In 1968, the late master of horror George A. Romero changed the genre with his classic “Night of the Living Dead,” ushering in a new horror renaissance that led to a more intense, and visceral collection of films throughout the following decades. Not satisfied to rest on his laurels, he too upped his game by giving us “Dawn of the Dead” (considered by many to be the best zombie film ever made) in 1978 and “Day of the Dead” in 1985, both of which took his concept and commentary even further. For several years after, fans thought that the series must be over, but 20 long years later, Romero returned to give us a fourth entry entitled “Land of the Dead.” There were some who were a little skeptical about it. After all, two decades is a long time to wait to return to a series. However, the fact remained that Romero had made another zombie film, and the vast majority of fans couldn’t wait to set their sights on it, regardless of what the result might be.
Taking place in and around the city of Fiddler’s Green, a refuge from the zombie-filled world, we follow Riley (Simon Baker) and his right-hand man Charlie (Robert Joy) as they help scavenge supplies for the residents. They are joined by another scavenger, Cholo (John Leguizamo), who has dreams of retiring and getting an apartment in the main building of the city, but just when he thinks he’s made enough by working for the city’s leader, Mr. Kaufman (Dennis Hopper), he finds out that he has no chance of ever getting in. In retaliation, he steals an armored vehicle known as Dead Reckoning, which is used as protection against the zombies outside the city, and threatens to blow up the building instead. Kaufman decides to send Riley, the designer of the vehicle, to track Cholo down and stop him before the midnight deadline. With time in short supply, Riley, Charlie, and a few others put their lives on the line to prevent an attack that could cause the deaths of several innocent people.
Having grown up on Romero’s classic trilogy, I remember being excited to see this new addition to the series in the theater back in 2005, and luckily I wasn’t disappointed by the result. It’s got plenty of zombie action/gore, compelling characters, and a suitably thrilling story to bring it all together. Sure, it might not have been as great as “Night,” “Dawn,” or “Day,” but I don’t think anyone really had any expectations of it being able to reach that level after a 20-year hiatus, especially since there didn’t really seem to be anything left to do in this zombie-plagued world.
Aside from delivering what fans were really hoping to see, we also get the pleasure of having Romero continue his intriguing commentary on society that he liked to squeeze into these films. This time, it’s all about how society develops a type of class structure even in the midst of a zombie apocalypse, with the rich and powerful living it up at the top, while the have-nots have to work with what they have in the slums. Even when Cholo believes he’s finally going to get his place at the top of the chain, he’s told that he’s simply not the kind of person who’s allowed into the upper class of their little society, leading him to revolt against the powers that be. Romero could have just made a series of mindless zombie films that were filled with blood and guts, but by adding in something a little deeper, a little more profound, his “Dead” films ended up being more memorable than most (at least as far as the first four go, with most preferring to forget that “Diary of the Dead” and “Survival of the Dead” even exist).
With a strong cast that includes Dennis Hopper, Simon Baker (“The Mentalist”), Asia Argento (daughter of horror legend Dario Argento), Robert Joy (“CSI: NY”), and John Leguizamo (not to mention quick and fun cameos from Simon Pegg, Edgar Wright, and Tom Savini), “Land of the Dead” is just what you’d want from a follow-up to some of the greatest horror films ever made. Again, this is where most prefer to believe that the series ended, with the other two films having a “watch at your own risk” sign attached to them, but at least Romero was able to make one more good zombie flick in his later years, and for that and so much more, horror fans will always be eternally grateful.
“Land of the Dead” returns to Blu-ray in a 2.35:1, 1080p High Definition transfer of excellent quality. The film has a very slight grainy look to it, but it’s really only noticeable if you’re looking for it. Otherwise, the picture is remarkably sharp and clear. The 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio is likewise top-notch, giving you all of the dialogue, score, and sound effects in outstanding quality. Overall, Shout! Factory has done a fantastic job in bringing Romero’s fourth “Dead” outing back to life, which will surely please the multitude of zombie fanatics.
Disc 1: Theatrical Version
Cholo’s Reckoning (16 Minutes), Charlie’s Story (15 Minutes), The Pillsbury Factor (17 Minutes), and Four of the Apocalypse (19 Minutes): An excellent series of interviews with John Leguizamo, Robert Joy, Pedro Miguel Arce, and some of the zombie actors in which they discuss their experiences getting their roles and working on the film.
Dream of the Dead (25 Minutes): A vintage featurette that takes a look at the making of the film, featuring interviews with the cast and crew.
Deleted Footage from Dream of the Dead (18 Minutes): A good portion of footage that didn’t make it into the “making of” documentary.
Deleted Scenes (3 Minutes): A handful of deleted scenes that were easily cut from the film.
Disc 2: Unrated Version
Audio Commentary with Zombie Performers: An interesting commentary track in which actors who played zombies in the film reminisce about their relationships with Romero and their work on the movie.
Audio Commentary with Writer/Director George A. Romero, Producer Peter Grunwald, and Editor Michael Doherty: A rather odd track in which Romero and a couple of the crew discuss the film, jumping in intermittently. There seemed to be a lot of dead air, but it’s still fascinating to hear Romero talk about the film.
When Shaun Met George (13 Minutes): A featurette that documents Edgar Wright and Simon Pegg coming to the set and filming their cameo.
Bringing the Dead to Life (10 Minutes): A featurette that explores the special effects with makeup artist Greg Nicotero.
Scenes of Carnage (2 Minutes): A pointless inclusion that merely shows some of the film’s gory scenes.
Zombie Effects: From Green Screen to Finished Scene (3 Minutes): A quick look at some of the film’s digital effects.
Scream Tests: Zombie Casting Call (1 Minute): Another pointless inclusion that is merely animation of zombies dancing.
Bringing the Storyboards to Life (8 Minutes): Just as the title implies, this is a featurette that compares storyboards to the final filmed scenes.
Undead Again: The Making of Land of the Dead (13 Minutes): A neat featurette that goes behind the scenes of the making of the film, featuring lots of interviews with the cast and crew.
A Day with the Living Dead (8 Minutes): A featurette that follows John Leguizamo around as he gives a tour of the set.
George A. Romero’s “Land of the Dead” is a decent follow up to his classic “Dead” trilogy, delivering compelling characters, a thrilling narrative, and plenty of zombie action/gore. It may not reach the heights of the original films, but it still features everything you’d want in a Romero zombie flick, including his intriguing commentary on society. As usual, Shout! Factory has gone above and beyond to deliver a definitive Collector’s Edition, featuring two cuts of the film in great quality and a boatload of special features, so if you’re looking to polish off your collection, this is definitely the one to get.
Available on Collector's Edition Blu-ray starting tomorrow.