Directed By: George A. Romero
Starring: John Leguizamo, Asia Argento, Simon Baker
Tag line: "The dead shall inherit the Earth"
Trivia: George Romero's daughter appears in the film (she's the soldier who shoots a zombie that walks into an electric fence)
Released almost 20 years after Day of the Dead, George Romero’s Land of the Dead, the fourth entry in his Living Dead series (which also included Night of the Living Dead and Dawn of the Dead) picks up where Day left off, with the world overrun by flesh-eating zombies. Yet despite the chaos all around them, the rich and powerful still have a place to call home; Fiddler’s Green, a high-rise building situated in downtown Pittsburgh, allows those with means to live in luxury. Under the watchful eye of capitalist Paul Kaufman (Dennis Hopper), the facility serves as a safe haven from the outside world, protected by two rivers and a long fence that keeps the dead at bay. To ensure Fiddler’s Green continues to thrive, a team of mercenaries, led by Riley Denbo (Simon Baker) and Cholo De Mora (John Leguizamo), climbs into their armored vehicle lovingly nicknamed Dead Reckoning and ventures into the surrounding area on a regular basis to gather up supplies.
But unbeknownst to Kaufman and the many residents who call Fiddler’s Green their home, a change is coming that threatens to destroy their world of privilege. It all begins when Riley and his pal Charlie (Robert Joy) save a prostitute named Slack (Asia Argento), who, on Kaufman’s orders, was about to be executed. On top of that, Cholo’s application for a luxury apartment in Fiddler’s Green has been denied, causing him to steal Dead Reckoning and, with a few of his crew, head out into the great unknown, never to return. Worst of all, the zombies, led by former gas station attendant Big Daddy (Eugene Clark), are starting to gather, and have set their sights on overtaking Fiddler’s Green!
As it was with his previous Living Dead films, Romero fills Land of the Dead with its share of socially relevant subtext (i.e. the class struggle between rich and poor), and manages to sneak in a few jabs at the then-current George W. Bush administration (Hopper claims his main inspiration for the soulless Kaufman was Bush’s longtime Secretary of Defense, Donald Rumsfeld). Politics aside, Land of the Dead boasts a couple of excellent action sequences (courtesy of the crew of Dead Reckoning) as well as some of the most gruesome zombies ever to grace a Romero flick (thanks in large part to special makeup effects supervisor Greg Nicotero). While not quite at the level of Day of the Dead, Land of the Dead also has plenty of gore (one scene in particular, which features an undead clown, gets pretty messy before it’s over), and even gives us a “hero” zombie in Big Daddy, who, along with figuring out how to fire an assault rifle, leads the attack on Fiddler’s Green. All of these elements mesh together wonderfully, making Land of the Dead a worthy successor to the series’ previous entries.
While Romero’s later efforts to continue the franchise would fall short of the mark (2007’s Diary of the Dead was an absolute mess), Land of the Dead stood as proof positive that the man who created the modern zombie movie still has a few blood-soaked tricks up his sleeve.