Land of the Dead
George Romero practically invented the zombie genre, lifting voodoo lore and transforming it into an unstoppable, society-wrecking plague. But he didn’t just invent the zombie plague as we know it – he also innovated it time and time again, first with the seminal indie horror “Night of the Living Dead” and then with “Dawn of the Dead,” hailed as one of the greatest horror sequels of all time. The fourth in the series, 2005’s “Land of the Dead,” is a step down from the prior two masterpieces – but it’s still a good, thoughtful entry in the ever-increasing zombie canon.
In “Land of the Dead”, a metropolis known as Fiddler’s Green exists unscathed by the zombie apocalypse, thanks to its island setting as well as the private army employed by the wealthy Paul Kaufman (Dennis Hopper), de facto ruler of Fiddler’s Green. Kaufman employs blue-collar mercs to venture out into the world to bring back supplies, but an employee named Cholo (John Leguizamo) is disgruntled when he is unable to advance into Kaufman’s wealthy inner circle – even after doing the boss’ dirty work. To blast this glass ceiling into pieces, Cholo commandeers the battle tank Dead Reckoning and threatens Kaufman with a twenty-one gun salute if his demands aren’t meant. Kaufman dispatches the Dead Reckoning’s ex-commander Riley (Simon Baker) and his motley crew to bring Cholo down. But as all of this happens, an increasingly intelligent zombie named Big Daddy (Eugene Clark) has figured out how to penetrate the defenses of Fiddler’s Green.
As the premise shows, it’s Romero’s post-apocalyptic world-building which really gives this movie the meat on its bones. Like its predecessors, “Land of the Dead” has something to say about it’s time period, such as the dangers of a vanishing middle class as well as a haunting glimpse of literal class warfare. Post-9/11 symbolism includes the use of fireworks to distract the zombies until the zombies realize there’s nothing behind those fireworks and the living are all out of tricks.
The cast also serves to make this flick memorable. “Mentalist” star Simon Baker is good as the blue-collar hero Riley, while B-Movie star Robert Joy plays Riley’s sympathetic right-hand man Charlie. Asia Argento, daughter of horror director Dario Argento, plays tough-as-nails street urchin Slack, while John Leguizamo makes a convincing antagonist trying to get out of Riley’s shadow. The real star of the film, however, is the late, great Dennis Hopper, who plays Kaufman as equal parts ruthless and clueless.
The film isn’t quite as profound as the first two installments, but it’s ultimately better than the heavy-handed “Day of the Dead” as well as the its vapid successors “Diary of the Dead” and “Survival of the Dead.” Unlike any of these films, however, “Land of the Dead” succeeds because it contends that a society overcoming the zombie apocalypse may actually be worse off than a society collapsing under the feet of the walking dead.
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