Twenty years after the release of Day of the Dead, George A. Romero returned to the zombie genre and Land of the Dead reached an audience thirsty for a new installment in his seminal Living Dead series. In this film a group of capitalists have created an island stronghold, where a Marxian class struggle has created a wide division between the poor living in the streets and the rich living in a posh tower paradise. Maintaining the bourgeois is a heavily armed group that scours the surrounding areas for supplies, led by an intelligent engineer named Riley (Simon Baker). Using a massive tank-like vehicle named Dead Reckoning, the unit moves into a town, distracts the zombies with fireworks, and runs off with all the supplies they need. When looting one town, the zombies become wise to what the people are doing and follow them back to the city, intent on revenge.
Throughout the series, Romero has shown the zombies evolving, becoming self-aware, and implementing, albeit crudely, various skills and concepts from their former lives. In Day of the Dead, the zombie named Bub becomes affectionate towards Dr. Frankenstein, showing genuine emotion for him throughout the film. Is Romero trying to say something about the Other with this? I have been watching Romero’s films for a long time and believe that most of them, at least the Living Dead films, say something more than what appears on the surface. I have mentioned this before in my posts and Romero has said it numerous times in interviews. In a recent audience participation interview with Time magazine, Romero was asked about modern horror films and he replies, “I don’t like the new trends in horror. All this torture stuff seems really mean-spirited. People have forgotten how to laugh, and I don’t see anybody who’s using it as allegory.” Although Romero was talking about films like Hostel, the statement about the lack of allegory in these films speaks volumes about what Romero’s intentions are with his films. He is correct too; these new horror films lack a certain sentiment that is embedded in many quality horror and science fiction films. Neil Postman once said in his book The End of Education that modern science fiction writers (such as Huxley and Orwell) are the real modern philosophers. He left out directors and writers of some horror films.
Land of the Dead provides social commentary on a plethora of issues ranging from immigration, Western conflicts with the Middle East, post-9/11 theory, the Other, socioeconomic divides, and much more. I didn’t like this film at first but after watching it again recently (since Dennis Hopper died and he plays the primary antagonist) I find it to be a lot deeper than I thought when I saw it in the theater a few years ago. Maybe it just needed time to marinate…or maybe I’m just a little thick sometimes. Land of the Dead was also a profitable venture for Romero and company, costing $15 to produce, grossing over $20 million domestically, and a total of $46 million worldwide. It’s not the success that he had with Dawn of the Dead, but for a director that has managed to operate outside of Hollywood for decades, that’s a pretty decent return and probably what guaranteed funding for Romero’s other zombie films.
Here is the trailer for Land of the Dead
Here is the review that I wrote on Netflix. One person out of three found it helpful.
Land of the Dead (2005)
The fourth installment of George A. Romero’s zombie films is probably my least favorite. Just like the three that precede it, Romero fills the film with a variety of social commentary, but the story itself is not as compelling as his previous films. In Land of the Dead, the wealthy are living inside a fortified city, with all the amenities of the civilized world that is now overrun by the living dead. Dennis Hopper is running the city and as an exploration of capitalism, there is a group of bourgeois living in the tower and the proletariat living in the slums and working for the rich. The film explores such Marxian issues in addition to racism (featuring John Leguizamo as an excluded minority), post-9/11 theory, and zombies as the others, living outside of Western civilization and representing third world slaves, and more. In regards to the zombies as third world citizens, those living in the towers (which resemble the World Trade Center) are constantly going into the zombie’s territory and plundering the leftovers of the now decaying human world. If Romero is not making a comment on Western imperialism then I do not know what he is trying to say. With all of this in mind, Land of the Dead still does not compare to any of Romero’s other zombie films. I personally like how his movies always comment on the world around us, demonstrating that Romero is trying to make more than just a gory film. But the basic plot for this film just did not do it for me. I enjoyed Diary of the Dead more, even though many people disagree with me. If you are a fan of zombie films and enjoy them containing a good deal of social critique, then Land of the Dead is something you will probably enjoy.