George Romero’s ‘LAND OF THE DEAD’: Movie review from an admitted Zombie ‘Junkie’...now on DVD!!!
Let me state right off the bat that the first film to officially scare the living hell out of me was 1979’s ‘Dawn of The Dead’. I saw it with two pals at a midnight screening in Florence, Alabama when I was not yet seventeen years of age (the powers that be weren’t quite as rabid at checking ID’s at that time, especially at the midnight shows).
Driving back to my hometown from Florence at two-thirty AM across mostly rural farm areas provided ample fuel for the imagination, to say the very least. Translation: my two buds and I suffered through several imaginary (?) zombie sightings on the twenty-five to thirty mile ride back that night.
AUTHOR’S NOTE: These frightening ‘phantoms’ were no doubt at least partially created with the assistance of the twelve pack (or two) of ice-cold Budweiser we’d shared along the way.
It would be another three to four years, while a member of the USAF and stationed at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Ohio that I would first view its more publicized twin, the 1968 classic ‘Night of The Living Dead’. While not the visceral shockfest like its sequel, I definitely understood all the hype it’d received as THE ‘groundbreaking’ film within the ‘living dead’ genre.
Flash-forward twenty-six years from ‘Dawn’s’ release to George Romero’s latest opus, 2005’s ‘LAND OF THE DEAD’. To say I’d felt both elated and a bit wary of the film’s release would be to understate to the extreme. On the plus side, this was indeed the master of the genre returning to his zombie roots for the first time since the unspectacular (but genre worthy) ‘Day of The Dead’, 1985’s third and supposedly final chapter in the ‘dead’ trilogy.
On the minus side, what if he flubbed it…horribly? I mean, true , the man had directed some fine horror films since, including 1988’s underrated ‘Monkey Shines’ and the Stephen King penned ‘Dark Half’ from 1993. It wasn’t as if he’d been holed up in Europe filming Merchant Ivory dramas. Still, I definitely felt some serious trepidation as the release date neared. After all, I had been one of the staunchest opponents to director Zack Snyder’s 2004 remake of ‘Dawn’, which I’ll admit to now owning on DVD and consider one of the best of Hollywood’s countless ‘re-imagining’s’.
Dragging my wife along (that woman has seen more horror films in her twenty years with me than Ebert, Siskel, or Roeper combined), we viewed ‘LAND’ at our local Cinema on opening night. Overall, I must say the film both pleased and disappointed me. For rating purposes, let me tally up both the ‘pros’ and ‘cons’ of Romero’s latest (and again, possibly last):
The Ensemble: A fine, veteran cast including Dennis Hopper, John Leguizamo, Robert Joy, and Simon Baker give the film an instant credibility. Especially effective are character actors Joy and Leguizamo, who I’ve rarely enjoyed watching more.
The Plot: While on the surface it may seem overly simplistic; the notion that an army of zombies could develop a method of communication, however crude, is indeed intriguing. Coupled with the ‘haves’ and ‘have nots’ of the living world holed up in a fenced off city that is, in reality, a prison of their own making, you have the key ingredients for a tasty (pardon the pun) living dead flick set firmly in place. AUTHOR’S NOTE: The combat vehicle used in the film is called ‘Dead Reckoning’, which for years was the rumored title of Romero’s fourth zombie film.
The Gore: I, for one, am tired to the point of cinematic fatigue with the glut of ‘PG-13’ rated so called ‘suspense’ flicks masquerading as horror. I, for one, was gleefully overjoyed to see the countless decapitations, bloodied entrails, and full-body rips that only George Romero could envision. Good to see the man still has a pair.
Extra ‘hoot’ factor: Seeing legendary special effects and make-up man Tom Savini briefly reprise his role as ‘Machete’ from the original “Dawn of The Dead”. Priceless, though a bit too abrupt.
The film seemed to flub an otherwise taunt pace at the midpoint, though this is not exactly a rarity in film. Too many scenes of uninteresting characters sitting around waiting to be somebody's lunch.
The Ending: Too pat. Too damn many survivors amongst the main cast. I was looking for a final firefight that never materialized. It was almost as if the budget (reported at fifteen million) simply ran dry.
Bottom line: I expected more. Such an attitude simply derives from being spoiled on Romero’s early works, much the same as John Carpenter’s early films as opposed to his newest offerings.
Overall, I give ‘LAND OF THE DEAD’ a *** star out of **** rating, or a B if grading on the ‘A to F’ scale. Definitely a film that can sit proudly on the shelf amid any and all 'living dead' films that came before.
DVD NOTE: Romero has stated that six additional minutes of footage will be included in his ‘director’s cut’, along with a plethora of extra features.