Master of horror George A. Romero has returned to the genre that started his career: the living dead. In his new film, Land of the Dead, Romero finally makes the zombie movie he wanted to make all these years. It’s been 20 years since Day of the Dead, and technology has finally allowed him to show us the world he envisioned all those years ago.
With little introduction the film starts off with the very clear setup: the world is inhabited by the living dead – zombies who have an unending desire for human flesh. The only way to kill them is to destroy their brains. A bite from them will turn you into a zombie within an hour. Riley (Simon Baker) is a hired-gun, part of the private-security force working for Kaufman (Dennis Hopper), a rich magnate who has used his power and money to set up a shelter in a modern highrise (with first-floor shopping center, of course), for those who can afford it. Those who cannot are forced to live outside of the walls, in the slums of the city. (The unnamed city is clearly modeled after Pittsburgh, with the branching river, multiple bridges, and the highrise evoking a mutated PPG Center. Unfortunately,it was filmed in Toronto. Bastards!)
The dichotomy between “haves” and “have-nots” is made clear, when Riley returns from a supply-run with his team (including the rebellious Cholo (John Leguizamo)), and we’re shown life in the slum-town, and life in the tower. The zombies, however, are starting to learn. The fireworks that had been used as distraction is no longer effective – and they want to get to the bright lights of the tower. Meanwhile, Cholo is betrayed by Kaufman, and finds out a way to get revenge. The ensuing conflict will pit man against man, and man against undead.
Romero is comfortably back in his element here. The dark, gory effects are top-notch, and KNB Effects-guru Greg Nicotero should be up for an Oscar here. But sadly, I doubt they’ll honor him, since it’s not a “serious” work. Bleh. There is some truly amazing stuff here, and some great sequences that will make you jump, groan, and cheer. It’s zombie-fun, and no human is safe. Truly a hard-core R-rating here, and I’m dying to see the making-of on the DVD (which will also undoubtedly get an unrated release).
The music, by Reinhold Heil and Johnny Klimek (the same guys who did Run Lola Run and are currently scoring “Deadwood”) is appropriate – tense, atonal, percussive, and even has a piano motif very reminiscent of Creepshow. Not sure how it will play on CD, but it worked in the film.
This movie is not for everyone, clearly. I personally felt it was an alright film, but I had a blast watching it. It was cliched at times, and certainly predictable. But Romero has finally delivered a zombie flick worthy of technical accolated – and for that, it’s worth checking out. (If you can stomach it!)