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Land Of The Dead (Mark's Take)

01/09/2006. Contributed by Mark R. Leeper

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What happens when after the dead have returned they set up their own society, posits Mark? George Romero continues his saga of the aftermath of the dead returning to eat the living. Romero is more interested in Technicolor gore effects and in young people shooting big guns than in telling a frightening story. If any thing he has moved from horror to science fiction. But really it is an excuse to create an action film for the teenage crowd on Friday night.

Rating: 0 (-4 to +4) or 4/10

If you look at George Romero's 1968 film NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD it really is a horror story. It is a horrific and oddly believable situation of everyday people trapped in a house and being besieged when the dead come back to life. There is not really a lot of carnage and blood in the film and when you see it, it has a powerful effect. It was filmed in black and white and that really helped to create the mood. If you compare that to his next film in the series, DAWN OF THE DEAD, in the latter he has totally lost whatever he knew or happened on to about horror. That is a comedy action film with a lot of Technicolor blood that is not really quite the right colour. DAY OF THE DEAD made many of the same mistakes.

The fourth entry LAND OF THE DEAD is an action film with mostly attractive people in their mid-twenties carrying big guns and driving big motor vehicles smashing up the dead. There are lots of images of the dead attacking and ripping apart the living. He does play with the ideas of what happens when you have two cultures that want to kill each other living in close proximity, but the situation has become academic rather than horrific. It is basically an action film combined with pornography, if the term pornography can be extended to include not bodies coming together but bodies being ripped apart.

The film opens with a nearly but not quite accurate recreation of the Universal logo from films like THE INVISIBLE MAN and THE BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN. Curiously on the DVD commentary Romero says that the logo was on "those old Universal Val Lewton films." Actually Lewton's films were made at least a decade later and were made at RKO.

There are a few interesting ideas explored in whether the living and dead can co-exist as two societies in spite of their hatred for each other. Although those ideas are explored in much greater depth on the world stage every day. Romero is generally following with his series the evolution outlined in the novel that inspired Romero, I AM LEGEND by Richard Matheson. In that book those who died of a particular plague come back as non- supernatural vampires. There is just one human survivor left and it is the dead who are setting up society. That book, by the way, was made into the films THE LAST MAN ON EARTH, the wretched THE OMEGA MAN, and there currently is a third adaptation in the works starring, I believe, Will Smith.

It is not really clear if this story is a sequel to NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD, DAWN OF THE DEAD, and DAY OF THE DEAD. If so there is little continuity in the nature of the dead. The original film had them dangerous, but somewhat slow and stupid. ("Are they slow-moving, chief?" "Yeah, they're dead. They're all messed up.") They are much less slow and much less messed up in this film. They are faster and they think. But they have an interesting Achilles Heel. No matter what they are doing, they stop with childish awe to look at fireworks displays.

The story has human capitalists moving in to profit from the situation from the fall of civilization. Drinking spots have chained dead people with signs saying, "Get your picture taken with a Zombie." The worst fat-cat capitalist of all, dealing in sex, drugs, and all other vices of the living humans is called Kaufman and is played by Dennis Hopper. Kaufman rules over a skyscraper in a well-protected part of the city where the rich living people live. Those not so rich have to protect themselves.

I suppose that there are a few ideas of some interest here, but little more than one could find in a Sci-Fi Channel monster movie. The original did not have what sounded like an intriguing premise, but the style made it work as a horror film with immediacy and credibility. George Romero has a few more ideas in LAND OF THE DEAD but the film works out like tired clichés. I rate LAND OF THE DEAD a 0 on the -4 to +4 scale or 4/10.

Mark R. Leeper

Copyright 2006 Mark R. Leeper

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