"KEEP BUSTIN'."

Land of the Dead

Hi, everyone. “Moriarty” here with some Rumblings From The Lab…

I’m working on my review for this one now, having seen it earlier tonight. For now, I’ll leave it in the always-capable hands of Vern:

Fellas –

Well the Batman fans have their good Batman movie to get excited about, the Star Wars fans have their good Star Wars movie to complain and make rape metaphors about*, and now comes the actual, genuine most anticipated movie of the summer. In my opinion.

[*and no, this is not a license to talk about Star Wars in the talkbacks. you even THINK about mentioning Hans shooting whatsisdick the hutt or what have you, even in a relevant comparison to the works of George Romero, you’re fuckin fired]

There’s not much of a rumbling in the media, there doesn’t even seem to be as much excitement on the internet thing here as you’d think there’d be. But some of you out there know what I’m talking about. We’ve been waiting for this movie a long god damn time. I mean how many false alarms can you live through over the years, the guy saying he almost has the money to make another Living Dead movie? It starts to seem like a pipe dream. How many Resident Evils and 28 Days and Haunted Mansions can go by with us saying “fer chrissakes you morons, just give George Romero some money for a living dead picture and make the world a better place for all creeds, colors and stripes.”

Land of the DeadYes, 28 DAYS LATER was pretty good for a sloppy digital video retread of DAWN/DAY OF THE DEAD but with a virus instead of zombies so really its almost like they made up a new idea for a movie. And yes, DAWN OF THE DEAD remake was amazingly good for a remake of a perfect movie that should never be fucked with. And yes SHAUN OF THE DEAD was a funny zombie sitcom that I would’ve enjoyed even more if I hadn’t heard so much ridiculous hyperbolic bullshit about it being great. And yes, HOUSE OF THE DEAD was, well I didn’t see that one not sure about that one. But no matter how much we enjoyed any of those we always had that question in the back of our heads: what about the REAL George Romero zombie movie? The one actually directed by George Romero, in the style of George Romero, with authentic George Romero zombies and non-zombies? The one we’ve been dreaming about. Praying for. Begging for. Give it to us. It is our birthright!

(And then, in another part of our brain: it won’t be like BRUISER. It won’t be like BRUISER.)

I still have a hard time believing it when I see an ad on TV that says THIS FRIDAY. But it’s true. They really made it. I saw it tonight, so I know for sure now.

Yeah yeah yeah quit beating around the bush you asshole, we already know you saw it because otherwise what are you doing here. So did you like it or not? Okay man keep your pants on. I have to explain what I ate for breakfast first.

Nah, just jerkin your chain bud. Or in this case, Bub. Yes I liked it. HELL YES I liked it.

After NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD, the dead have dawned and they’ve had their day and now it truly is the land of the dead, because they really have the run of the place. There are some exceptions, outposts here and there, and (spoiler) Pittsburgh (played this time by veteran character actor Toronto). The city is protected by walls, electric fences and soldiers. In the middle, behind rivers and a protective layer of delicious poor people, is Fiddler’s Green. That’s a plush skyscraper/gated community owned by Kaufman (Dennis Hopper) because he took it over, just like our heroes took over the mall in DAWN OF THE DEAD. But this guy is an asshole though, in my opinion. He’s no Peter.

The protagonists are the working class, the mercenary types who go out in a half tank/half bus abomination called Dead Reckoning to scavenge the suburbs and rural areas for usable goods and bring them back to the city. It’s a little bit like ALIENS the way this team of macho soldiers go out into the trenches and sometimes without the best intentions. But zombies are easier to kill than aliens. It’s not “Game over, man!” As the new kid says, “I thought this was gonna be a battle. This is a fucking massacre!” And there’s at least one zombie who gets pretty pissed off about these one sided gunfights. More on him later.

There’s a bunch of characters but the most important are Riley (Simon Baker), the honorable leader of the scavenging team who’s planning to leave for Canada after tonight, and Cholo (John Leguizamo), his asshole second in command who thinks he can buy his way into Fiddler’s Green. His application gets rejected though, you could say, so he steals Dead Reckoning and is going to attack the city if he doesn’t get the money Dennis Hopper owes him. Which is not really what Dead Reckoning was intended for I think. It’s for killing zombies.

