Land of the Dead
2005
Director: George A. Romero
Stars: Dennis Hopper, John Leguizamo, Asia Argento, Simon Baker
Reviewed by Brian M. Sammons

Dawn of the Dead came out in 1985 and it would be a long twenty years before Romero would return to the zombies that made him famous. As someone that always loved zombies, even back before it was cool, I was eagerly awaiting this new chapter in the saga of the cavorting corpses. And it was good. Not great, but a solid good. But now it’s out on Blu-ray just jammed packed with goodies? Is it worth a get? Well grab your gun, don’t forget to aim for the head, and let’s find out.

First let’s get the only negative I have with this movie out of the way. Any subtly that Romero used to have about the bigger messages in his zombies flicks is gone as this movie hits you upside the head with its tale of a class war in the midst of a zombie apocalypse. At times that can be a bit grating and I want to shout “okay, okay, I get it!” at the screen. That said, Land is a movie about the haves and the have nots, with the ultimate underdogs being the undead. In this world, the working-class living raid nearby towns for food and supplies with their heavily armed and armored RV, while the rich stay in a swanky high-rise, calling the shots and seemingly doing nothing else. Dennis Hopper is the lead rich man and he is wonderfully materialistic and slimy. Simon Baker is one of the grunts that get things done until he runs afoul of Hopper and the establishment. He has his burnt-faced buddy, his love interest (played by the always delightful Asia Argento), and a band of other merry blue-collar types. This crew steals the tank-like RV, called Dead Reckoning, and threaten to shell the fat cats in their ivory tower if they’re not given a bigger piece of the pie. Hopper, being a fat cat himself, does not feel like sharing, and so he sics his lapdog on the revolting poor folk. Said lapdog (played by John Leguizamo in one of the few roles I like him in) is from the wrong side of the financial tracks, too, but he thinks if he keeps kissing up to Hooper’s character and doing his dirty work he’ll one day earn his place among the elite.

And oh yeah, there’s zombies in here, too.

The zombie action you get here is fun and gory, with some new gags that really work. Most of the gore is practically done by the wizards at KNB EFX, years before they would do anything for The Walking Dead. Unfortunately there are some bad CGI effects in here that stand out like a decapitated head. The direction is up to Romero’s usual high standards, the acting is all solid, and there’s even a fun cameo from someone who was in an earlier Dead flick. There is a lot to like about this movie and if “The Message” doesn’t get in the way, zombie fans are sure to have a good time.

On to the extras and special stuff Scream Factory put into this new Blu-ray release. First and foremost there are two versions of the movie on two discs. There the R-rated theatrical cut and an unrated cut. Just like there are two versions of the film, there are two groups of special features. On the unrated cut there is an audio commentary with the now sadly late writer and director, George A. Romero. There is a second commentary track with zombie performers Matt Blazi, Glena Chao, Michael Felsher, and Rob Mayr. The typical making-of feature is on here that is 13 minutes long. There is a featurette about Simon Pegg and Edgar Wright of Shaun of the Dead fame and how they got to have a special cameo in this movie that runs 13 minutes. There is a featurette on zombie gore master Greg Nicotero (who is one of the producers of AMC’s The Walking Dead) that’s about 10 minutes long. If that wasn’t bloody enough there’s another two-minute featurette on the gore. Wait, there’s more. Scream Factory knows what you like. There’s yet another special on the zombie visual effects that is just over three minutes, and another one on the zombie casting call that is a bit of silliness that’s only a minute. There’s something about how they brought the storyboards to life that runs eight minutes long. Finally there is a seven-minute set tour with John Leguizamo.

Now on to the theatrical cut extras. There are a bunch of actor interviews, there’s a 15 minute one with John Leguizamo, another 15 minute one with Robert Joy, and a 17 and a half minute long one with Pedro Miguel Arce. Then there is a group interview with four actors who played four of the lead zombies. They are Jennifer Baxter who was the baseball zombie, Jasmin Geljo who was the tambourine man, Boyd Banks who was both the butcher in this and in the Dawn of the Dead remake, and Eugene Baxter who played the starring zombie, Big Daddy. This quartet interview is 19 minutes long. Then comes a 25-minute retrospective featurette with an optional commentary track by director Roy Frumkes and a collection of its own deleted footage. Never seen that before. Last but not least are the usual suspects of deleted scenes from Land of the Dead, the trailer, and a photo gallery. So yeah, that’s a huge amount of extra goodies Scream Factory has given us for this two-disc set.

Land of the Dead is the weakest of the four good …of the Dead movies, but it is still one of the good ones. In any event it is miles better than what would follow it. This edition looks great and has a ton of extras. It is the best version of this movie to own and I highly recommend it.

About Brian M. Sammons

Brian M. Sammons has penned stories that have appeared in the anthologies: Arkham Tales, Horrors Beyond, Monstrous, Dead but Dreaming 2, Horror for the Holidays, Deepest, Darkest Eden and others. He has edited the books; Cthulhu Unbound 3, Undead & Unbound, Eldritch Chrome, Edge of Sundown, Steampunk Cthulhu, Dark Rites of Cthulhu, Atomic Age Cthulhu, World War Cthulhu and Flesh Like Smoke. He is also the managing editor of Dark Regions Press’ Weird Fiction line. For more about this guy that neighbors describe as “such a nice, quiet man” you can check out his infrequently updated webpage here: http://brian_sammons.webs.com/ and follow him on Twitter @BrianMSammons.