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George A. Romero's Land of the Dead Movie Review

originally posted many years ago

It doesn't take much to realize George A. Romero's Land of the Dead is a cut above your ordinary they bite/we fight zombie flick: For starters, it marks the return of the legendary George A. Romero, Mr. Night of the Living Dead himself, at the helm of a feature film for the first time since 1985's Day of the Dead. If that's not enough to spark your interest, then surely this will: Land of the Dead is a zombie picture with a central villain who isn't a zombie at all-although there are plenty of those here (and how flesh-hungry they are, too)-rather, it's a deliciously sadistic Dennis Hopper who takes the cake as the film's most despicable baddie. The fact that the film possesses more class and technical competency in any given scene than in the entirety of films like last year's visually flashy but intellectually senseless Dawn of the Dead remake is just the icing on the cake. Fans of pervasively gory zombie mayhem-or just expertly calculated movie entertainment-rejoice, for Romero has made a comeback with Land of the Dead of a magnitude one can only hope fellow horror legends like Wes Craven can someday make as well.

If Land of the Dead never reaches the heights of Danny Boyle's recent 28 Days Later, that's OK. Unlike that film, which still stands as the finest of its kind since who-knows-when, its priorities are to entertain and wreak havoc first, to play moral commentator second. And thus is the film's major success: Romero, undeniably unique amongst horror directors for both his endless arsenal of ideas of both visual and intellectual natures, is able to show off endless amounts of zombie carnage that guarantee those with short attention spans will never trail off, while also taking ample opportunity to comment on the American state of affairs. Take Hopper's despicable Dr. Kaufman, head of a community in which only the have and have-mores can take shelter from the zombie world around them: Faced with an ultimatum from a former employee (John Leguizamo) who, like all fellow commoners in the film, simply wants to stay alive and have the money to do so, Kaufman deadpans, "We don't negotiate with terrorists." Or look at our hero's (Simon Baker) curious sympathy towards a hoard of zombies making their way to new ground: Questioned why he doesn't blow the bunch to smithereens, Baker's Riley comments sadly, "They're looking for someplace to go, just like us." As for Riley's constant remarks about wanting to move to Canada…well, those speak for themselves.

When the lights come up after the quietly potent final shot, you'll swear for a second you've just watched a film about America's growing tendency towards both isolationism and totalitarianism, a trend which suggests a far cry from the melting plot, equality-for-all mindset that has all but faded in today's times. And the truth is you probably have. Make no mistake, though, for all its intellectual insights, Land of the Dead is first and foremost a film about raging zombies and the men and women brave enough-or dumb enough-to face them, a thousand-on-one. There's enough carnage here to satisfy at least a generation of horror fans, whose hunger for smart thrills at the multiplex has hardly been sated by the seemingly endless lackluster installments of the genre in the past six months alone. It's also a nice opportunity for lead actors Baker and Hopper to show off their dynamic acting chops as both actors effectively explore opposite ends of the moral spectrum. Forget contrived subplots romantically linking the leads or PG-13-tainted violence that destroys the genre's essential sense of gory glee; you won't find either of those here. What you will find is a glowing example of what happens when a director as skilled and seasoned as George A. Romero is given full creative control over a film, allowing him to simply do what he does the best.

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