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Arts & Culture

George A. Romero's Land of the Dead

CLIP: " They're coming to get you Barbara..."

In 1968, a 28-year-old Pittsburgh filmmaker shot a black and white movie called Night of the Living Dead.

CLIP: "The unburied dead are coming back to life and seeking human victims..."


That $100,000 flick by George A. Romero became a cult classic. It inspired two sequels, and established zombies as a cinematic force to be reckoned with.

Romero didn't invent zombies but he did create a lasting cinematic mythology for them. According to Romero, zombies are undead creatures that feed on human flesh. If they bite you, you become infected. And the only way to stop them is to shoot them in the head or decapitate them. The simple but satisfying explanation Romero offers for their existence is that when there's no more room in hell, the dead will walk the earth.

What distinguishes Romero's work from other low budget horror films is his sly sense of social commentary. Night of the Living Dead deals with racial tensions as well as people under siege by zombies. The 1978 sequel Dawn of the Dead lashed out at American consumerism as the living dead converged on a shopping mall. And his 1985 Day of the Dead condemned vivisection as zombies became test subjects in experiments. Now, twenty-years after his last dead outing, Romero returns to the genre with Land of the Dead.


The title plays on the familiar phrase, land of the free and home of the brave. And Romero plays on issues of class while proving that no one does dismemberment and disembowelment better than he does. Or as Mexican horror film director Guillermo Del Toro says:


GUILLERMO DEL TORO: "There's such joy when George does splatter. At the same that infantile, juvenile glee is married to a very adult political concern."

Del Toro, speaking in a behind-the-scenes feauturette, is just one of many directors who sing Romero's praises. In Land of the Dead , the 65-year-old Romero doesn't miss a beat as he picks up the action with the zombies beginning to outnumber the humans. A group of people is holed up in a city where the wealthy live in a large high rise apartment enjoying old style luxury while everyone else lives in slum-like conditions. Hmmm. Some things never change.

CLIP Gas station bell rings

But some things do as a pair of humans notice a zombie attempting to pump gas.

MAN: "They're trying to be us..."
RILEY: "No they used to be us, learning how to be us again."

Thats right, the zombies are starting to think and to communicate with each other. This zombie gas station attendant in particular is getting damn tired of seeing his fellow dead-heads getting strung up for target practice and generally abused by the humans. This zombie's mad as hell and he's not gonna take it anymore. So he attempts to rally the lumbering zombie masses to revolution. Meanwhile, the lowly humans are feeling a similar sense of unrest and rebellion. They're fed up with a man named Kaufman who's making a fortune running the exclusive high-rise oasis for the wealthy. In fact, have not's are about to make a little trouble for the have too much's.

AIDE: "Trouble?"
"In a world where the dead have come back to life, trouble has lost much of its meaning."

Kaufman is played by Dennis Hopper. Romero says that the self-styled government Kaufman sets up is modeled after the Bush administration. So Romero was pleased when Hopper suggested playing Kaufman like Donald Rumsfeld. But this post apocalyptic administration doesn't have to worry about WMDs or Saddam Hussein. Just a zombie invasion.

KAUFMAN: "Zombies, they creep me out."

Romero's satiric edge isnt as sharply tuned here as in his earlier films, but Land of the Dead still offers horror with a delightfully dark comic edge. The zombies may be working on limited brain cells but not Romero. He delivers a fun, cleverly conceived splatterfest with a social conscience. Plus he deserves credit for managing to have a film career outside of Hollywood. As Guillermo Del Toro says, horror fans should rejoice, their Michelangelo is painting another Sistine Chapel.

Companion viewing: Night of the Living Dead, Dawn of the Dead, Shaun of the Dead &