Horror/Zombies – Starring Dennis Hopper, Simon Baker, John Leguizamo, Asia Argento. Written By George A. Romero. Directed by George A. Romero. (2005)
Zombies with guns …
Living Dead fans had a long, nail biting (or should that be finger biting?) wait for 2005’s Land of the Dead. Two decades after Day of the Dead, zombie veteran Romero returned with his fourth offering. Was it worth the wait?
Three years into a zombie apocalypse, survivors live in a walled city in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. The city is ‘owned’ by Mafia style boss, Paul Kaufman (Dennis Hopper). He has created the utopian Fiddler’s Green complex, where the wealthy enjoy ‘Luxury living in the grand old style’ with restaurants and shopping malls. The ‘have nots’ live outside in shanty town squalor. Kaufman keeps the lower class citizens in their place with a steady supply of vices – alcohol, prostitution, drugs – ensuring that they rely on his system.
Kaufman employs a team to scavenge the outside world for supplies. Here we have a divide between the movie’s hero, Riley (Simon Baker) and the anti-hero, Cholo (John Leguizamo). The former, dependable and honest, the latter, a renegade after his own interests.
As the opening credits role, grainy black and white footage show a zombie outbreak happening ‘Some time ago’, accompanied by an audio of old news reports. The movie begins in earnest under the heading of ‘Today’ with a slow panning shot that reveals a desolate town, overrun with zombies. The colours are muted, giving a ‘twilight’ effect. Romero is showing us a cold, dead world. A world already ravaged by zombies, long before we sat down with our popcorn and large Diet Coke. The living do not belong here. This contrasts beautifully with the bright, artificially lit Fiddler’s Green complex, with its clinical, shopping mall interior, Elevator Muzak, vibrant colours and its cocooned and blissfully ignorant inhabitants. Outside the complex there are the cold, grey, bustling streets of the shanty town.
Not as violent as The Horde, The Living Dead remakes or 28 Weeks Later, Land of the Dead is still enough of a gorefest to keep any fan happy. With high production values and a star cast it loses the charm of its low budget predecessors. But themes of social class, friendship, revenge, ransom, and gangster elements create a meatier plot than your average fight-for-survival zombie movie.
In Land of the Dead, zombies have begun to ‘learn’ and evolve from their brain-dead state. In the opening a survivor remarks, ‘It’s like they’re pretending to be alive’. Riley responds, ‘Isn’t that what we’re doing?’ An army of zombies is led by Gas Attendant-Zombie to attack the city and get revenge on the humans intent on wiping out his kind. He ‘teaches’ his army to use tools, including guns, to fight back at the humans.
I appreciate the attempt at moving the genre on. The novel Warm Bodies has embraced this idea to great effect with a zombie-hero who falls in love with a human girl and begins to ‘heal’ and learn how to become human again. But I worry how far this theme can go. Would watching a movie where zombies and humans live together harmoniously be that interesting? It could be, but with both 2008’s Diary of the Dead, or 2009’s Survival of the Dead abandoning the theme, I’m guessing that Romero has his doubts too.
Rating 4 out of 5
Review by Lisa Richardson