[31 Days of Horror Part V: A New Beginning] Day 16 – Land of the Dead (2005)

Director: George A. Romero

Cast: Simon Baker, Dennis Hopper, Asia Argento, Robert Joy, John Leguizamo, Eugene Clark

Screenplay: George A. Romero

93 mins. Rated R for pervasive strong violence and gore, language, brief sexuality and some drug use.

 

Land of the Dead is actually the movie that got me watching the Living Dead franchise created by George A. Romero (Monkey Shines, Bruiser). When I heard a new film was coming out (the last one had been 20 years prior), I became incredibly interested. I hunted down the previous films (in a time without streaming, Night of the Living Dead was still relatively hard to come by) and they changed my life. Land of the Dead is actually the final film, chronologically, of the Living Dead series, and it’s a pretty solid and explosive entry.

It’s been three years since the dead got up and starting shambling about, and survivors have built a refuge out of the Golden Triangle area of Pittsburgh, calling it Fiddler’s Green. The city is run like a feudal government, with the rich living in a high-rise at the center and the poor on the streets squabbling for survival, but hey, it’s better inside the walls of the city than outside, right? Riley Denbo (Simon Baker, Margin Call, TV’s The Mentalist) operates Dead Reckoning, a large armored vehicle used for traveling the zombie-infested parts outside the city. Riley and his team search for food and supplies that the residents need. His second-in-command, Cholo (John Leguizamo, Moulin Rouge!, TV’s Bloodline), wants an apartment with the Fiddler’s Green high rise, but he is denied by the leader, Kaufman (Dennis Hopper, Easy Rider, Blue Velvet), and decides to take Dead Reckoning hostage as vengeance. Now, Riley and the rest of his team, which includes gunman Charlie (Robert Joy, The Hills Have Eyes, TV’s CSI: NY) and hooker Slack (Asia Argento, xXx, The Executrix), have been tasked by Kaufman to retrieve Dead Reckoning before Cholo uses it to destroy Fiddler’s Green.

George A. Romero always crafted incredibly human stories within the confines of a zombie film, and Land of the Dead is no exception. The story of a class system, feudal government, and alienation, are incredibly well-perceived and well-executed. Land of the Dead is maybe more accessible to modern film-goers with its cast of characters and simpler layout. I know a lot of people that didn’t care for Day of the Dead due to its excessively depressing story. Land of the Dead has a bit more hope in it, though not much more.

This is probably one of the more well-acted of the Living Dead films just due to have actors who have more experience. Simon Baker has some nice chemistry with Hopper, Leguizamo, and Joy. Having a feature zombie like Bubb from Day of the Dead, Big Daddy (Eugene Clark, Christmas Next Door, TV’s Night Heat) adds an interesting layer in the development of the zombie. It feels like this horde that just keeps coming back for more has grown and evolved over time.

The screenplay is serviceable if bloated a bit at the beginning. Romero used a lot of unused material from his original Day of the Dead screenplay. Thanks to his partnership with Universal Pictures, Romero is able to use incredible effects like Dead Reckoning, something I’m certain he would not have been able to do in previous or future Living Dead films

I also find it quite interesting that this is the most-connected film in the series to that point, something Romero’s series has never been very focused on. This film is set about three years after Night of the Living Dead, and just like the other films he seems disinterested in explaining away the advances in technology in the near-40 years since that films release. He uses actors Shawn Roberts and Alan Van Sprang, which he will revisit with future installments (yes, I know they have different names later on, but it seems very interesting how similar they are. He utilizes Tom Savini reprising his role from Dawn of the Dead in a cameo (again, this was likely in a jokey way) and he actually uses dialogue and imagery from Night at the beginning. He actively tried to connect his franchise, either jokingly or with serious intent, and it’s a nice way to end off the series if we never get the long-gestating Road of the Dead that Romero was developing when he died.

Land of the Dead is a fascinating “final” chapter of the apocalypse George A. Romero began back in 1968. His craft is unquestioned here, even if Land of the Dead doesn’t have the bite that some of Romero’s previous work contains. This is a worthy and accessible film and thankfully brought me into this franchise in a big way.

 

4/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

For my review of George A. Romero’s Night of the Living Dead, click here.

For my review of George A. Romero’s Dawn of the Dead, click here.

For my review of George A. Romero’s Day of the Dead, click here.

For my review of George A. Romero’s Monkey Shines, click here.

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