Back from the Dead
But that's literally all that's wrong with Land of the Dead. The rest of this movie is sharp, terrifying, visually bold, appropriately disturbing, politically shrewd, frequently and unpredictably funny, and totally of a piece with the landmark series it continues. (For my money, the 1968 Night of the Living Dead is still the high-zombie mark, but Dawn of the Dead and Day of the Dead easily outclass most of the genre.) Land of the Dead crouches in even thicker darkness than Day of the Dead, which one wouldn't have thought possible; the colors are so grim and the shadows so deep that Million Dollar Baby practically looks like the aurora borealis by comparison.
The propulsive, heavily mechanized, admittedly self-defensive ammo blasts of the survivors are so harsh and so over-the-top that you start pitying the zombies, and the chic, deliriously deluded lifestyle of the know-nothing rich folks in Dennis Hopper's tower is both a great joke and a stingingly honest jab. You imagine that it won't hurt at all when the belly-aching dead eventually hijack the silver-spoon set, but the film's social sympathies are much more complex than rich=bad, powerless=good. As he has managed to do throughout the series, Romero disdains from letting the actors or the performances drive the movie, or dictate your identifications, but he's gotten better at coaxing blank-slate performances that feel more like performances, instead of the shrill place-holding of Dawn and Day. And if you assumed that, after three of his own movies and a tottering horde of imitators, including last year's superb remake of Dawn, that there were no new scares or new images to mine from this kind of material... be afraid. Be very afraid.
Of course, you probably know if you're someone who'll take this dare or not, but if you're even remotely equivocating about seeing this movie, please accept this tiny push in its favor. Steven Spielberg's War of the Worlds opens later today on nearly twice the number of screens, with big stars, bigger marketing, and around ten times the budget—Land only cost $15 million to produce—it'll still be hard-pressed to have half the kick or a quarter of the conviction. In fact, Stephanie Zacharek suggests that War of the Worlds, not to put too fine a point on it, ain't got shit. I'll find out tomorrow night. Either way, it will inevitably blast Romero's pic out of a lot of 'plexes, so before that happens, rise up and chow down.
Photo © 2005 Universal Pictures