Land of the Dead : Fangirl Review
Zombie Master Romero Is Back With A Vengeance
Reviewed by Slick Matecheck
Directed By: George Romero
Starring: Simon Baker, Robert Joy, Asia Argento, John Leguizamo, Dennis Hopper & Eugene Clark
SOME SPOILERS AHEAD
It’s been twenty years since the genius of George A Romero has graced movie screens. In this installment, we find that humans are far outnumbered by zombies. The humans live in a walled-in city surrounded by three rivers (obviously meant to be Pittsburgh, although due to financial matters, the film was shot in Toronto). The wealthy fascists live in a high-rise building in the center of town called Fiddler’s Green. Everyone else lives in squalor in the surrounding city.
A ragtag group of soldiers goes out on regular missions to outlying towns and cities to plunder any remaining food or medicine for the people of the city. That’s what they’d have you believe, but in reality anything they find is for the rich elitists living in The Green, as it’s called. Dennis Hopper (Easy Rider, Speed) is de facto president of The Green, Kaufman, the wealthiest of the fatcats who lives in luxury while literally looking down at all the people living in dire straits outside. He has a great disdain for all those living outside of The Green and is all too willing to live a sort of splendid existence of willful ignorance of the zombies and poverty that lie below. Kaufman believes he created this utopia for the privileged and thus feels he is above even the most well-off residents of The Green.
The heart and soul of the film is Riley (Simon Baker of TV’s The Guardian and LA Confidential), one of the soldiers who retires at the beginning of the film after doing his last run for supplies. His best mate is Charlie, brilliantly portrayed by character actor Robert Joy (Radio Days, Desperately Seeking Susan), who is good of heart, slow of mind and burned of face. Riley feels trapped by the walled-in city and wants to get out and go north. You can imagine him finding a cabin somewhere in the woods of Canada, reinforcing it, arming it with ammo and happily living out his days in peace.
Cholo, another soldier, also has his dreams. However, Cholo dreams of getting his own place in The Green. He’s saved up a nice chunk of change doing Kaufman’s dirty work and is ready to make his dream come true. He gets a rude awakening, however, when he tells Kaufman of his plans. Kaufman’s contempt for Cholo and his ‘kind’ is all too obvious as he tells Cholo there’s a long waiting list to get into The Green.
Meanwhile, it seems the zombies may have a dream or two of their own. Big Daddy (Eugene Clark of The Last Don II) picks up where Beethoven-loving zombie Bub of Romero’s Day Of The Dead left off. Years later, it’s easy to imagine that maybe the zombies have evolved and Big Daddy is the epitome of that. He rallies the other zombies to follow him to the city. They make their shuffling way (although the zombies do seem much more agile, if not faster, in this movie) to the city and proceed to bulldoze their way in and have a feast.
Riley finds that the car he bought to get out has mysteriously disappeared and makes his way to a seedy club where zombies are part of the fun. You can have your picture taken with a pair of chained-up zombies (convincingly and deftly portrayed by Shaun Of The Dead creators Edgar Wright and Simon Pegg) or bet on which zombie will kill the other in a fenced-in grudge match. How do you make two zombies fight? Throw some fresh meat into the ring with them. On this particular night they’ve decided to up the ante from the usual stray cat or dog: They throw hooker-with-a-heart-of-gold Slack (Asia Argento of XXX and daughter of Italian horror master Dario Argento) into the ring. After Riley shakes down club owner Chihuahua to get info on the whereabouts of his missing car, he realizes what’s going on and saves Slack from a gruesome fate. Charlie helps and the three would-be heroes are thrown in jail.
Cholo, realizing that he’ll never get into The Green, no matter how much dirty money he makes, decides to blackmail Kaufman. He steals Dead Reckoning (a nod to the title Romero originally wanted for this film), a huge, decked-out vehicle armed to the hilt (designed for the soldiers’ plundering forays into zombie-filled towns) that belongs to Kaufman and was designed by Riley. Cholo takes Dead Reckoning out of town, calls Kaufman and threatens to blow up The Green if Kaufman doesn’t give him five million by midnight. Kaufman gets Riley out of jail and makes a deal with him: If he can get Dead Reckoning back in one piece he can have a car to get out and he can take Slack and Charlie with him.
As a die-hard Romero and zombie fan, I found this film exciting, funny and extremely gory. And gory is a very good thing. The makeup effects are absolutely top of the line, as would be expected from the boys from KNB Efx. There is some extremely innovative gore and the zombies each have their own look. Greg Nicotero of KNB (who also has a zombie cameo in the film) and Romero spent much time deciding exactly how the zombies should look this time around, and it paid off in spades.
The casting choices were brilliant and the acting is superb, especially from the above-mentioned Robert Joy as Charlie. Having never seen Asia Argento in anything before, I was very impressed with the depth she gave to character Slack. (Of course, I’m sure Romero’s writing had a hand in that as well!) Lead Simon Baker has definitely proven himself as a leading man and John Leguizamo made a great darker, sort of anti-hero counterpart to Baker’s hero. And Dennis Hopper…well what can you say? He’s once again shown just how adept he is at playing a bad guy.
And most importantly, perhaps, Romero has absolutely nailed the timbre of the times and thrown all the hypocrisy and fear in the world these days right back into our faces. He has absolutely captured the essence of the society in which we live in these post-9/11 times.
Honestly, the only issue I have with this flick is the zombies. I know that it’s plausible that the zombies have evolved in their own way. Bub was much smarter and a far cry from all the other zombies in Day Of The Dead. However, Big Daddy sometimes seems much more human than zombie. I had to remind myself a bit that he was in fact a zombie. But it’s still not difficult to imagine the sheer number of zombies that are in this film overtaking the humans.
Overall, I absolutely loved this film. Now, bear in mind that I have been a huge Romero fan for nearly two decades now and I’ve been waiting for this film for years. I was more than a little afraid that I’d be largely disappointed by it, but happily I left the theatre with a big, sloppy grin on my face that was still there when I got home. My mind kept flashing back to bits of the film and I’d find myself grinning like an idiot. It was a most incredible and precious evening in my life. I hope that others have this same experience. If not, hey! You can always dig on the copious amounts of gore and explosions, no?