Land of the Dead
Directed by George A. Romero. Starring Simon Baker, John Leguizamo, and Dennis Hopper. Rated 18A. Now playing at SilverCity Metropolis, SilverCity Riverport, Granville 7, and others
Considering that he practically invented zombies as we know them today, George A. Romero has earned the right to kick it old-school. So although the world has changed since the veteran horror director rolled out his 1968 groundbreaker Night of the Living Dead, you'd never know that from Land of the Dead. Yes, despite what you've seen in 2002's 28 Days Later and last year's remake of Romero's own 1978 classic, Dawn of the Dead, not all new-millennium corpses dash and dine at warp speed. The man who set the ground rules for the genre still has his zombies shuffling around like lobotomy patients on a morphine drip. Land of the Dead is better for it, though, mostly because we get to watch the dearly departed savour their food.
The underlying message of Romero's gloriously gory return is that when there's no more room in hell, Toronto suddenly looks like an attractive place to live. Hogtown here masquerades as an under-siege city keeping the walking dead-known as "stenches"-at bay with high-voltage fencing and machine-gun-toting sentries. The elite live in Fiddler's Green, an upscale high-rise controlled by the Donald Trump-like Kaufman (professional lunatic Dennis Hopper, happily chewing the scenery with lines like "Zombies, man. They creep me out."). The working class are dumped in 1984-issue slums, where Everymen like Riley and Cholo (a solid Simon Baker and an awesomely oily John Leguizamo) are forced to ride into nearby towns to retrieve essentials like food, gas, and Jack Daniel's.
Look beyond the flesh-eating, exploding brains, and gouting blood of past Dead installments and you'll find a connecting thread of social commentary. Having dealt with the power of the shopping mall in Dawn and military corruption in 1985's disappointingly dialogue-heavy Day of the Dead, Romero suggests here the world would be a better place if we'd only eat the rich.
He's probably right. After all, unlike the living, Land of the Dead's shambling stenches aren't out to screw each other over. Mobilized by a decaying gas-station attendant named Big Daddy (Eugene Clark), they've even learned how to work together, which is more than one can say for those locked in the Fiddler's Green class war.
What makes Land of the Dead a bloody brilliant bit of B moviemaking isn't, however, the socio-political sermonizing. Instead, it's the outrageous amount of gore, which pushes almost every scene over the top even by Romero's stomach-churning standards. The roving, rotting hordes of cannibal corpses look great here, especially when compared to their off-green forefathers from past flicks. Whether they're redefining the term finger food, uncoiling intestines, or fishing for organ meat through stretched esophaguses, they are a big reason why splatter fans are going to swarm to Land of the Dead. In what will be remembered as the best entry of an already lauded series, an old master has just shown a new generation how it's done.