By the way let me have a pre-emptive strike here before some wiseass starts picking at the chronology of the dead. I guarantee some hotshot will ask why, if the dead first walked in 1968, there are still zombie gas station attendants, clowns, bands, security guards, etc. Well you see, numbnuts, this series doesn’t take time that literally. DAWN OF THE DEAD was clearly in the ’70s but it was also clearly weeks, months at most, since this zombie shit first came up. According to LAND OF THE DEAD, the zombies came about “some time ago,” and that’s all you need to know. This hasn’t been going on for 35 years. Nobody grew up with the zombie menace*.

[*and no, this is not a reason to talk about fucking Phantom Menace, that was a long time ago fellas let’s move on]

Like all the movies in the series this one has its own feel that separates it from the others, while having the classic Romero-istic people-arguing-and/or-bonding-while-surviving-hopeless-situation drama. The feel is a little more modern, the look is more dark (they fight zombies at night now), they even use the word “zombie” once (as seen in the trailer) though they mostly call them “stenches” now. But this still feels like the old Romero, the independent filmatist, before he stopped trying to slay the dragon (see KNIGHT RIDERS for more info) went to the studios and did some good-but-just-not-the-same movies like THE DARK HALF and MONKEY TROUBLE. Er, MONKEY BONE. Er, MONKEY SHINES. One of those. You know, FATAL ATTRACTION but with a disabled guy instead of Michael Douglas and a monkey instead of Glenn Close.)

I like that aspects of the movie come out of what happened in the other three. In DAWN it was renegade bikers that went around looting and scavenging, now it’s an official function for what’s left of, uh, society. In DAWN the zombies had memories of their old lives, in DAY Bub learned how to fire a gun, and now we have zombie education spreading all over the zombie culture. An increasing sophistication due to lack of TV, maybe. Or just from a high-protein diet.

I mean that. There’s more gutmunching in this movie than in any other installment. You got a good gutmunching once or twice in all of them but this one is an all day buffet. Thank the Lord for His holy MPAA double-standards and the majesty of “strong, pervasive gore and violence.” There is finger eating, head exploding, flying arms and heads, intestines in unnatural places (hint: they’re supposed to go INSIDE the body), legless zombie attacks. Also many other much better things that would be unethical and immoral to give away. I was worried about Greg Nicotero (overactor from DAY) manning the effects instead of Tom Savini, but he obviously had the same spirit of trying to come up with the most outrageous ways to kill a zombie or a person or to disgust the audience. I didn’t bring my calculator so I can’t say for sure if this is the most violent, but it’s definitely up there. There probaly wasn’t a scene as disgusting as Joe Pilato’s one-man zombie picnic at the end of DAY, but there are similar scenes all throughout the movie, beginning middle and end. And this is the cut version.

Of course, we’re more desensitized now. I heard a guy afterwards saying that it “wasn’t really that violent,” but if there’s a more violent zombie movie it’s not by much. I really felt like the movie was saying SEE THIS, YOU PUSSIES? THIS IS HORROR. IT HAS BEEN ON A BRIEF SABBATICAL WHICH IS WHY IT LOOKS UNFAMILIAR TO YOUR SISSY PG-13 EYES. WE’RE SORRY FOR ANY INCONVENIENCE THAT MAY BE CAUSED BY THE MULTIPLE DISEMBOWELMENTS YOU HAVE JUST WITNESSED. NOW FUCK OFF.

And yes, we’re talking makeup, latex, those kind of things. They must’ve used computers to make crowds bigger and to open up a rotten cheek or two, but this is an organic, solid object type of movie. None of that video game violence you usually get now, in pretty much all genres.

There are so many memorable zombies that it would be hard to pick a favorite, but one candidate is the real skinny lady near the beginning, probaly a puppet, possibly a half cousin or niece of Gollum. Another obvious choice, I don’t know what they call him in the credits, but there’s a zombie leader. This is the best and freshest part of the movie. Bub maybe was a more sympathetic zombie, because you felt sorry for the guy. But this is a strong zombie character, a zombie folk hero, the guy who finally said I’m not putting up with all this shit anymore. He’s the Neo or Yoda or Jimmy Cliff in THE HARDER THEY COME of zombies because he figures shit out, he helps the other zombies to not get shot, leads a revolution against the humans. In one scene he even puts a zombie out of his misery, just like the humans do to each other any time one of them gets bit. There’s a group of these zombies that have their own subplot, we follow them on a journey throughout the movie. And when they finally get to their destination you can’t help but root for them, at least a little bit, when they start biting.

