Dead Wreckoning

by Tim Dodd on June 23, 2005

in Uncategorized

ZolarCzakl slaughters Romero!

In the wonderfully twisted world of horror and exploitation flicks exists the lumbering, rotting, twitching beast of apocalyptic doom and gut-wrenching gore known as the zombie film. Most fans of these movies know that George A. Romero was essentially the creator of the modern zombie film; before his groundbreaking low budget feature Night of the Living Dead (1968) zombies were of the robotic voodoo kind, controlled by an evil master to do his will. Night of the Living Dead presented zombies as re-animated dead bodies, mindlessly devouring human flesh in an evil quest to destroy and conquer all life on the planet. Pretty heavy stuff, except that Night and the two sequels that followed are so damned fun to watch and are hallmarks of truly great horror entertainment.
Night had a simple premise: a radiation accident causes the bodies of the recently deceased to rise from their graves and start munching on the living, a small group of which hole up in an abandoned farmhouse and try to fend off the ghouls. Romero followed this eleven years later with the much gorier Dawn of the Dead, which concentrates on a group of survivors fending off the zombies in a shopping mall. The third installment of the series was 1985’s Day of the Dead, where a group of soldiers and a group of scientists wage battles on each other while trying to survive in an underground bunker and fend off the relentless walking dead.
So now twenty years later, George A. Romero has unleashed the fourth installment in his Living Dead series, Land of the Dead. With the recent success of movies such as 28 Days Later, Cabin Fever, the remake of Dawn of the Dead, and splatter-comedy Shaun of the Dead, it would seem that zombies are making a comeback, and who better to show them all how it’s done than Romero himself? Surely with studio backing, a fairly large budget, famous actors such as John Leguizamo and Dennis Hopper, and today’s special effects technology, Romero has finally made his zombie masterpiece, right?
Well, kiddies, I’m sorry to say that it just ain’t so.
But first, the story: it is the present day and many years since the initial zombie attacks. A group of military-like zombie hunters, led by the perfectly-coiffed Riley (Simon Baker) and racial stereotype Cholo (John Leguizamo) protect the inner sanctum of what may be the last city populated by the living. The wealthy live in a mall-like fortress owned by businessman Kaufman (Dennis Hopper), who eventually hires Riley to take care of a little business concerning Cholo and some missing weaponry. Added to this, the throng of living dead are beginning to organize themselves a bit more and soon become a major threat as they start to march upon the walled-in city. Riley and his small group of loyal friends find themselves with a lot of problems to fix and thousands of zombies to decimate in many stomach-churning ways.

Let me get right to it and tell you that this movie left me feeling on the colder side of lukewarm. While all of the Dead films concentrate on the conflicts that occur between the living humans as they struggle against the zombies, Land does this in a far less convincing manner than the other three. The other Dead movies have something that this one lacks: heart. A big part of this comes from the one-dimensional characters that simply don’t allow you to care about whether they live or die. You don’t care about their motivations and you don’t care about their problems, therefore you ultimately don’t care about the movie.
Sure, you might say that these movies are mainly about the zombies and the blood and the intestines being pulled out of people’s body cavities, but if you think that’s what makes the Romero Dead movies great then you’re missing half the picture. You can get gore almost anywhere; check out Cabin Fever and a slew of other half-assed movies for that. What you get with a Romero picture is the action and gore plus little observations on humanity that might just make you think a bit about life. You get both for the price of one, and at eight bucks a movie ticket, you should be getting that with Land of the Dead. Unfortunately, it seems that someone shot this movie in the head on the way from script to screen.
What do we get in Land of the Dead? We get a overly good-looking and thorougly unconvincing “hero” in Riley, who is sensitive and perfect in everything that he does and has about as much depth as a plastic kiddie pool. We get Cholo, who acts like the most cliched “spic” that Hollywood could come up with and has absolutely no redeeming qualities whatsoever. You also get Dennis Hopper, who puts in a decent enough performance but seems like he’s just going through the motions in a lot of it. He has his moments of that patented Hopper craziness and gets in a few good lines here and there, but ultimately seems kind of wasted in this role.
There’s also a love interest of sorts for Riley in the character of Slack (Asia Argento), whom Riley rescues from being eaten by zombies in a kind of gladiator game in the city’s underground (if that sounds really stupid, it’s because it is). She’s a hooker, but given the chance just happens to be incredibly handy with high-tech weaponry and guerilla tactics. In other words, she’s a horribly contrived and completely unbelievable character who only exists to be a sexy counterpart to our bland leading man.
Ok, ok, we get it. The characters suck. But you still haven’t convinced me that this isn’t all about blood and guts. How are the zombies?

Well, there’s a main zombie, a former gas station attendant who kind of leads the ghouls around on their quest to kill and eat. The problems I found with this zombie are that first of all, he looks less like a zombie and more like one of the vampires from From Dusk Til Dawn, and second, there’s no real exploration of why he can suddenly think where all the other zombies before weren’t really able to. This zombie suddenly knows what’s going on and feels compassion for his fallen zombie brethren and finally leads the attack on the city. Ok, how?


Beyond that, all of the other zombies look cool and act like zombies should. The special effects are executed well and there are plenty of gross-out moments to please any fan of gurgling blood and ripped out spines. It’s all fine and good, but honestly I was expecting a little more. Each Dead movie has had a progression in its over-the-top violence and inventive ways of killing creatures off, but this one seems to just recycle things from past movies. There’s nothing really all that memorable in any of the gory scenes, especially if you compare them to the scene at the end of Day of the Dead where the zombies rip screaming Joe Pilato in half and show him his guts. Now that’s great stuff.
I imagine many people will see this film and say that it is a fine addition to the hallowed halls of the zombie film, which it may be. Others may be encouraged to tell me to take the stick out of my ass and just enjoy the goddamn movie. Well, perhaps they have a point. But I feel that there is a lot of room for artistic creativity in the realm of horror and exploitation, even if that art only ends up being visible as a nice attempt. I think that there wasn’t even an attempt made in Land of the Dead and that disappoints me. However, I’ve thought about it and realized that even if this movie had nothing to do with the series and was made by another director, I would still be disappointed. And that’s what ultimately counts in my appraisal of this zombie flick.

Land of the Dead (2005)
Universal Pictures
Rated: R
Directed by George A. Romero
Starring: Simon Baker, John Leguizamo, Asia Argento, Robert Joy, Dennis Hopper

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