It’s a brave new world out there in George A. Romero’s Land of the Dead (2005). There are zombies everywhere — the living are the new minority. The living have built themselves a walled city to better be able to defend themselves against the hordes of the undead.
Zombies come in all shapes and sizes, as anyone who is even vaguely familiar with the genre is aware. These zombies start out as the good old-fashioned kind. They shuffle forth, looking for something to feed on, but they’re neither fast nor organized. Like most zombies they can infect the living through their bite and once they’ve brought down a living human they tend to overwhelm and devour them, rending flesh from bone in no time at all.
The living are forced to forage outside their walled communities, as in all good post-apocalyptic scenarios, and there are teams of mercenary soldier types who take care of that. There is also a very hierarchical structure within the walled city, where only the really affluent can live well, in a skyscraper that is a cross between a mall and a luxury hotel. The ordinary folks live in ghetto-like circumstances.
Our main protagonist is Riley Denbo (Simon Baker), one of the foragers, along with his companion Charlie (Robert Joy), a savant with a special talent for fancy shooting. They work with Cholo (John Leguizamo) who is frankly not a very nice person and they work for Kaufman (Dennis Hopper) who is downright unpleasant. Kaufman is the king in this little hierarchy, the boss at the top of the skyscraper who never actually has to get his hands dirty.
The zombies start out as brainless as ever in this tale, but they suddenly begin developing the ability to work together under the ”leadership” of Big Daddy (Eugene Clark). They are mindlessly fascinated with fireworks and stand around going “arrrgh” up ’til that point. Not that they aren’t plenty dangerous enough when they get hungry.
Once the zombies start to organise they attack the walled city and all the high and mighties get their comeuppance, as you might expect. That, and a story line about an enormous tank nicknamed ”Dead Reckoning” is what keeps this narrative moving forward, but forget all that for now. Forget Dennis Hopper looking sharp in a nice suit and the entertainment in the pit where you throw a live girl in with two zombies to see who can eat her first.
This is all about the zombies. You have to have a particular love for zombies to enjoy a movie like this. There are so many of them and they are all lovely, they really are. You have to be able to enjoy the lingering close-up of the tableaux created by sweeping a camera along with a flashlight over a group of zombies feeding on soldiers that they have brought down. Much tearing and rending of flesh ensues.
Romero is the granddaddy of this kind of zombie movie with his classic Night of the Living Dead (1968), Dawn of the Dead (1978), and Day of the Dead (1985). There is really no one who does it better. This is gore and blood and guts. There is a thin veneer of social commentary, which keeps the film students happy, but mostly it’s about what you can do with effects and fake blood. Romero makes sure that the camera slowly and lovingly tracks how someone gets their intestines pulled out of their chest cavity and gnawed on.
If you like that, and spunky female characters — big props to Asia Argento (Slack) and Joanne Boland (Pretty Boy) — and much shuffling in the shadows of zombies about to grab and eat you, you should be plenty entertained by this.
Me? I like a zombie-movie that gives good ”raahhh.” And this one definitely does. Dennis Hooper as a thoroughly unsympathetic Rumsfeldian bad-ass is just the icing on the cake.
Land of the Dead (2005), directed by George A. Romero, stars Simon Baker (Riley Denbo), John Leguizamo (Cholo DeMora), Dennis Hopper (Kaufman), Asia Argento (Slack), Robert Joy (Charlie), Eugene Clark (Big Daddy), Joanne Boland (Pretty Boy), Tony Nappo (Foxy), Jennifer Baxter (Number 9), Boyd Banks (Butcher), Maxwell McCabe-Lokos (Mouse), and Pedro Miguel Arce (Pillsbury).