After a recent spate of successful zombie films over the past two years, it should only be natural that zombie founder and veteran George A. Romero should be given a chance to defend his title as king of the zombie film. Now, after twenty years, the big shots at Universal have finally given him his chance, with Land of the Dead.
…with zombies as a rotting side dish purely for the purposes of explicit violence and large-scale bodily mutilation
Land of the Dead takes place further in the future, following the inhabitants on land rather than in a confined bunker as in Day of the Dead (1985). The earth is still plagued with zombies but humans have evolved to the deal with the problem of survival more efficiently, this time by seizing an ‘inpenetrable’ city surrounded by water and protected on all fronts. As with most of Romero’s zombie films, the story tends to focus on how the survivors have managed to cope in an apocalyptic and anarchic situation, so the action hinges around human conflict in a lawless and bloodthirsty environment, with zombies as a rotting side dish purely for the purposes of explicit violence and large-scale bodily mutilation.
The story is this. The city is separated along social lines between the rich, led by Kaufman, (a megalomanic shit played by Dennis Hopper who effortlessly oozes slime) who live a life of luxury in palatial tower blocks, and the poor, who slum it on the streets and are constantly in conflict with zombies and Kaufman’s oppressive rule. Naturally people of both classes vary between the three principal Romero archetypes, of those who want to live in peace and harmony, those who want to rule, and then those who simply couldn’t give a shit. All eventually come to blows and in typical Romero fashion a hoard of bloodthirsty zombies are added to the mix thus bolstering the mayhem.
…the audience is thrown head first into a cataclysmic world where people will do anything to survive
Although to some extent this can be seen as a typical horror film (and it is), what makes Romero’s zombie films great is the evolution between each film. He started on a small scale when pioneering the zombie genre with Night of the Living Dead (1968), which focused on the psychological horror of a few people confined to a house in a completely foreign situation. With the excellent Dawn of the Dead (1978) he moved to larger, comically gruesome, tongue-in-cheek horror and continued in that run with Day of the Dead. If you’ve seen Dawn and Day you know what to expect, but Romero trumps other recent zombie releases by expanding the genre rather than rehashing the same material. The ‘dead’ films have the added benefit that Romero recognises that the audience doesn’t need to be filled in, so he doesn’t waste time repeating the ‘what happened’ which has been the nub of the first half an hour of 28 Days Later (Danny Boyle, 2003) and Dawn of the Dead (Zack Snyder, 2004). As each film is released both the zombies and humans have evolved accordingly, rather than restarting each time. Any reason for the dead walking is irrelevant, the simple fact is that they just are, and the audience is thrown head first into a cataclysmic world where people will do anything to survive.
The film may be criticized for its relatively basic plot but the point is that zombie films cannot have a wildly inventive subject matter. Instead the genre is spurred on through Romero’s wickedly comic book, post-apocalyptic world, over-the-top characters, ever-wry sense of humour and new and inventive ways of destroying or dismembering the human body. In other words, although you’ve seen it before, you haven’t seen it before. George is back, and even after 20 years and countless advancements in technology, he’s still the king.