After having to sit back and watch others remake his zombie classics -- minus any of the trademark sociopolitical subtext -- George A. Romero has returned to the land of the dead for the first time in two decades, and it's quite evident the godfather of the modern horror film still has much on his mind.
Receiving its world premiere at the CineVegas Film Festival, Land of the Dead
is the fourth movie in what was originally a trilogy, beginning with 1968's seminal Night of the Living Dead
, the movie that has inspired a couple of generations of filmmakers.
The latest installment could well be Romero's masterpiece. Taking full advantage of state-of-the-art makeup and visual effects, he has a more vivid canvas at his disposal, not to mention two decades worth of pent-up observations about American society.
Even those walking dead have learned a thing or two in the interim.
Romero's legion of fans as well as those who like an allegory with the emphasis on the gory will likely show their appreciation by stalking the theaters in droves, giving Universal a very lively opening weekend, while enthusiastic word-of-mouth could give those zombies some legs.
Having staggered their way through Dawn of the Dead
and Day of the Dead
, it's apparent those ever-growing masses of "walkers" have started to develop an appetite for more than just fresh flesh.
Following the grunting lead of Big Daddy
), an imposing gas station attendant, the living dead have begun to sort of re-enact their once-normal lives prior to their affliction.
Meanwhile, the remaining affluent and powerful among the living have fortified themselves in an ivory tower -- a luxury complex called Fiddler's Green, which effectively looks down upon the less fortunate of the city's inhabitants who struggle to survive in the dangerous streets.
It's all the domain of the powerful Kaufman (Dennis Hopper
), a slick CEO who keeps himself sequestered in the Green while hiring a group of mercenaries, led by Riley (Simon Baker) and his second-in-command, Cholo (John Leguizamo
), to run retrieval missions beyond the electrified fences for luxury items.
But even as they plow their way through the armies of "stenches" in a massive armored vehicle called Dead Reckoning, there's an unstoppable unrest brewing among the dead and the living alike that's about to reach a boiling point.
Although Romero ventured outside his native Pittsburgh to shoot this one in Toronto, it's very clear, from the flag-waving vigilantes to the anti-terrorist rhetoric spewed by Hopper's big-money operator, that most criticisms are being leveled due south of the border.
But those familiar with Romero's work know that doesn't mean they're in for a Michael Moore diatribe. The horror show is still the main attraction, and Land of the Dead
delivers the goods in harrowing, visceral heaps.
Bolstered by a talented cast that also includes Asia Argento
as a tough cookie ex-hooker who joins Baker's entourage, the film never skimps on atmosphere, which at times verges on the horrifically poetic.
Adding to the uncompromising effect is Miroslaw Baszak
's night-drenched cinematography, Michael Doherty's tight edit and a pulse-pounding score by Reinhold Heil
and Johnny Klimek.
Land of the Dead
Universal Pictures and Atmosphere Entertainment MM present a Mark Canton-Bernie Goldmann and Romero-Grunwald production in association with Wild Bunch
Director-screenwriter: George A. Romero
Producers: Mark Canton
, Bernie Goldmann
, Peter Grunwald
Executive producers: Steve Barnett, Dennis E. Jones, Ryan Kavanaugh
, Lynwood Spinks
Director of photography: Miroslaw Baszak
Production designer: Arv Greywal
Editor: Michael Doherty
Costume designer: Alex Kavanagh
Special makeup effects: Greg Nicotero and Howard Berger
Music: Reinhold Heil
and Johnny Klimek
Riley: Simon Baker
Cholo: John Leguizamo
Kaufman: Dennis Hopper
Slack: Asia Argento
Charlie: Robert Joy
Big Daddy: Eugene Clark
Pretty Boy: Joanne Boland
Foxy: Tony Nappo
Number 9: Jennifer Baxter
Butcher: Boyd Banks
MPAA rating R
Running time -- 100 minutes