I have not talked about zombie movies in a while so now feels like as good a time as any in this critics humble opinion. I can’t believe this one has alluded me for so long. Land of the Dead, the movie that revitalized director George A. Romero’s Dead Series has been one of those underrated movies that just seems to disappear. It was heralded as good whenever it first came out but seemed to disappear just as soon as it showed up on screen. Which is a shame as Land of the Dead is one hell of an underrated movie when you look at the zombie genre as a whole. After the remake of Dawn of the Dead, Land of the Dead was Romero’s return to the filmmaking world and it was a return to high fashion. So today we are going to showcase it.
The story of Land of the Dead is set in the midwest in the city of what I will assume to be Pittsburgh. They don’t actually call it Pittsburgh but it has three rivers and it is near Cleveland and Canada, so Pittsburgh. The zombie apocalypse has occured and now people have learned to live with the zombie infestation and have successfully walled off Pittsburgh in and made a decent fortified community filled with classist ideals of the peasants down on the streets and the rich and wealthy living in a mall/estates called Fiddler’s Green. The story follows Riley Denbo (Simon Baker). He is a man who after building a para military vehicle dubbed Dead Reckoning now works outside the walls, gathering supplies for the people. He along with his crew that includes his trusted friend Charlie Houk (Robert Joy) and his second in command Cholo DeMora (John Leguizamo).
Riley simply wants to leave the Marxist worst nightmare and travel north to Canada where he can escape the politics of city communities while Cholo wants to buy a home in Fiddler’s Green. They both work for Paul Kaufman (Dennis Hopper), an extravagant man who has taken the apocalypse as an opportunity to turn the city into his own personal dictatorship. After Cholo threatens to tell the people of his sleazy underhanded dealings, he attempts to have him killed which prompts Cholo to steal Dead Reckoning to bombard the city which he holds for ransom. Kaufman hires Riley to have Dead Reckoning to be returned to him. All the while, zombies have begun to regain some of their intelligence and have begun to understand how to use tools once again as well as feel empathy and anger, a major plot twist.
What can you say? This is George A. Romero we are talking about here. He took ten bucks and turned it into legit viable effects that looks like a person is being devoured by zombies. Of course the effects look amazing! Not only do they look realistic but they have that level of gore that George A. Romero is known for, disgusting and repulsive; yet you can’t look away. Excellent work.
The one thing that drives me nuts about Land of the Dead is that it had so many fun characters, but not a lot of time to flesh all of them out. Most characters in the movie are defined by their names and one personality trait and that is about it. When Manolete, Pillsbury, and Motown are introduced in the film they are simply defined as Spanish dude, Samoan Dude, and Girl from Detroit. Other characters that are not apart of the main cast have colorful nicknames so that they can avoid a lot of unnecessary character development.
It isn’t so much a fault of the writing. They did what they could with what they had. But I feel that a lot of characters could have been combined to save on screen time which would have gave us more memorable characters and a more memorable film.
Land of the Dead may not become a cult classic like some of its counterparts, but it is one of the most thought provoking zombie movies that I have ever seen. It is well acted by a cast of underrated actors (Dennis Hopper excluded; everyone knows he is awesome). The movie takes a very different and unique direction with zombies and how they may even regain their humanity or have a sort of second life after death. Is it the best in the series? No, but it is certainly a top contender.
Final Score 4/5
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