SPOILERS AHEAD! George A. Romero is averaging about a zombie movie a decade. Night of the Living Dead bowed in 1968, followed by “Dawn of the Dead” in 1978, Day of the Dead in 1985, and now Land of the Dead. 20 years is a long time to wait for the (so far) final film in a series, but Romero fans are a patient lot, buoyed by the high quality of the previous “Dead” films and the director’s well-publicized problems obtaining financing.
Taking place an indeterminate amount of time after the events in “Day,” “Land of the Dead” is set in a world where the reanimated dead are in de facto control. The movie opens with a human raiding party plundering a zombie-infested small town for food and medicine. Their job is made easier by the Dead Reckoning, a post-apocalyptic Winnebago with rocket launchers and armor plating. The team is led by Riley (Simon Baker), a no-nonsense type who wants to get the job done with as few complications as possible. His second-in-command is Cholo (John Leguizamo), a more pragmatic sort, who uses his position to profit in the black market. Obviously, the two are often in conflict, which comes to a head when Cholo’s side trip to a liquor store has tragic consequences.
“…the Dead Reckoning, a post-apocalyptic Winnebago with rocket launchers and armor plating.”
The supply run is for the benefit of the few surviving humans in an unnamed city (it’s probably supposed to be Pittsburgh, even though filming actually took place in Toronto). More specifically, for the benefit of the wealthy survivors who can afford to live in the high rises of Fiddler’s Green, where all the amenities of pre-zombie holocaust America are in full effect. Riley, predictably, chafes at the class schism, while Cholo hopes to exploit his connections with Kaufman (Dennis Hopper), the man in charge, to improve his own situation. When this fails, Cholo hatches a scheme to use Dead Reckoning for leverage.
The struggles between the haves in Fiddler’s Green and the have-nots forced to live in the streets pale next to Riley’s realization that the living dead have not only retained rudimentary memories of their former lives but are once again learning to adapt and act together. The undead are led by Big Daddy (Eugene Clark), a hulking former gas station attendant who appears to take serious offense at the way the living roll into town and indiscriminately kill his fellow zombies. His solution: lead a horde of the hungry dead into the city to take on their tormentors.
If we were able to look at “Land of the Dead” as a standalone film, most people would agree it’s a decent effort, with real scares and some of the most inspired gore I’ve seen since, well, “Day of the Dead” (including one scene that’ll really make you ladies rethink those navel rings). On its own, it’s easily one of the best horror movies to come out this year.
"…suffers from the recent popularity of the genre Romero himself spawned."