The BIG draw for this year's FrightFest is unsurprisingly George Romero's Land of The Dead. It's the kind of event film that horror fans have been waiting a long time for and unfortunately UK fans have had to wait even longer as the movie opened in the States back in June. Well worth the delay though...
Romero has always been played a bad hand by the people holding the purse strings on his movies - his last zombie outing, 1985's Day of the Dead, had its budget cut dramatically (you can read the original version of the script here), but if anything Romero works better under such constraints and although flawed Day remains the nastiest of his movies. Last year's DVD by Anchor Bay (our favourite DVD label along with Criterion) finally polished it up to the point where fans have begun to reappraise it as the minor classic it is. Those that disagree can choke on 'em.
Dawn of the Dead of course was remarkably remade by Zack Snyder and there's talk of a direct sequel to that movie also going into production, although it won't have much to do with Romero's established mythology. It was the success of Snyder's Dawn that helped green light Land of The Dead although the money given to Romero was still a fraction of that given to Snyder.
Londonist was very interested to see how Romero would follow the Dawn remake and we're happy to report that he hasn't really tried. While Snyder's movie has one of the best opening sequences ever filmed and a nice downbeat ending it suffers from a saggy middle section and the athletic zombies aside (poached not from 28 Days Later, but Return of the Living Dead) it's content to build on the foundations laid by Romero.
Romero's favourite new zombie movie was not the remake but our own homegrown Shaun of the Dead so it's no real surprise that with Land he just ploughed straight ahead with his own version and expanded on the ideas briefly envisioned in Day rather than trying to appease any fanboy expectations. We think he's done a damn good job (although the movie has had mixed reviews) and after the jump we'll let you know why. There are minor spoilers (we'll let slip whether these zombies run for example) but nothing that you won't have sussed from the trailer. The film plays FrightFest on Friday the 26th along with the original trilogy and George Romero in person to introduce it. This Saturday there's the very first chance to see it in a special double bill with Shaun of the Dead at Somerset House. It opens nationwide on September 9th. Those who don't want their dead hymens popped quit reading now. The rest of you carry on this way, but if you get chomped we will have to shoot you in the face.
There's nothing not to like here. Remember Bub from Day of the Dead and the way he could relearn to use cool things like walkman headphones and military issue revolvers? Turns out he was the first clue as to what happens to the dead once they've been up and walking around enough. Romero nicely reveals this in the opening scene which brings back memories of Richard Matheson's I am Legend as the dead try and remember what it was like to be alive only for the likes of us to ruin everything for them. This is a big step forward for the genre as up until now zombie movies have been content to ape what has gone before rather than really adding anything new to the mix, except for maybe some slow motion and a bad nu-metal soundtrack.
The effects are great and the stenches, as they are now known, look the part... some of these guys and gals have been up and walking around for a long time. Civilisation has well and truly crumbled, but one city remains. It's divided from the dead by fences and a system of rivers and on the whole the zombies are content to leave those inside alone to get on with their lives. Inside the walls the population is divided between the 'haves' and 'have nots' as the rich (and yes money still has value) lord it up in consumer heaven and the poor try and survive on the streets or by making 'shopping' runs into the wild. Dennis Hopper in fine form lords it over everyone.
And this is where the larger budget comes in - there are actually a few recognisable actors in the mix this time out. Hopper is fun, but John Leguizamo's Cholo steals the movie as the disenfranchised henchman with a grudge. It's his actions that lead to a little overstated social commentary about terrorism and the problems with becoming an insular society. Simplified politics aside this is a fun movie. Like Nightwatch it's not really a horror move - this is more akin to apocalyptic sci-fi of the seventies - although it does have some good 'jump out of your seat' moments.
The extra budget also shows in the feel of the movie - it's not as down and dirty as Day of the Dead and it takes a while to adjust to the knowledge that it's a Romero flick. Asia Argento (who we have a lot of time for) provides the glam amongst the rot, but it's the double act of Simon Baker and Robert Joy as hero and sidekick that provide the film's moral centre - along with Eugene Clark as the dead's leader who has a slow time motivating his kindred to fight back. There's even a sense of pity from him as he puts his own kind out of their misery once they can no longer function.
If Dawn of the Dead 2004 was the first film like this you were exposed to then we can see why you may find this perhaps disappointing, but if you've been following Romero's career for years and like us were incensed when he was thrown off the Resident Evil movie then there's very little that will annoy you. There's a bar scene that's maybe a tad too like the kind of thing we've seen in Mad Max movies and the souped up armoured truck named Dead Reckoning is a little too cheesy - giving parts of the movie too much of a comic book feel than is healthy. There's lot of chomping though. And a great headless zombie gag that we won't spoil.
Simon Pegg and Edgar Wright do have cameos but you'll be hard-pressed to recognise them under the makeup while the biggest cheer will erupt for the brief reappearance of Tom Savini. Oh, and the zombies walk at a refreshingly slow pace. Even under water and when carrying M-16s...