Land of the Dead
Written and directed by George A. Romero

Starring Simon Baker, Dennis Hopper, John Leguizamo, Asia Argento


Land of the Dead

"Land of the Dead," or more accurately "George A. Romero's Land of the Dead," so named in order to gather up every possible fan of his 1968 zombie film "Night of the Living Dead," is for me the best and most fun of the whole series. Romero, who followed up the original with "Dawn of the Dead"(1978) and "Day of the Dead" (1985), and whose titles inspired many parodies, including the inventive 1991 "Night of the Day of the Son of the Bride of the Return of the Revenge of the Terror of the Attack of the Evil, Mutant, Alien, Flesh Eating, Hellbound, Zombified Living Dead Part 2: In Shocking 2-D," has learned a lot about directing since his debut, which though shot in Pittsburgh looked more like it came from Amateurville.

The story this time is more interesting and provocative than his earlier work. The dead are out there, and have taken over most of the country; but the wealthy, headed by Mr. Kaufman (Dennis Hopper in a wonderfully muted performance) have retreated to a skyscraper in the middle of the city, called Fiddlers' Green, which comes complete with upscale shopping mall staffed by many workers who live in squalor outside the building. Soldiers have built electrified fences to serve the dual purpose of keeping the zombies out and the populace in, the better to work for Kaufman, and they are kept in line by Kaufman's henchmen. As in the previous films, the dead are mindless but intent on eating the living. One bite and you die and are returned to living death as a zombie.

Riley (Simon Baker) has done dirty work for Kaufman but his moral compunctions change him; not so for Kaufman's other heavy, the merciless Cholo (John Leguizamo), who leads sorties outside the city to steal from stores and sell back in town. So the film becomes a three-way story, in which Kaufman, Riley and Cholo, each with his own agenda, contend for power. Naturally, only Riley will use his talents for good.

Perhaps that should be four-way, because now the zombies have acquired some intelligence; where they previously could only move blindly they now can learn from experience and begin comprehending the value of tools. Riley is the first to recognize this, and with his rag-tag team of sharpshooters (zombies can only be killed by a shot or blow to the brain) he plans their escape to, of course, the safety of Canada. Is this an allegory or what?

In any case, Romero has written a fine script and shot it - mostly at night - with great skill. His editing, particularly of the gory parts, is done to induce horror, and perhaps even nausea, in the audience. If you can take it, "Land of the Dead" is lots of fun. It's the kind of scary film that doesn't rely on trick shots or sudden reveals for its effects; everything has been laid out for you. The rest is up to you.