Throughout “Spooktober,” Nicklaus Neitling reviews one horror property each weekday.
I know what you must be thinking: he reviewed that mediocre remake of a classic, but nothing yet by a true master of the craft? Well, here’s a review of a George A. Romero film — just not a good one.
One could complain that yesterday’s film, Snyder’s Dawn of the Dead, is all song and no dance. Well, Romero’s Land of the Dead is all dance and no song.
Spoilers for Land of the Dead.
The film focuses on Philadelphia’s golden triangle area, where the poor live in slums but the rich live in a high-rise called Fiddler’s Green. The world has fallen to the undead, and human survivors are relegated to walled–off cities. The city is run by ruthless businessman Paul Kaufman (Dennis Hopper), who employs people like Riley Dembo (Simon Baker) and Cholo DeMora (John Leguizamo) to remove the “garbage” and make supply runs in the surrounding zombie-ridden towns. This time around, the zombies become self-conscious and begin their descent on Fiddler’s Green. That’s pretty much it. Romero sought out to create a setting for smart zombie gore before he made a plot/characters we should care about.
The film boils down to a series of zombie money shots strung together. Countless times, people fall to zombies in the most horrendous fashions. In three scenes, the camera focuses on a body part on the ground and a passing zombie stops to pick it up for a snack. A silhouetted hand gets split by two zombies like a wishbone. Multiple people are torn to shreds by the zombie horde. Taken individually, these scenes are good zombie movie gore moments. But since they’re back-to-back, they lose their shock factor and become stale.
All the characters either have incoherent motivations or no apparent motivations at all. Kaufman is motivated by staying rich — because, apparently, money holds value in the zombie apocalypse. The zombies’ motivation makes no sense. The point of the film is that they become completely conscious of their existence. After a raid on their town, the leader zombie gathers a horde to get revenge. They overrun Fiddler’s Green but stop once the head zombie kills Kauffman — a character of whom they should have no knowledge but somehow realize to be the cause of all their problems. The characters mainly exist to support the setting and the film doesn’t really go anywhere meaningful with it.
Sure, Land of the Dead is hard as fuck when you’re 10 years old, but when you’re 22 it rings a bit hollow. That said, this is one of the movies I rewatch every Halloween, and I’m always surprised by scenes — not surprised in terror or disgust, only surprised that some scene existed and I’d simply forgotten about it.
Land of the Dead doesn’t make you feel like you wasted 97 minutes of your time, nor is it a passable afternoon cable watch. Unfortunately, the film commits the cardinal sin of horror movies: it’s just forgettable.