Back in 1968, fledgling Pittsburgh filmmaker George A. Romero unleashed upon an unsuspecting public a low-budget zombie horror picture called "Night of the Living Dead," which remains one of the scariest movies ever made -- in 1999 it was even listed in the National Film Registry of the Library of Congress. Successful sequels followed over the years, and now "George A. Romero's Land of the Dead" reveals that Romero remains the master of a genre he reinvented.
Probably nobody understands better than Romero that he was unlikely ever to equal the fright he stirred up in his first film in depicting a relentless zombie assault on a family holed up in its isolated farmhouse. But Romero is luckily a true visionary, and he has always been able to match bigger budgets with ideas, ingenious plotting and mordant wit. For the energetic "Land of the Dead," he and his crew have created a darkly textured world in which zombies have been roaming the country for years.
In an unnamed city that resembles Pittsburgh, Kaufman (Dennis Hopper), an archetypal ruthless tycoon, has holed up along with minions and other wealthy types in a brightly lighted tower that dominates the city's skyline. In this condominium/office building with a luxury mall, the privileged few continue life as they did before the outbreak of the zombies.
Sustaining a quality life in the tower requires Kaufman to employ the services of mercenaries headed by stalwart, level-headed Riley (Simon Baker), who wants only to accumulate enough money to head for Canadian wilderness, and his hot-headed second in command Cholo (John Leguizamo). Riley has a loyal sidekick in Robert Joy's Charlie, a sharpshooter badly scarred on one side of his face from a fire from which Riley rescued him. Also a good shot is Asia Argento's hooker, whom Riley has also rescued -- from a nightclub gladiator cage in which she is pitted against zombies.
In their latest raid, however, Riley rightly senses that the zombies, who can be killed only by being shot in the head, are beginning to think and communicate with each other. Big Daddy (Eugene Clark), in fact, a massive zombie -- in the film they're called walkers -- is deeply angered by Riley and Cholo's latest bloody raid. With the volatile Cholo ready to explode if he doesn't get what he wants and with Big Daddy increasingly capable of leading a walker march on the city, nonstop action kicks in.
Romero easily commands an enormous cast, a plethora of action sequences and a cornucopia of special effects -- some of them very gory -- and creates one darkly dazzling image after another that allows "Land of the Dead" to emerge without any nudging whatsoever as a bleakly humorous, hard-charging allegory about society devouring itself as the chasm between the rich few and the countless poor could scarcely open wider. "Land of the Dead" isn't that scary, in the sense of evoking spine-tingling terror, but it offers a compelling, striking vision of the near-future that suggests there is in the world today much that's scarier than zombies.
'Land of the Dead'
MPAA rating: R for pervasive strong violence and gore, language, brief sexuality and some drug use
Times guidelines: Although there are a couple of eye-poppers, the violence and gore quotient is standard for the horror genre and is not a lingering, morbid nature. But way too intense for children.
A Universal Pictures release. Writer-director George A. Romero. Producers Mark Canton, Bernie Goldmann, Peter Grunwald. Cinematographer Miroslaw Baszak. Editor Michael Doherty. Special make-up effects Greg Nicotero and Howard Berger. Music Reinhold Heil and Johnny Klimek. Costumes Alex Kavanagh. Production designer Arv Greywal. Art director Doug Slater. Set decorator Marlene Puritt. Running time: 1 hour, 33 minutes.
In general release.