leaving an infected Cholo to his presumed death (although, as we see, he returns to the city to face his old employer). However, when Riley returns to the city he finds it devasted by the zombie army. The film’s most spectacular scenes are found as the undead move through Fiddler’s Green, devouring its affluent inhabitants as they take shelter in the mall (reminiscent of Dawn of Dead’s (1978) fateful setting). The living dead punish them for their life of decadence, the archetypal ‘barbarians at the gate’ that ushered in the last days of Rome. Throats are mauled, bodies dismembered; in one shot, a piercing is removed from a young girl’s naval by the jaws of a zombie. Kaufman is tracked down and burned to death in his own car by Big Daddy. The surviving rich find themselves trapped between the living dead and an electrified fence. We presume they will be saved when Riley arrives with Dead Reckoning, dispensing its fireworks to draw the horde’s attention away from the humans. However, the zombies are no longer the hypnotised drones of society, but true revolutionaries that kill all remnants of humanity before them. Once they have had their fill, they move on and only then do the city’s poor emerge, having been spared from the same fate as Fiddler Green’s bourgeoisie.

Land of the Dead operates as both a generic action/horror and a didactic warning by Romero against the corrupting effect of power and wealth, released at a time when massive global corporations appear to have more political control than most country’s governments. The living dead have moved on from being the terrifying apparitions and flesh-eating monsters of Night of the Living Dead and now find themselves as the saga’s anti-hero’s, punishing the immoral and evil within humanity; a contemporary re-imagining of the biblical ‘flood story’.

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