By Mark Butcher
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Wandering Around Like Zombies

This article is over 16 years, 4 months old
Review of 'Land of the Dead', director George A. Romero
Issue 299

While watching Land of the Dead, I experienced a moment of singular, stark, unbridled horror. The film jumps from a grim, apocalyptic, zombie-infested world to the interior of a shopping centre where a woman displays her new purchases to a friend. For even though the dead walk the earth – capitalism continues unabated.

Land is the fourth in a sequence of Dead films from Romero which began in the 1960s with his seminal, genre-defining film Night of the Living Dead. From Night, audiences journeyed into Dawn, Day and now the Land of the Dead. In each film Romero drew on the socio-political climate of the time. In his hands zombies are people stripped down to their essential social conditions. Night focuses in on racism and the American nuclear family literally consuming itself. As Dawn breaks we witness the horrors of consumerism as a group of survivors set up home in a shopping mall, becoming as mindless and fixated as the zombies that are still drawn there. And as we enter Day, a last pocket of society survives in an ex-missile silo governed by the remains of the military. In each film the crisis grows worse, until by the time of Land there is no hope of, or attempt at, returning to a normal world of the living – only acceptance.

Romero not only invented the zombie genre but has also consistently pushed its boundaries. Unlike many zombie films he has added a layer of social commentary, using horror and the undead to push society to grotesque limits, ripping it open and exposing the crises at its heart.

Land of the Dead centres again on a small group of survivors, cordoned off behind the walls of a Canary Wharf like fortified development while the walking dead roam the wasteland beyond. At the centre of this pocket of humanity are the exclusive towers of Fiddler’s Green, ruled over by a handful of ruthless opportunists led by Kaufman. Here the ruling class dwell in opulence, their world horrifyingly unchanged, while on the streets below the city’s inhabitants eke out their lives.

But both within and outside the city walls the status quo is shifting. Unrest is on the rise among the city’s disenfranchised population, and outside, the army of the dead is changing, recalling past behaviour, learning to organise and communicate.

There are many parallels to be drawn between the film and the Bush administration’s policies and the climate of fear they’ve tried to create. Fiddler’s Green is as much a prison as a safe haven. Military guards patrol the perimeter electrified fences to keep the dead out and the living in. The rich sit secure in their own world, ignoring the growing problems outside. Kaufman uses entertainment of the lowest and bloodiest order (gambling and pit fights) to divert the people’s attention from their situation. And mercenaries are regularly dispatched to raid the wasteland for its resources, gathering supplies and jovially blowing zombies’ heads from their bodies.

The most interesting character is Denis Hopper’s Kaufman. His rhetoric comes straight from the mouth of any number of neocons (indeed Romero is rumoured to have said, ‘Play it like Donald Rumsfeld and you’ve got the job’) and his death is a grisly and pleasing spectacle.

For me though, the most horrifying element of the film is that it depicts the ability of capitalism to survive at all costs. Even in the face of a monumental crisis those at the top and bottom of the system continue to sustain it. Perhaps they are in a state of shock – desperate to cling to the old world in the face of such horror.

Release date: 23 September

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