Monday, October 03, 2005

River Of Blood

With zombie films back in fashion (28DL; the Dawn Of The Dead remake and Shaun Of The Dead) George A Romero has finally been given the budget to return to his trademark genre and add the latest installment of his 'living dead' series. The USP to Land Of The Dead (2005) is revealed in the opening sequence, which sees the zombies pick up some instruments and, if not quite make sweet music out of them, at least learn the basic rudiments of creating a noise together (in scenes similar, we imagine, to early Libertines recording sessions). Yes, like the wild gorillas from this week's news, the living dead are learning to use tools and simulate cognitive behaviour, their evolution enabling them to lay claim to the 'electric city' of the privileged rich (ruled over by a pompous Dennis Hopper).

As per usual with zombie flicks, there's healthy doses of social comment amongst the gore, with greed; consumerism; pierced navels and unconvincing lesbianism all being rewarded with flesh-squelching savagery. The whole concept of the film takes a broad swipe at the huge divide between rich and poor in Bush-era America, and the scene where the zombies emerge from the river to reclaim their rights has been given added poignancy by recent events in New Orleans. On the other dismembered hand, however, Romero also takes some potshots at 'blame' culture in society, implicitly suggesting that the poor and disenfranchised need to stop feeling sorry for themselves, learn to use the tools of their oppressors and take their destiny in their own hands. 'Shit happens' shrugs Charlie (Robert Joy) after one of his party of mercenaries meets a messy end. 'Only if you let it' replies the stoic hero Riley (Simon Baker), a man who states that nothing bad has ever happened to him. When reminded of his sibling's bloody death, he deadpans 'that happened to my brother; not me.'

Land Of The Dead is not without its flaws - there's a surfeit of silly subplots and sloppily-drawn supporting characters and the movie threatens at one stage to stall in action-adventure autopilot. Yet just when things threaten to turn decidely blah Romero's always able to jolt things back to life with a stunning set-piece or a thoughtful line of dialogue. Overall, then, it's a fast, fun film that provides the range of brainfood all fans of the zombie genre rightly demand.


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