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Romero succeeds anew with gruesome flick



Published: Thu, June 23, 2005 @ 12:00 a.m.



When a movie about the undead goes deep, watch out.

By CHRIS HEWITT

KNIGHT RIDDER NEWSPAPERS

If a zombie went after Donald Trump, whose side would you be on?

It's a tricky question, the kind of question on which George Romero's thrilling, intelligent shocker, "Land of the Dead," hinges. Yes, it's gruesome, exciting and grimly funny, but "Land of the Dead" sticks with you because of its clever subtext: The movie's human survivors are mostly haves, walled up in a swank skyscraper, and the zombies are have-nots, tired of toiling to make the rich richer.

Even if you've been following the recent run of great zombie movies ("28 Days Later," the "Dawn of the Dead" remake, "Shaun of the Dead"), you may be surprised "Land" is so good.

The master

Director George Romero is a master of this genre (snippets of dialogue from his "Night of the Living Dead" and original "Dawn" show up in "Land's" opening credits). But he hasn't done zombies for two decades, and his last couple were so ponderous even the human actors seemed to be undead.

But all of Romero's experimentation comes to fruition in "Land," which proves he has not exhausted zombies. Instead, he knows so much about the subject that each of his ideas leads to other ideas (this time, for instance, we get a guy who has reasons of his own to choose to become a zombie, and we get zombies who are more threatening because they're capable of learning).

Throughout "Land," Romero delights in leading us one way, then yanking us back his way, and much of that has to do with the issue of whom we're rooting for. Certainly, it's not Dennis Hopper, a Trump-like financier who immediately establishes himself as the person we'd most like to see become zombie kibble (and that's even before he starts picking his nose and shouting racial slurs).

But does that mean we root for the zombies headed his way? Or the humans who do his bidding? Or the humans who oppose him and sympathize with the downtrodden undead?

There are obvious parallels here to nations in which there is a huge divide between the rich and the poor. I don't mean to make "Land of the Dead" sound like an episode of "Nightline" -- the movie seriously rocks. But it becomes more unsettling because it goes deeper.

Romero looks at the fortunate few who try to isolate themselves from misfortune and strips away the last thing they cling to: the illusion that they are safe.




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