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George A Romero's Land of the Dead

Anyone who has a fetish for blood and knows their horror films has heard of George A. Romero. Appropriately known for his zombie flicks, the writer/director has been working for over forty years and finally landed a film with his name in the title. George A. Romero’s Land of the Dead, the fourth film in the “Dead” family, is yet another gruesome Romero zombie movie, however this one passes because of its namesake; not for its Hollywood commercialism and static plotline.

In Land of the Dead, zombies infest the city streets. In order to avoid the walking dead, wealthy entrepreneur Kaufman (Dennis Hopper) builds a barricaded city to protect the elite and keep out the flesh-eating monsters and the poor. Riley (Simon Baker, “The Guardian”) leads his fellow men, including Cholo (John Leguizamo), in an organized protection group that fights off the zombies and keeps the lower class safe. Zapping guns will not do however, so Riley builds Dead Reckoning, a bus-like tank contraption equipped to blast at any confused zombie who walks in its path. When Cholo proposes that Kaufman owes him something in return for his good services, Kaufman rejects his requests and Cholo escapes with Dead Reckoning. Meanwhile, the zombies break down the fences and head for the city; infesting the streets and attacking all those who are still living. With Cholo on the loose, Kaufman seeks Riley’s services to get Dead Reckoning back and save the city.

Land of the Dead provides mindless entertainment to those who enjoy a film void of in-depth characters and troubled pasts. Whether it is to munch on human flesh or to save a city from demolition, each character has a motive and a purpose onscreen. Casting in this film is highly formulaic: a fresh-faced white boy, a troubled girl love interest, the comedic sidekick. Romero’s severed heads and hanging corpses are excruciating to watch, while at the same time, also quite reminiscent of a certain King of Pop’s 1982 video. I found myself humming “Thriller” in a scene where the dead creep out from underwater.

Although semi-bland at the core, what’s most interesting about this film is in the outcome of a city undergoing unorganized chaos. Both the zombies and the humans designate a leader to help them in their respective attempts at survival. I’m not sure if this was Romero’s way of tapping into the social unconscious or simply a vehicle for some unknown actors to land speaking roles. Nevertheless, the parallel is effective.

Even with its cinematic negatives, Land of the Dead manages to hold itself up without sinking. Why? The subtle traces of Romero that grace each scene provide the film with an overall feeling of acceptance. Oddly enough, Land of the Dead might have been considered an impressive horror flick if it focused on more zombie footage instead of forcing characters and plotline. Romero has room for improvement on number five.