As the zombie plague rages across the planet, a small community of survivors has taken up residence in an office and entertainment complex called Fiddler's Green. Run by a ruthless industrialist (Dennis Hopper), the complex is meant to keep the rich happy and carefree, the poor somewhat safe and distracted, and the zombies far away. For mercenary Riley (Simon Baker, "The Ring Two"), and his band of misfits (Robert Joy, John Leguizamo, and the always welcome Asia Argento), the threat is getting worse. The zombies are growing smarter (led by Eugene Clark), and as they learn to use tools and logic to feast on human flesh, the safety of Fiddler's Green is severely compromised.
To the unwashed and the lonesome, George Romero is nothing short of a god. This noted horror director has had a long career of unique films, but nothing has stood the test of time quite like his "Dead" trilogy (1968's "Night of the Living Dead," 1978's "Dawn of the Dead," and 1985's "Day of the Dead"). After 20 long, hard years, Romero, unfortunately due to the success of the rancid 2004 "Dawn" remake, has been given a decent budget to add another adventure to his ever-expanding "Dead" series.
"Land of the Dead" (IMDb listing) returns the zombie genre back to its fun roots after some serious ("28 Days Later") and not so serious (the "Resident Evil" films) escapades that stole liberally from Romero's vision of horror. Romero's last installment, "Day of the Dead," was an ambitious piece of cinema undone by a complete lack of funds. "Land" corrects this misstep by handing Romero the money and freedom needed to widen his scope. If there are any real complaints about "Land," it would be that Romero doesn't take full advantage of the opportunity to indulge himself. "Land" doesn't quite kick down the doors of the genre the way it has a right to. It's a wonderful little slice of zombie fun, but "Land" feels held back, as if Romero himself doesn't quite believe he's actually getting a chance to make a fourth installment of this series. The story is an interesting one, but Romero rushes through it, and his cast looks ready to go hardcore on the undead, but the movie doesn't provide many singular moments for these actors to enjoy themselves. Granted, Romero peaked with this idea back in "Dawn of the Dead," so to simply see him steering this series back on track with "Land" is thrilling enough.
"Land" also returns to some of the genre staples that have been ignored over the last two years. For starters, no more sprinting zombies. The "Land" undead lurch like molasses, returning their intended creepy effect back to where it belongs. The film also brings along a bucket of gore, courtesy of the fine work from KNB EFX, who detail the zombie feast brilliantly through makeup and vividly rendered chomped limbs. Though somewhat softened for the mandatory R-rating, "Land" retains the same ick factor that was such a presence in the earlier pictures.
"Land of the Dead" may not take Romero's vision to new heights, but it remains a fun cocktail of horror, violence and social commentary (the slow education of the zombies is a great new plot development), and it's a joy to see the master of zombie cinema return to take back the crown.
Filmfodder Grade: B+