36 years after changing the face of American horror for good with the unprecedented Night of the Living Dead and 20 years after his ambitious but budget-starved third installment Day of the Dead, George A. Romero returned to the genre with Land of the Dead (2005), the fourth film in his epic series. This time he had the budget to see his grand vision to the screen.
True to form, Romero once again uses the zombie genre as a vehicle for social commentary and political satire. A pocket of mankind has found refuge in a (literally) gated community, a veritable feudal kingdom called Fiddler’s Green where class structure is strictly enforced by its corporate despot (Dennis Hopper). The rich and powerful live in luxury in a glowing glass tower while the underclass is confined to the slums and a militia keeps the poor contained as well as the city protected from “the stenches” (as the rotting undead are called).
Simon Baker is the leader of the raiding party that scavenges zombie-infested towns for supplies, John Leguizamo the ambitious second in command scrambling for his piece of the pie, and Asia Argento is a streetwise hooker who teams up with Baker when he’s sent after the larcenous Leguizamo. To complicate things, the zombies are evolving. They start to learn, to communicate, and to organize, and they target the great glass tower of as prime noshing grounds.
Romero embraces the advancements of make-up effects, animatronics, and CGI enhancements since his early days of zombie moviemaking, but at heart he’s an old-fashioned storyteller who relies on simple devices. While there is no shortage of slow, shuffling zombies pulling fresh meat from the body human in inventively gory flourishes, it’s the scenes of mass chaos as mankind devours itself—class conflict gone cannibalistic—that charge the film.
If any of this seems familiar, it may be because The Walking Dead echoes many of the ideas here. And while the social commentary isn’t exactly subtle, Romero delivers the goods so effectively that many won’t even notice there’s a pointed message behind the cinematic carnage.
Leaves Peacock at the end of September. Add to My List on Peacock
Also on Blu-ray and DVD and on SVOD through Amazon Video (also in unrated version), iTunes, GooglePlay, Vudu and/or other services. Availability may vary by service.
Land of the Dead (Shout! Factory Collector’s Edition) [Blu-ray]
Land of the Dead [Blu-ray]
Land of the Dead [DVD]
The Blu-ray and DVD special editions feature commentary by director George Romero with producer Peter Grunwald and editor Michael Daughtery and a handful of featurettes (including one featuring Simon Pegg and Edgar Wright of Shaun of the Dead making their cameo in the film). Exclusive to the Unrated Director’s Cut are additional featurettes on the make-up, special effects, and production.