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Land of the Dead

Entry updated 30 January 2017. Tagged: Film.

Film (2005). Universal Pictures and Atmosphere Entertainment MM present a Mark Canton-Bernie Goldmann and Romero-Grunwald production in association with Wild Bunch. Directed by George Romero. Written by Romero. Cast includes Asia Argento, Simon Baker, Eugene Clark, Dennis Hopper and John Leguizamo. 93 minutes, 97 minutes director's cut. Colour.

A number of commercially successful Zombie movies, mostly inspired by Romero's original and celebrated trilogy – Night of the Living Dead (1968), Dawn of the Dead (1978) and Day of the Dead (1985) – led to a green-lighting twenty years later of this much belated chapter. Given a modest budget, though far larger than for Day of the Dead, Romero was able finally to realize many of the more ambitious sequences that had been stripped from the previous film's script because of financial constraints.

As with the two previous films, Land of the Dead further expands the scale and complexity of the crisis. Several years after the zombie outbreak, humans now coexist in relative stability with their undead neighbours. The fortified tower Fiddler's Green, run by an unscrupulous capitalist, Kaufman (Hopper), houses the wealthy in opulence. The workers who keep the building running are kept fairly safe in slums at its base, protected by an elaborate defence system.

Kaufman proves to be an over-reacher when one of his armed platoons, used for looting provisions from nearby stores, attracts the attention of zombie gas-station proprietor Big Daddy, who not only appears to have residual intelligence himself, but enough undead charisma to attract zombie support. His shambling band goes to war against a Fiddler's Green already weakened by working-class mutiny. Many of the humans, including Kaufman, are killed. The survivors evacuate the ruined fortress and even though given an opportunity to destroy Big Daddy, allow him to "live".

Romero's sprightly and inventive way with allegorical imagery does not in this instance add very much to the series' central metaphor which some critics regard as a quasi-Marxist commentary on the decline and fall of capitalism. Horror metaphors of this type, of course, did not begin with Romero, although he is an important contemporary exploiter of them. The most important source identifying the working class with vengeful, almost inhuman monstrosity is the Morlocks in H G Wells's The Time Machine (1895), but here (and in Day of the Dead) the monstrousness gradually evaporates as we realize that Romero's zombies are developing from inhuman savagery, via pitiable victim-status, to something almost heroic as they become steadily more self-aware. This optimism is uncommon in Romero's work, though diluted perhaps by his familiar enthusiasm for Grand Guignol effects that require fortitude (or crass insensitivity) in the watcher. [JN/PN]


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