Tuesday, July 12, 2005

Land of the Dead

George A. Romero is perhaps the most underappreciated filmmaker of his generation. Sure, he is beloved amongst the horror fan community, but academics have all but ignored his cinema, and his lesser known works (Bruiser, The Dark Half, Two Evil Eyes) have been pushed aside. Only his Dead films (Night, Dawn and Day) have garnered much critical attention. To read an interview I did with Mr. Romero that attempts to reverse that trend, please read this.

His latest entry into the Dead franchise, Land of the Dead, continues the tradition Romero has kept going of gritty gore, concise social commentary and biting humor. Land follows Day of the Dead in the chronology of Romero's zombie universe. In it, human's have confined themselves in protected cities. The zombies appear to be nearly the dominant species. Living humans are the minority, but in the world of Romero, social castes still govern and separate the haves from the have-nots.

Land of the Dead is probably the best-directed film in Romero's canon. It is a stunningly crafted genre work, a film of potent political import. By breaking a whittled down group of surviving humans into social classes, Romero seems to have lost all faith in mankind's ability to withstand its own innate cruelty. Land of the Dead posits the zombie population as the put-upons of the film. They seldom venture near the human cities, content to live out their (admittedly inane) existence in peace. It's only when the humans venture out into zombie territory for provisions that their evolution becomes apparent. One zombie, Big Daddy, becomes a kind of revolutionary, leading the zombie population to the walled-in city to seek vengeance upon the humans who have encroached upon his land and his people. It's a sweeping indictment of contemporary American colonialism and the inability of Americans to deal with their current political problems at the true source: their own xenophobia.

And, hey, it's also a hell of a lot of fun, with plenty of blood and guts for the everyday horror movie nut. But it sure is nice to have such a potent expression of politics from genre cinema's most accomplished and brilliant artisan.

Grade: A

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