Review by Mark Walters


Fans of horror films already know the name George Romero well.  The man pretty much changed the face of that genre in 1968 with his masterpiece NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD.  The film defined the zombie character, establishing rules for what they do and how to stop them.  It also contained some interesting social commentary within it's storytelling.  George followed NIGHT with two sequels, DAWN OF THE DEAD and DAY OF THE DEAD.  Since then there have been several attempts to duplicate or just pay homage to what Romero created.  But many still feel that he's the only one who ever truly got it right.  Now the man who started it all is back to present what the studio calls his "ultimate zombie masterpiece" in LAND OF THE DEAD.


 This film opens with a montage of images and sound clips that basically recap what's been happening up until now.  Flesh-hungry zombies are taking over the earth.  A small group of survivors have holed up in a city surrounded by rivers, which seem to keep most of the undead away.  There are three types of people living in this city: the rich, the poor, and the armed military types who kill zombies whenever time permits.  Everything is controlled by a man named Kaufman (Dennis Hopper), who sits atop a high tower in the middle of the downtown area.  Those who meet his elite criteria are allowed to live inside the building as well.  Kaufman routinely sends out his armed forces to protect the city, and observe the surrounding areas.  This team is lead by Riley (Simon Baker), who is about to retire.  Riley constructed a train-like rolling fortress called Dead Reckoning, which his team uses to get around without falling victim to the zombie threat.  They do things like launch fireworks into the sky, which distracts the zombies long enough for them to steal supplies from leftover stores outside the city.  Some of the men let their greed get the better of them, like Cholo (John Leguizamo), who plunders liquor stores instead of just getting the bare necessities.  Up until now things have worked out, at least the way Kaufman wants them to.  But the zombies appear to be getting smarter.  Aside from many of them carrying out traits from their former lives, one in particular (a gas station attendant named Big Daddy, played by Eugene Clark) has apparently become aware of what's going on, and decides to lead his fellow undead in a march after the men who threaten his kind.  Inside the city, there is also unrest amongst the poor people living on the streets, who want to revolt against the upper class, if only they had the power to do so.  As the zombie army moves closer, things begin to unravel within the community.  Cholo steals Dead Reckoning, and threatens to destroy the Kaufman tower.  So Riley must go after him, and stop whatever he has planned.  With it's greatest weapon in the hands of the wrong man, can the city possibly survive the impending doom headed their way?

I like zombie films.  To me they're fun and scary, and usually very entertaining.  This movie has several great moments in it.  The zombie attacks are ultra-violent, and done in many unique ways.  Another great aspect of the film is that it manages to do several unexpected things, keeping us wondering what will happen next.  But unfortunately the end result is little more than cool moments spread throughout a pretty standard horror flick.  The characters are pretty well thought-out, just not very well executed.  Simon Baker, the hero of the film, just isn't that interesting.  Watching him act is like watching paint dry.  Where is the intensity a man like this should have?  Asia Argento shows up as a tough bad girl type who allies with Baker, but surprisingly she never does anything too great either.  Robert Joy plays a mentally challenged friend of Riley's, who despite being slow is one heck of a good shot with a rifle.  He's not bad, but like many of the characters just doesn't have enough to do.  John Leguizamo turns in the most effective performance in the film.  Perhaps it's because of the way his character was written.  He gets the best chance to actually exhibit some emotions, and thankfully he does it pretty well.  Dennis Hopper is pretty much a by-the-numbers baddie.  It's the same old rich guy atop his tower character we've seen countless times before.  Granted he's a pretty mean dude, but it's just too familiar to stand out in a film like this.  I was very impressed with Eugene Clark as the lead zombie.  Keep in mind it's hard to make an impression when all you can do is shuffle and moan, but Clark really pulls off his part well.  I actually bought into the idea that this guy had become aware, and was adapting to fight the men who threatened him.  There are some cool supporting characters, like a big guy named Pillsbury, played by Pedro Miguel Ace.  He's a fun character, and one of the better characters in the film, even if he's not in it all that much.  One of the coolest moments in the movie is a cameo by make-up legend Tom Savini, who you'll wish was in it longer... at least I did.

Simon Baker and Dennis Hopper confer in LAND OF THE DEAD.

All of the gore effects were great.  Greg Nicotero handled the make-up here, and once again has proven himself to be a competent genius in that department.  There are a few moments that will really have your stomach turning, but not in a bad way.  I mean after all, we're supposed to be sickened by what these zombies are doing, right?  Every zombie death is carefully played to full effect.  When they get shot in the head, it's intense and bloody.  Heads explode when bullets hit them, and many of the kills are played to graphic extremes.  I think the biggest problem here is that Romero is trying to inject too much social commentary in the story.  Instead of just having the humans versus the zombies, we have to endure the varying classes of humans and the effects the zombies have on them.  It's too much exposition for what should be a very simple situation.  One refreshing aspect was the visual characterization of the zombies, and being able to tell what they once were as normal people.  That's something I thought was handled well, and makes for a more interesting experience.  I like the fact that George Romero tries to make his stories layered and interesting, but in this instance it's too complicated for it's own good.  The directing is pretty decent, and paces the film well, but there are a few moments where you long for some more dramatic shots, like what you could expect from today's hot young directors.  Perhaps the most disappointing and unforgivable aspect of this movie is it's horrible ending.  I could not believe George Romero would use an ending like it.  It's so wrong for this film, I'm convinced the studio must have had a hand in it.

Overall LAND OF THE DEAD is still pretty entertaining.  Parts of it are actually great, but on the whole it's not what it could've been.  I mean come on, this was supposed to be Romero's big finish.  I expected a better experience from the film.  What I got was a satisfactory feeling, which left me wanting something better.  I think this is the problem with our "legendary" directors these days.  When you talk about guys like George Romero, John Carpenter, and even George Lucas for that matter, you must understand that they'll never be as good as they were when they first impressed us.  Part of it is they're dated in style, and another part of it is they're constantly trying to live up to what they're best known for.  It's a losing battle for these guys, and in many ways a losing battle for us too.  I'll always respect them for what they've done, but I can't promise to love what they're doing now.  Horror movies these days keep trying to raise the bar.  You can't do the same old scares anymore, because people want everything to be bigger and better.  I often go back and watch the horror films of the good old days, and while I still appreciate them, that kind of movie is just not what audiences want now.  In the instance of LAND OF THE DEAD, I can say I liked it.  But I certainly can't say I loved it. score - On a scale of 1 to 10, 10 being the best, I give LAND OF THE DEAD a 7.

Visit the official Universal Pictures LAND OF THE DEAD movie website by clicking here.

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