George A. Romero's latest foray into the horror genre isn't a zombie classic like his original Night of the Living Dead, but Land of the Dead proves he still has a keen visceral bite when it comes to observing the walking dead.
It's been nearly two decades then arguably the more violent Day of the Living Dead, the last of the intended "Dead" trilogy. But, Romero's deliberate, sometimes blazing gorefest has plenty of style and atmosphere to burn.
A monochromatic opening with the Universal logo recalls Hollywood's Golden Age, and the early section of the first reel headed "Some time ago" insinuates that these unsavory wanderers aren't just desiring fresh living flesh.
Moving up to a modern time, but with much affection to the past, fireworks have the living dead looking upward. Big Daddy (Eugene Clark) is a towering gas-station attendant who starts to fuel an army of "stenches". Kudos have to go to the Special Makeup Effects team of Greg Nicotero and Howard Berger as this menacing African-American has the "Thriller" look that feeds off of an ordinary existence.
Romero the screenwriter pits these desperate gloomy inhabitants against the wealthy elite of the living who inhabit the luxurious Fiddler's Green, an ivory tower which doesn't look that different from Bruce Wayne's in Batman Begins.
Dennis Hopper's smarmy corporate mogul, Kaufman, is pulling all the strings from his cloistered position. His mercenaries, who have to get quality products past high-voltage fences, are led by Riley (Simon Baker of The Ring Two). Riley's lieutenant is Cholo, a rather lively, if duplicitious role for actor/stand-up artist John Leguizamo (Assault on Precinct 13).
Picture the new "Batmobile" like a winnebago and you might come up with the Dead Reckoning, an armor vehicle used to get rid of the stenches. Romero, a Pittsburgh native, gives Land of the Dead a harrowing, nocturnal glow as he comes up with some amusing lines for Hopper and Leguizamo who'll have one final encounter thanks to Big Daddy.
There has to be some commentary when it comes to greed, religion, and terrorism absent in other recent movies like the hip, MTV-inspired remake of Dawn of the Dead. When Romero's new film appears to land in an extended dead spot, the tension between the living and dead starts to simmer. And, with decent support by Asia Argento (XXX) as a no-nonsense former hooker and Robert Joy as a scarred mentally-impaired man behind Riley, the thought-provoking blood-drenched images, like a dangling head, snap horrifically into place.