Land of the Dead marks the return of the legendary horror director George A. Romero to the genre he created in 1969 with the original Night of the Living Dead . Romero had a lot to live up to with this film. Night's first sequel, Dawn of the Dead is one of the greatest horror films ever made, and its follow-up Day of the Dead , is an underrated film that has yet to be matched for stomach turning gore. What makes Romero's zombie films special though is the director's clever use of social satire, the most famous example of which is the critique on consumerism in Dawn of the Dead . Land of the Dead continues this tradition, and is a worthy addition to an already great series.
The film begins "some time" after the night of the Living Dead , where the undead now rule most of the planet, and a large group of survivors has barricaded themselves in the city of Pittsburgh and have begun to rebuild society. It is in the social stratification of this new society that Romero infuses his satire. The rich live in decadence in a high-rise complex known as "Fiddler's Green", on the backs of the poor living in the streets below, trying to provide them with the best existence they can.
Supplies can only be procured by venturing out to neighboring towns, overrun by zombies, in a huge armored vehicle called "Dead Reckoning." Riley, played by Simon Baker, is the inventor of this tank, and having led the raiding parties for some time, hopes to leave the city and escape the corruption. On his last raid before his retirement, Riley and his mentally challenged marksman sidekick Charlie, discover that the zombies of one town seem to be evolving, and are now able to communicate with each other. One zombie in particular, a former gas-station attendant named Big Daddy takes exception to the slaughter of his undead comrades by the raiding party, and begins to lead a shambling army of the undead towards the green to exact revenge.
Meanwhile, Cholo, Riley's loose cannon college, steals Dead Reckoning when he is denied residence to the Green by Kaufman, the corrupt and slightly crazy leader of the complex. It becomes apparent, that, as with previous Romero films, the living humans are as big a threat to each other as their undead counterparts.
The largest strength of this movie over its predecessors is in its performances, which while serviceable in previous films, were never very strong. Baker plays the everyman hero very well, and Hopper gives a great quirky performance as Kaufman, as only Dennis Hopper can. Asia Argento (daughter of great Italian horror director Dario Argento) also gives a good performance as Slack, a prostitute turned zombie killer, and thankfully avoids being a clone of "Vasquez" from Aliens.
The gore effects in this film, while unfortunately not created by long time Romero collaborator Tom Savini (fans should look out for his cameo as he reprises his undead role of Blades from "Dawn of the Dead"), are incredible, and Romero continues to find new and imaginative ways to turn our stomachs. I feel that right now Day of the Dead is still the best of the series for gore, but I will reevaluate this once I have a chance to view the unrated Land of the Dead DVD.
My only real complaint with Land of the Dead is that it feels very short, and, indeed, the running time is only 93minutes. It would have been interesting to spend more time in the Green, to understand that society better. Perhaps Romero is saving this for the sequel.
Those of you who are fans of Romero and the zombie genre have probably seen this film already. I would encourage the rest of you, if you like smart and clever horror films, to catch Land of the Dead if it is still playing in your area. Otherwise head out to your local video store and pick up the rest of the Dead series, and bring yourselves up to speed while we anxiously await the DVD release.