Wednesday, October 21, 2009

THE RETURN OF 31 DAYS OF HORROR: #21 Land Of The Dead


Land Of The Dead gets a lot of hate. I remember reading about it when it was still called Dead Reckoning over on the early days of AICN. Even then there was this additude of “This’ll never happen but here’s the script for it anyway.” Then 9/11 came along and any lingering hope seemed to die. Then came Zack Synder’s, it’s taken me along time to come to terms with it, Dawn Of The Dead, and the project got momentum again and suddenly “Holy Shit Romero’s making another Zombie movie.” Curdled into “Bet It’s going to suck.”

Now look I’m not going to say Romero’s a saint. Diary Of The Dead broke my heart, by punching it through my testicles, a painful mortifying experience I never wish to experience again. I’m just saying I feel like a lot of people came to this movie with a chip on their shoulder. The movie’s not perfect, but I would honestly rank it above the underrated but still none too enjoyable Day Of The Dead. Now that the hypes died down, and Romero has done us the courtesy of showing us what a terrible Romero zombie movie actually looks like, we can all calm down a little and watch Land Of The Dead for what it is, a flawed, but cool, and undenialably Romero.

The thing that has always made Romero great as a filmmaker is his refusal to stop at point A. It’s not enough to come up with a clever idea you have to do something with it. So a story of a bunch of people trapped in a mall, becomes a devastating social satire, the story of some daredevil motorcycle guys becomes an unlikely dissection of the viability of artistic purity in a compromised age and the story of the last city on earth has some real teeth to it.

Land Of The Dead, follows a group of mercenaries who work out of Fiddler’s Green, a totalitarian city run by Dennis Hopper. On a routine raid of a nearby town they manage to piss off Big Daddy, a zombie who has apparently decided he’s had just about enough of this bullshit and follows them home. His bid to live in good part of town rejected, John Leguizomo stages an impromptu revolution, threatening to blow up the city with a pretty fucking cool zombie mobile.

All through Land Of The Dead are things I’ve never seen before in a Zombie movie. The eerily beautiful opening of the Zombie’s in their natural habitat as strange and beautiful as anything I’ve seen in a horror movie. When Fiddler’s Green commando’s swarm in with their sky flowersand start massacring it’s genuinely horrific, the canny reverse shot of the zombie massacres we all know and love. The moment where Big Daddy performs his first “mercy killing” and decides to follow the convoy is genuinely electric. It’s a great game changing moment.

The problem with Land Of The Dead is that after this opening scene, we get this weird down shift into what plays like a post 1990 John Carpenter flick, involving Dennis Hopper (in an admirably bug nuts performance), John Leguizomo, and The Mentalist over Dennis Hopper’s giant zombie killing mobile. The problem with this less then enthralling plot is it’s taking place infront of Fiddler’s Green which is so well realized that a more interesting film is taking place in the background of literally every frame of the movie.

The cast is one of the Romero’s least, when even Asia Argento isn’t flying a freak flag you know you’re in trouble. The casting seems mostly based on looks, so you can distinguish the hyper stylized one dimensional mercenaries from each other.

Things pick up again at the end when Romero remembers, “Oh yeah this is a zombie movie.” The siege is one his best, it’s incredibly satisfying to watch those last unfortunate souls who have been able to use status to shield themselves from the horror, finally succumb to the world around them.

Because for all the brain munching that goes on it’s those doomed figures in Fiddler’s Green who fill me with real horror. Waiting for the end of the world with their thumb up their ass. Doing their best to ignore the horror at their doorstep, unaware that they’re just biding time.

6 comments:

Erich Kuersten said...

"unaware they're just buying time" - an apt a description of American consumerism as you're likely to find! Buddhists would say we're all just biding time. Biding or buying? If we're not meditating and working towards connection to that which lies beyond the duality of life and death. We must nurture the zombie within!

Evil Dead Junkie said...

(bows)

Emily said...

Excellent review. I think like all Romero films, this one may improve over time. There was so much expectation on top of Land that unless it was a masterpiece, it would have been hated. Day of the Dead is still growing on me, as I went through a long period where I totally despised it. At the moment, I respect certain aspects of Land (the super opening, some of the background zombie society stuff, the rich/poor stratification) but feel underwhelmed every time I watch it.

As for Diary, I've yet to meet anyone who didn't hate it...aside from myself. I watch it and pretend the narration and lead actress doesn't exist. It works well that way.

Jay Clarke said...

Wow, bashing Day Of The Dead... that's cold. If you didn't like Diary, I would suggest you stay FAR AWAY from Survival.

Evil Dead Junkie said...

I wouldn't go so far as to say I was bashing.

I love Day Of The Dead, I just think in many way's Land is superior.

Emily said...

I don't think it's a sin to bash Day of the Dead. Yes, the opening scene is incredible, but then we have to suffer through 90 minutes of people speaking to each other as if they're trying to bite one another's faces off with words. Plus we get a cheat ending that's so disappointingly unsatisfying.

It's grown on me over the years and now, I genuinely enjoy watching it. But it's a hard film to defend for someone watching it for the first time.