George A. Romero
George A. Romero
Simon Baker as Riley
John Leguizamo as Cholo
Dennis Hopper as Kaufman
Asia Argento (can anyone say “hottie”) as Slack
What do you get when you cross the creator of a horror sub-genre with a $15 million budget? Watching just the opening credits of Land of the Dead should answer that question nicely. George A. Romero first showed his genius in a low budget ($114,000) horror movie calledNight of the Living Dead. That film successfully redirected the path of the modern horror film. Thirty seven years later, Romero is still showing everyone else how it is done. In classic Romero style, social overtones are flagrantly inter-mingled with good old fashioned zombie gore.
The characters in Land of the Dead fall into three basic social classes: The “haves”, the “have-nots” and the “destitute and undesirables”.
Land of the Dead begins by introducing us to the “have-nots” in the characters of Riley (Simon Baker) and Cholo (John Leguizamo) as they are doing there “job”. This job includes the disposal of waste as well as the collection of needed supplies for a gated metropolis, reminiscent of Escape from New York, called “Fiddler’s Green”.
Our next introduction is to the “destitute and undesirables” – the zombies. The zombies are just walking around minding there own business while the “have-nots” are pillaging their environment and taking pot shots at them as if they were only around for the pleasure of others.
The final social class that we are introduced to is the “haves”, led by Kaufman (Dennis Hopper). This is an elitist group that has set themselves up in a closed community called “Fiddler’s Green” that separates them from the real world outside.
Cholo is tired of life on the streets, and has been saving up for a piece of the “Fiddler’s Green” pie. He discovers, however, that he will always be viewed as a second class citizen, so he decides to take matters into his own hands. Cholo, along with some friends, steals the “Dead Reckoning”- an armored vehicle armed with guns and missiles that the residents of Fiddler’s Green use for traveling outside of the city.
When Cholo gains control of the “Dead Reckoning” he threatens Kaufman with an ultimatum: Five million dollars or “Fiddler’s Green” becomes rubble. (I have yet to figure out what he was going to do with $5 million but I don’t guess it made that much difference to the story.)
Now Riley, Cholos coworker from the beginning of Land of the Dead, is also tired of life on the streets, but decides on a different tactic. His goal is to leave the city altogether in search of open spaces and silence. He is called back into service by Kaufman, however, and charged with retaining the “Dead Reckoning” from Cholo. Riley enlists Charlie (Robert Joy) and Slack (Asia Argento) as companions, but instead of going after Cholo he decides go against Kaufman and do things his own way.
The zombies are tired too. They are tired of being shot at, of being bombed, and of being run over. They have had all they can stands, they can’t stands no more. The lead zombie, Big Daddy (Eugene Clark), has learned to communicate with the other zombies, and begins to lead them toward the city that is the source of their mistreatment – “Fiddler’s Green”. As we all know, the only thing worse than an angry zombie is an angry zombie with a machine gun! The zombies have evolved and demand better living arrangements while the humans have not evolved and remain entrenched in class struggle.
The moral of the story: Ignoring a problem is not a valid way of solving the problem.
Die-hards will notice a cameo by Tom Savini (machete wielding zombie), and if you pay attention you will notice Simon Pegg and Edgar Wright, writer and director of Shaun of the Dead, as a couple zombies in chains. You should also recognize Asia as the daughter of Dario Argento, writer and director of Suspiria.
When you buy Land of the Dead on DVD, I can only give you one piece of advice: WIDESCREEN, UNRATED, DIRECTOR’S CUT. I don’t mean to yell but it makes all the difference in the world. Not that the rated version is bad mind you, just that the unrated version has so much more to offer. The best is the mini-doc entitled “Bringing the Dead to Life” where make-up artist Greg Nicotero introduces us to the fine art of zombie creation.
Land of the Dead is George A. Romero’s answer to the recent influx of zombie movies. In true Romero fashion, he eats them alive! (pun intended)