Director: George A. Romero
Cast: Simon Baker, Dennis Hopper, John Leguizamo
Watch online: Netflix UK / iTunes / TalkTalk TV
There can be no doubt that George A. Romero is to zombies as George R. R. Martin is to killing off beloved characters. The master of the zombie genre who gave the world a cult classic in 1968 with Night of the Living Dead, he returned to the zombie genre with probably the most famous of all horror films in 1978 with Dawn of the Dead. After the third release of the Living Dead series, Romero was rumoured in 1998 to be linked to the Resident Evil franchise, which was making the move from hugely popular video game to the silver screen. Romero said he “didn’t want to make another movie with zombies in it”, seemingly signally the end of the master’s reign.
That was until 2005, when Romero returned with Land of the Dead, the film with the highest production budget of the series so far. Set in Pittsburgh, years into the zombie apocalypse, survivors have set up refuge in the city’s Golden Triangle. Protected on two sides by water, the residents have set up a fortified electric fence to keep out unwanted walkers. Sanctuary isn’t blissful living, though, as a class divide has emerged, with many living in squalor on the streets and the more powerful living in a big high-rise building.
Outside the fences roam the zombies, but something is happening to them. They appear to be evolving; despite feasting on brains, these zombies are beginning to get them. One in particular, Big Daddy (Eugene Clark), a former petrol pump attendant, appears to be the first of these intelligent undead when he isn’t distracted by the fireworks used by the living to clear areas while they ransack them for supplies.
The dead begin to work together and between them head for an assault on the sanctuary. It appears that the river is no threat to stop the zombie advances who appear to want to throw down the corrupt regime of the newly established government.
The movie is as gruesome as you’d expect, although the make-up does look dated already. Providing plenty of satisfying flesh eating and brain popping, Romero ups the ante here, splitting bodies in two, while their organs are thrown around and eaten. Those with a squeamish disposition may find it tough viewing – anyone with a naval piercing might want to remove it first.
In a world now saturated with zombie media, looking back at Land of the Dead shows how far the genre has come. With running zombies (28 Days Later), photosensitive zombies (I Am Legend), clown zombies (Zombieland) and Nazi Zombies (Dead Snow), zombies that are able to garner some intelligence is quite a rational idea. In execution, however, it looks ridiculous. The scene with Big Daddy showing another zombie how to use a gun is laughable.
While an enjoyable enough film, Land of the Dead suffers from an almost outlandish set and costume design that gives it an unrealistic nature. Yes, this is a post-apocalyptic zombie world, but realism gives fear. That, or a real sense of threat, is what’s lacking here. Intensity comes from entrapment, being caught with nowhere to go. This is what worked so well in Dawn of the Dead’s shopping mall and doesn’t work in Pittsburgh.
Romero had a tough act to follow and Dawn will always be regarded as his pinnacle. Here we’re asked to empathise with the undead, trying to become human, but in turn they lose their grip down our throats.
Where can I rent or watch Land of the Dead online on pay-per-view VOD?