(If Elektra gets a fuckin spinoff, why not zombie leader: the movie?)

It’s nice to see gorey horror again, but even more exciting to an old timer like me is the return of horror with a point of view. The one thing that bugged me more than the running zombies in DAWN OF THE DEAD REMAKE was how it avoided all politics. Each of Romero’s movies was a movie for its time, clearly about things going on in their era. I know, where do you even start with this era? LAND deals with alot of issues, mostly involving the class differences between the Fiddler’s Green residents and everybody else. Inside is like Monroeville Mall times 100, the people all wear nice clothes and they even get to shop this time. They ignore the problem and don’t seem to care (or know?) about of the rest of the world. For the first time since 1968, we have people who are so sheltered that they only know to run and scream when zombies show up! You’ll notice that the power elite are all white men, and their butler is a black guy with a bow tie.

And of course, this is a post 9-11 movie. There’s probaly one line more than necessary to point out the parallel between Leguizamo’s character and those fuckin terrorists. But the metaphor works. Riley takes a mission from a leader he doesn’t like because he wants to save lives. Kaufman just wants to save his own ass, and prevent damage to his property. It’s a complicated world with many factions (rich looters, poor revolutionaries, sadistic criminals, dangerous mercenaries, fed up zombies) all going after each other, trying to get what they think they deserve. It’s a hopeless and familiar scenario. With zombies.

If I had one complaint about this movie, and I only bring this up because I do have exactly 1 (one) complaint, it would be that I wish it was longer. I haven’t checked the running time but it definitely felt shorter than the last two, even though the subject matter was more epic. I know the DVD will have more gore but I’m hoping for the full-on Lords of the Rings onslaught. It could definitely go more in-depth with the arrangement between Cholo and Kaufman, for one thing. And the lifestyle of the Fiddler’s Green residents other than Kaufman. And the methods of scavenging. Also, longer zombie mayhem sequences are always a bonus.

That’s not to say it feels choppy or incomplete, it just feels a little lighter weight than the others. A little. Is it a worthy followup? I definitely think so. Will anybody like it better than Dawn of the Dead (original recipe)? Probaly not, except for people you wouldn’t listen to anyway. Is it better than Day of the Dead? The acting is definitely better and the characters are more sympathetic, I know that much. Will I consider it a masterpiece ten years from now if I’m still alive? I haven’t even had ten hours to think about it yet, who the fuck knows, but I think there’s a good chance. Why am I writing in this annoying question/answer format? I was wondering that myself, man, I hate that shit. Sorry bout that guys. no time to fix

I know I gotta make my reviews shorter, but this one is justified. This is the most important movie of the year. Sorry, BEWITCHED fans, but that’s a fact. I’m sure alot of people have impossible expectations after so many years, but I for one (1) was not disappointed. And I think this might actually be a time when Romero’s style and mainstream tastes have an overlap. (if the movie flops though, fuck those assholes, they would want to live in Fiddler’s Green anyway. Stupid fiddlers.)

Okay, so two of the Georges have fulfilled their obligations to the world, now let’s have that MAD MAX 4 please.

–Vern

Thanks, Vern. Great work!

“Moriarty” out.

Originally posted at Ain’t-It-Cool-News: http://www.aintitcool.com/node/20542

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This entry was posted on Wednesday, June 22nd, 2005 at 12:17 pm and is filed under Action, AICN, Horror, Reviews. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

2 Responses to “Land of the Dead”

  1. Saw this when it first came out on DVD then again tonight. This is really satisfying film. Well-acted. Great atmosphere. Great team bonding element. Big Daddy (the zombie leader) is awesome. This definitely taps into the whole politics of income inequality and racism vibe. Dennis Hopper is a heavy for the ages. This holds up very well.

  2. Watched it yet again yesterday, and it still still holds up. I think the Mentalist is too pretty to be the lead in a Romero zombie film. I like him, but it detracts a little from the scrappiness to have Australian Mark Harmon in the lead role. Still, I like what this film does. A friend who watched this with me was complaining that it’s just Romero’s familiar schtick, but I feel like this is the first of his zombie films to really consider the politics of class inequality as a central focus. And looking back, it is very prescient, being a full 6 years before Occupy Wall Street and 10 years before 2016’s “burn it all down” populism. And Hopper is still genius casting and a great performance.

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