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IN SHORT: "Mashed head for me. Eyeballs on the side. And a couple of dozen rounds of same for my friends..." [Rated R for Pervasive Strong Violence and Gore, Language, Brief Sexuality and Some Drug Use. 93 minutes.]
In the decade we've been Cranky, there have been two zombie movies that utilize the "of the Dead" words that mark George A. Romero's films. Shaun of the Dead, a comedy slash loving tribute to the Master, and Dawn of the Dead about which we've said enough. Perhaps it is because Romero's name is linked to the latter in its credits that he returns to the franchise to set things right. By that we mean we had to look away from the screen -- once, but that's more than we've ever had to do -- when things got particularly grisly. Things tend to do that a lot in Romero's movie. That being written we freely admit, as we have any times in the past, that we would be more than happy not to plant for movies like this. But then, Romero doesn't engage in your standard slice 'n' dice fare. That, and we didn't get into the War of the Worlds junket, whose screening occurred at the same day and time. <vbg> We got home and watched a repeat of the ECW vs. WWE Pay Per View. Had to get in the mood to write, y'know, since the guy who has done the deed the last number of years has gone on to direct gorefests of his own.
OK, the ECW pulled out the cheese graters. That's enough for us.
We're entitled to wimp out. We've had Halo braces screwed into our head, twice. We know the real meaning of horror is a dull voice saying "Quarter turn. Quarter turn." Trust us. We like our horror movies fake and we don't mind special effects makeup fantasies on the big screen, from time to time. This was the time. This was the movie, for this year. Then we went out for dinner.
So, begging forgiveness of diehard gorefreaks we shuffle on. The more substantial story of Land of the dead pits the haves against the have nots and, ultimately, the risen undead against everybody. The rich live on an island, in a high rise named Fiddler's Green, as in where the rich fiddle while everyone else wishes they had, uh, burned. The Green is the one high rise in the City that still has electricity, which will be a bad thing, eventually. There are some average joes in The City who deal in sex and drugs and gambling and all sorts of whatever will get 'em by but the line is fairly well drawn.The rich white dudes and dudettes get the good stuff -- Fine food, good clothes, attentive servants. The less rich get the protection of the water and half a mile of fences surrounding it. All are beholden to a man called Kaufman (Dennis Hopper), who gets a piece of everything sold, bartered gambled and pimped. He is, in every sense of the phrase, the Ruler of all he surveys.
Those across the river, outside the fences and raised drawbridges are zombie fodder. Their only defense . . . well, they have no defense. One zombie bite and its all over. The defender of the rich, roaming the zombified streets, is a $2 millions dollar armored killing machine baptized"Dead Reckoning," paid for by Kaufman and commanded by Riley Denbow (Simon Baker). Riley saved up enough to buy a car and make a run for Canada. He intends this night to be his last, which will put the DR in the hands of his Second in Command, Cholo (John Leguizamo). Cholo, on the other hand, has been running a bootlegging racket on the side. With his profits, he intends to buy the good life in Fiddler's Green.
To Kaufman, of course, Cholo is just another dumb [racial epithet] and not fit to anything but serve. When Cholo holds the Dead Reckoning hostage, Kaufman hires the one man who can get it back -- Riley, who is languishing in jail. We're not going to connect points A to C for you. Needless to say that in between is the introduction of fine zombie bait (Asia Argento) who takes up arms at the side of Riley and his best pal Charlie (Robert Joy)
For those who think they've heard all this before, there is a small catch. This year's zombies have begun to evolve a rudimentary intelligence. They figure out tools. They recognize and remember the hunters and then follow and in turn, led by a huge dude nicknamed "Big Daddy"(Eugene Clark), hunt them all down. What makes it (almost) bearable to your dear old fart of a critic is that George A. Romero, as opposed to the now out-of-canon Day of knockoff, remembers that a little bit of humor goes a long way towards keeping the horror "real". Without humor, all eyes would be focused on the mechanics of the gore and any minor error would blast through. A little bit of humor coats the pill, so to speak, and makes this film an easier sit.
But if you're expecting a happy hearts and flowers ending, you are not living in the same universe as Mr. Romero. That isn't to say that everyone gets zombie-fied. No. That would shut the door for any more sequels. This film relies on surprise and disgust and there's enough of that to keep Cranky away. As for the kidlets in our audience, some of 'em wouldn't shut their pie holes throughout the screening -- certain folk don't make a distinction between television and movies -- and those that looked like horror geeks to us (and we've been there done that ages ago) didn't necessarily cheer in any different spots than we shuddered.
On average, a first run movie ticket will run you Ten Bucks. Were Cranky able to set his own price to George A. Romero's Land of the Dead, he would have paid . . .
Well, he wouldn't have but, all things being equal, this is a far superior goreflick than that cheep cheep Dawn imposter.
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