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Killzig reviews Land of the Dead
[ Film & TV -> Review ]
Review posted by Mr. Teatime Mon 27 Jun 2005, 7:21 PM
More info on Film & TV: Land of the Dead

Land of the Dead marks the return of George A. Romero to the genre he put on the map.  And before I get too far into a review that’s spoiler-laden and almost fan boyish I’ll just tell you.  It’s a damn good film, regardless of what your feelings are for the politics of the film.  If you’re reading DAC, you should probably stop doing that by the way, you’ll want to go see this in the cinema and also pick up the unrated DVD that’s sure to follow.  If you just stumbled on this review by accident, go away, I don’t fucking like you. 

Romero immediately sets the tone for the film with some tongue-in-cheek visuals.  Zombies shambling about, acting out their former lives on a lovely afternoon in the park.  A band plays on the gazebo, couples stroll through the park, and a gas station attendant dotes faithfully on his pumps.  Of course, all of this is done wrong, zombies lacking the hand eye coordination to execute any of these tasks gracefully.  It’s worth a chuckle but it also sets up what we’re about to see.  In this film, Romero keeps up the same basic story line from the past films: the zombies are evolving! 

And on hand to observe this evolution are humans, aka Zombie Bait, they observe the zombies communicating through a series of grunts and even observe one who seems to have taken a leadership role.  More importantly, these remaining humans are part of some pseudo government death squad.  George A. Romero’s take on the secret police in the land of the zombies.  We know this because he takes a quick peak to another part of the world where more humans, particularly the ever annoying John Leguizamo, are disposing of zombie carcasses in crates.  BUT WAIT, are they all zombies?  It looks like one of the crates is oozing fresh blood!  Shock, horror, gasp.  Yep, these types of little clues are what make this movie a fun time upon repeat viewings. 

Later in the day, we watch the death squad go to work with their main attraction being a converted bus/armored vehicle of some kind with mounted machine guns, rocket launchers and fireworks display capabilities.  Before you ask, the fireworks serve to distract the zombie hordes, allowing the death squads to do their work more safely.  With wanton disregard for ammunition supplies the ZOMBIE DEATH SQUAD (ZDS from now on) goes to work, zipping around on motorcycles, converted station wagons, and the magic school bus of pain.  The gorefest that ensues is fun to watch but you can’t help but feel there’s something missing.  A feeling that, for me at least, endured throughout the entire film. 

This whole opening act does a great job of setting up the characters, the tone of the film, and also leading you into the plot.  Apparently, this death squad was sent out from a Post Zombiepocalypse settlement based in what’s left of Pittsburgh’s downtown.  A woefully underused Dennis Hopper plays Kaufman, the dictator of this sad little settlement of humans.  He lives in what could pretty much be described as an ivory tower, both metaphorically and literally, a smaller inner circle of the community that enjoys life the way it used to be: shopping malls, restaurants, comfortable apartments and all while the majority of the population populates the slums outside of the building. 

From there the movie loses its course and the plot becomes nothing more than a method to get the zombies back on screen but its still damn enjoyable to watch.  As our beloved ZDS returns from another, depending on who you ask, successful mission, outside the zombies have organized and are marching towards the settlement.  Whilst the zombies are slow moving, this is where the film rushes through and introduces more characters and subplots than it can really handle.  As the ZDS rejoins the city our altruistic protagonist, Riley, played by Simon Baker, and his arch rival/right hand man/polar opposite Cholo, played by John Leguizamo, find themselves in a war of words over the events that transpired. 

I won’t go too deep into the raid, as it’s part of the character development and I want you to enjoy the movie.  They part ways and Riley is rejoined by his retarded sidekick, Charlie, they walk through the slums together and encounter Mulligan, the charismatic leader of a brewing rebellion.    Not much else is revealed about the man though we do find out more about Riley’s immediate plans, the self-imposed exile, as he makes his way to a garage to find a car he supposedly purchased the day before.  He tries to get rid of his hanger on but he’s never too far away. 

Meanwhile, in the center of town, Cholo is doing the opposite.  He’s trying to get closer to the man in charge.  He comes bearing gifts from the raid on the zombie encampment, alcohol and cigars.  Kaufman is about as appreciative as a spoiled child and pays him little mind, causing Cholo to blow his top.  Romero’s use of Cholo as a portrait of what happens if you think playing the game will get you ahead is enjoyable but also slightly naïve.  His opposing portrait of Riley as a man who just wants to be without borders and free is equally chuckle-inducing as he almost comes across as a mix of the Unabomber and Mr. Rogers.   

Cholo gets a wake up call via Hopper setting his personal goon on him.  This sets off the rest of the film as Cholo kidnaps the magic school bus of pain (aka DEAD RECKONING).  Facilitating his escape with the magic school bus of pain is the marching army of undead coming across the river, in one of the single coolest scenes in film history.  All of this, and more, happens in a very short time span.  More characters are introduced, the relationship between Riley and his retarded side kick is further defined, and Riley ultimately gets sucked back in to serfdom by his arch rival Cholo’s jack-assery. 

What follows is an overly complicated set of coincidences triggering a lot of zombie violence and gore.  While the visuals are very good for a $15 million dollar picture, the gore has a certain level of camp to it that, surprisingly, makes it more enjoyable.  This film succeeds because it never takes itself too seriously.  Despite the political commentary and the all too stoic Riley, the film manages to be fun and make fun of itself.  You’ve probably seen or heard Hopper’s line, “Zombies man, they creep me out.”  And that line perfectly captures the tone of this film.  Yes, you should feel some sense and some dread but you should still be enjoying it!  It’s like a house of horrors ride at a carnival where your little buggy clunks a long a rail happily as bodies hang from nooses and skeletons reach out from the dark to grab at you. 

The film is depraved, unashamed, and still somewhat thoughtful.  It’s everything it’s been hyped to be but you still come away with the feeling that there’s more you haven’t seen.  Scenes that have been left out, dialog that’s gone missing, and all probably for the sake of cramming more zombie goodness into it.  While I recommend that you all go out and see this at the cinema, I’d also tell you to go in with no expectations and your suspension of disbelief turned on to high.  There’s plenty to nit pick and small plot holes to stick your finger in and widen but the film acquits itself admirably. 

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