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Land Of The Dead
cast: Simon Baker, John Leguizamo, Dennis Hopper, Asia Argento, and Robert Joy

writer and director: George A. Romero
93 minutes (18) 2005
widescreen ratio 2.35:1
Universal Region 2 DVD retail

RATING: 8/10
reviewed by Tony Lee
This is the director's cut of Romero's fourth outing into zombie territory and, as you might expect from this genre veteran, it effortlessly puts all the other rip-offs, parodies and remakes to shame. There are sympathetic characters, moments of tremendous imagination, plenty of gory fun and a textual complexity here that almost none of the imitators or spoofs possess or can lay claim to. Lesser filmmakers always tend to focus their creative energies and the majority of their funding on special make-ups, prosthetics, animatronics, sick jokes and general mayhem, but Romero brings a rare intelligence to horror themes that is matched, in consistency, only by the intellectual capacity of David Cronenberg and the pure savvy of John Carpenter.

Proficient scavengers Riley (Australian actor, Simon Baker, from Red Planet) and heavily scarred sidekick Charlie (Robert Joy), from the downtrodden workforce, supply the privileged few - ruled by the ruthless Kaufman (Dennis Hopper) - with an elegantly comfortable, or some might suggest wholly delusional, secluded lifestyle in the gated, heavily guarded, Fiddler's Green condominium. With their formidable battle-truck Dead Reckoning, Riley and his overambitious 'lieutenant' Cholo (Colombian born John Leguizamo, from the remake of Assault On Precinct 13), are the scourge of zombie-towns being looted for tinned foodstuff and other essentials. But Cholo proves himself to be reckless and one of Riley's young recruits gets killed while needlessly raiding a shop for booze. This sets up one of the finale's armed confrontations, but it's only part of the story. Riley wants to quit his mercenary life and head for Canada, away from both human and zombie populated cities and, once teamed with gun-toting, unhappy hooker Slack (Asia Argento, known to Romero "since she was just a little girl," of course), he makes plans to leave with Charlie, and any others ready to get away from Kaufman's tyranny...

Twenty years on from his previous zombie shocker, Romero has updated a few elements (now the zombies have quickened their familiar somnambulistic lurch), but the fundamental movie-lore of this popular subgenre remains basically unchanged. Here, zombie behaviour has progressed from the feral attributes of undead specimen 'Bub' (in Day Of The Dead), and there's uncanny evidence of a faux evolution in play as Big Daddy (Eugene Clark) uses tools and learns to shoot, then leads his oppressed 'people' (this dying world's silent majority?) in pitched battle to bring down wicked Kaufman's private little empire. Brief cameo appearances by Simon Pegg and Edgar Wright (the writers of Shaun Of The Dead, that famously funny British rom-zom-com, clearly much admired by Romero), and former effects genius Tom Savini - still with machete in hand - help cement this new production's ties both to Romero's existing trilogy and the devoted fanbase.

Weird atmospheres, thrilling action, visions of widescreen apocalypse, and ghastly death scenes aside, Land Of The Dead is brimming with Romero's unique brand of terse social commentary and understated pulp poetry. The silhouette-shot against a wire fence, where a clutching hand reaches upward - as if in hope of escape or salvation, but is grabbed from both sides by the zombie horde, and torn brutally apart with a spray of blood, shredded flesh and broken bones, is certainly one of the most profoundly disturbing and memorable images of sheer horror I have seen for years.

An hour's worth of bonus material complements the usual disc extras - such as the engagingly wry commentary track by Romero with Peter Grunwald (producer) and Michael Doherty (editor) - and includes a making-of featurette, Undead Again; behind-the-scenes items, A Day With The Living Dead, Bringing The Dead To Life, Scream Tests: Zombie Casting Call, and Scenes Of Carnage; plus fanboy trivia in When Shaun Met George, some deleted footage, storyboards comparison, a look at 'green screen' work, and trailers. In all, this is a worthwhile package, and fans of the cinema version should enjoy most of the additional character-building sequences reinstated for this DVD.

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