George A. Romero’s Land of the Dead (2005)

It’s here. It’s finally here. After waiting and waiting and waiting, it’s finally here, and I could not be happier if I tried. I went in to the theater with my stomach in knots, not only because zombies scare me, but because I was so excited and thrilled to see Romero open a can of whoop ass on the newcomers and show them how to make a horror film, and he did it right. Thank goodness. When we first open with “Land” Romero is already beginning to play with us, firstly by showing us the deteriorating world before our very eyes, and then we gaze on to the walking dead whom are looming around a graveyard as the humans watch them. Romero opens on a tense note with the radio reports and slowly decaying world and then we enter in to the madness.

Romero is brilliance incarnate, not only for creating a genre on to itself, but simply for the fact that he knows how to tell a story, and even in the films small ninety minute window, it’s still a damn good story in the end. But there’s a problem now. The zombies… they’re getting smarter. For people expecting zombies to talk, run, drive cars, and go on monologues, well then you’re mistaken, Romero doesn’t go that far. Romero is a genius simply for the fact that instead of giving us the same stuff again and again, he decides, no, he’s going to mix it up a bit. An artist doesn’t give us the same painting over and over, an artist experiments, and what madman Romero is doing is mixing it up, he’s playing with his concept.

Like the humans who evolved from primates to intelligent beings (for the most part), zombies are beginning to experience a gradual evolution as well, which has just made it a lot harder for the humans to survive in the wasteland we call Earth. Romero explores new concepts with the zombies that many fans will not like, but I loved. The most drastic being Big Daddy. Let’s talk about Big Daddy. One of the reasons why Romero is so critically praised is because most of his dead films feature smart heroes or smart villains whom are predominantly ethnic. Ben (NOTLD), Peter (DOTD), and even Big Daddy are smarter than everyone else and make it out alive–debatably. Romero denies it ever being intentional, but to accomplish such an innovative feat unintentionally is genius in itself.

Eugene Clark is a scene stealer as a zombie who catches on and becomes the unofficial messiah of the walking dead and the entirety of the film is comprised of the mercenaries battling among one another, and the zombies whom have learned to think and group together and are quickly on their way to Fiddler’s Green, a veritable safe haven of the sorts. I loved Big Daddy personally, simply because it’s a new direction. Much like Bub, Romero dares to take one of his creatures and add a soul to them. Big Daddy is dressed as the common man, but becomes much more than that (poetic, isn’t it?) as he teaches his other friends how to get what they want and faster. Big Daddy does not talk, nor does he drive a car, but much like an ape, he grunts and growls tilting his head and pointing at objects while he learns the usefulness of handheld weapons.

The theme of a man who was a gas station attendant, probably a dot in the grand scheme of life, rising as the undead to lead others to the promise land to topple an empire was a brilliant touch for Romero who explores other ideas with his creation. Each zombie has their own little personality, and they manage to steal the show in what is Romero’s grand comeback. And to the hardcore fans of the Dead series, Romero does not fail to include his trademark brand of dark humor, whether it be a zombie eating himself, the zombie band, or a jab at civilization, there are gags with the zombies that are so subtle it’s hard to catch. As for the human characters we’re given an immense array of personalities and characters we can just root for and pick sides with. As with “Night”, “Day”, and most essentially “Dawn”, we have a bunch of different personalities that clash and co-exist, and the acting is so well done.

Whether it’s the scene-stealing Robert Joy as the mentally disabled, but incredibly sharp-shooting Charlie, to the luscious Asia Argento as Slack, right to Simon Baker who is great as good guy Riley, and Pedro Miguel Arce as Pillsbury, there is just character after character we can get to know and root for. My personal favorite though is Cholo played by the often good John Leguizamo. Admittedly, I was very pessimistic on his casting simply because Leguizamo is a mainstream actor and not someone I would picture in a horror film, but he surprises me ending up becoming my favorite character. Cholo, meaning lower-class, is not so much a villain, but an antagonist who is just desperate to become upperclassmen, but is constantly being manipulated by the upper-class to do their bidding and gets nothing in return.

Cholo is the blue collared man looking to make it big in the world of industry, though you know he doesn’t stand a chance. Then there’s Dennis Hopper who plays politician and high class self-imposed emperor Kaufman who rules over Fiddler’s Green, a high rise that houses the rich while the poor must live below amidst the ghettos. Kaufman is the politician of today, a commentary on elitism who runs things and never lets the little guy have his dues. Cholo steals the humongous war tank “Dead Reckoning” and demands he get let in to Fiddler’s Green or he’ll blow it to pieces. Fiddler’s Green is the paradise of kings run like a utopia with high priced alcohol, the rich living it up and doing their work, while constant announcements boasting positive messages blare in the background every minute.

Romero gives yet another another jab at consumerism with the high class drinking and scrounging for food, while Kaufman represents the more Rumsfeld/Bush allegorical politician even muttering “We do not negotiate with terrorists” at one point. That’s provoking commentary only Romero can give us. Meanwhile, those hoping to see gore galore will not be disappointed by this experience. Greg Nicotero and KNB are at the top of their game here. Unlike the Dawn remake–we actually see people getting eaten! And Romero doesn’t cut away or pussy out, we see leg munching, intestine gorging, arm chewing, neck tearing, and oh so much more, it’s a delight.

In the end I was left with a big smile on my face, and warmth in my heart that Romero has finally given the true horror fans what we’ve been wanting for so long. The horror genre is dying and Romero gave it the small dose of adrenaline is sorely needed. This is how you make a fucking zombie movie, Hollywood, and it’s a great addition to the Dead Series. At only ninety-three minutes, “Land” sure is rushed. The film never settles down to tell us the story we’ve been waiting to see told from the first three films, instead it just continues on constant events without ever bothering to present us with character emphases, and the epic themes we’ve been so accustomed to.

Romero spoiled his fans and fails to spoil us further with the worldwide epic story we’ve been seeing for the past three films. Which is most of the reason why we don’t see enough of Asia Argento and Dennis Hopper. I wanted to see more of Asia simply for aesthetic purposes, her character Slack was never fleshed out enough, and as with Hopper, his full on menace is never presented in as much of the glory I expected. Though flawed on story and lacking the epic feel I was accustomed to, “Land of the Dead” is a welcome change to the horror slump. Romero is back and just as good as he was then providing a scary, action-packed, well acted addition to the epic dead series.