There’s no denying the importance of George Romero’s ‘Dead’ films.
Starting way back in 1968, they gave us the hideous, decaying zombies that we know and love (and fear a little) today.
But as Romero continued to work on his astounding horror career, there were those of us that gladly consumed everything that he had a hand in, thinking ‘this man can do no wrong’.
That was until Land of the Dead came along.
Our confidence had been nudged by the ‘fast zombies’ in the Dawn of the Dead (2004) remake (not actually Romero’s fault, but a ‘dead’ film nevertheless). It was fortunate that the film was so good that we soon accepted that little change.
But what we perhaps weren’t ready for was a huge evolutionary leap. One in which zombies went from regular to super intelligent, for no particular reason.
Land of the Dead is set in the future where zombies are now just a way of life.
The humans have built a heavy fortification around a major city and now live out their post apocalyptic lives as if the zombies are no longer a threat. Kind of like when people say ‘you’ve got more chance of being hit by a bus…’ etc.
The rich live in a more exclusive part of town, residing in a luxurious skyscraper that is free of zombies and the poor (both of which have a similar social status).
The only contact with walkers is the occasional intruder at the perimeter or when a specially formed team is sent out into the dead zone to run errands.
These errands are made possible with the help of a giant zombie-proof vehicle named Dead Reckoning which is essentially an armoured juggernaught with lots of weapons.
Riley (The Mentalist, Simon Baker) and Cholo (John ‘Luigi’ Leguizamo) are the yin and yang of the Reckoning with Riley following principles and being humane, whilst slimy Cholo secretly carries out dirty jobs for one of the richest guys in the city, Kaufman (Dennis Hopper).
And so the relationship between the main players works its way towards collision, with Riley wanting to flee to the wilderness and escape it all and Cholo trying to earn himself an invite to live in the most exclusive part of town, both using Dead Reckoning as their bargaining chip and with Kaufman generally trying to screw everyone over.
So what about the zombies?
Well, to begin with the zombies are just regular zombies. The ugly battle for power and freedom between the humans plays out with the odd flesh eating, brain blasting scene as Dead Reckoning and its crew goes is search of supplies.
But the game changer is clever zombies.
Remember Bub in Day of the Dead (1985)? The zombie that is basically trained, tamed and even learns to use a gun?
Well someone must have suggested that Romero could take it a step further, creating the sensational, unique selling point of Land of the Dead. It’s a zombie called Big Daddy.
When Dead Reckoning is driving around town doing what it pleases and smushing zombies in the process, Big Daddy looks on with a kind of sadness. It’s hard to tell, as he doesn’t really have any emotions, but he’s angry that the humans are killing his people and before long he’s organising an uprising.
Are we supposed to feel sorry for Big Daddy and his decaying friends? It does feel like it, even though they do still want to feast on the living. Should you pity someone who wants to eat your brains?
Mainly by using grunts and growls, Big Daddy encourages zombies to follow him, use tools and even learn to use guns.
He’s not just a clever zombie, he’s a MacGuyver among zombies. In fact, he’s brighter than most humans. Which makes you wonder, is it that zombies have evolved, or that he’s just less zombie than most.
Either way, this is probably entirely too much to be thinking about when watching what is essentially a mediocre zombie movie fused with one of the mad max films.
And therein lies the problem. The whole idea just stinks of the eighties, the era in which it would have been accepted, been seen as being ‘innovative’ and would no doubt have been praised – had it been released back then.
But off the back of Zack Snyder’s Dawn of the Dead remake and 28 Days Later – films that made zombies seem a more realistic and terrifying threat – Land of the Dead seems a bit silly and out of place.
In some ways Land of the Dead marked the end of the archaic zombie movie concepts and proved that we now need more from our undead. Whether that be from the use of even more extreme gore, realistic effects and absorbing stories or from zombies that can sprint like an athlete.
Yes, it’s not the worst zombie film you’ll ever see, there are thousands of them after all and a majority of them are boring and bad.
But there’s also very little to excite you, which is surprising for a film with a reasonable budget and some big(ish) stars.