Zombies. Love ’em or hate ’em, you can’t ignore ’em. That may well be the message of Land of the Dead.
Of course it’s allegorical. It’s not about real zombies, it’s about movie monsters that are really your friend, your teacher, the guy next door. More likely; the guy at the petrol station, the girl at the checkout. The great and the good, Romero’s undead thesis runs, are bolting themselves into ivory towers and throwing away their keys. While that’s very pretty for a while, everyone has to eat so you need a serving class… sadly, most of those are dead and the ones left alive would tear your tower down if given half the chance so they need to be kept busy. Happily, there’s a threat right outside the walls of the town that’ll keep them down, keep them more worried about them than you.
And right in the middle of all this sits the military, the police, the forces of law and order, here portrayed as a rag-tag militia more concerned with nabbing canned goods than keeping the peace. Still, they have the guns and they dispose of the dissidents and that seems to be all you need. Someone for the rich to send out to hostile environments and acquire for them what they desire. Trouble is, this might upset the natives… and what if the people you spent money on training turn on you? Oh, you see the allegory do you?
Trust me, you won’t fail to notice it. Especially when Dennis Hopper says things like “We don’t negotiate with terrorists” or when John Leguizamo promises to “go jihad on his ass”. Yup, it’s post-911 zombies, guys. With a little class war thrown in for good measure (it’s no accident that the leader of the zombies is clad in blue overalls for the entirety of the movie).
And, you know, it works. In that was the seemingly clunking satire works in, say, Dawn of the Dead, here Romero once again dances along the tightrope between schlock and awe as he throws his politics at the screen via liberal doses of quite literally visceral horror and mordant black humour. Oh, and the gore! You should see the gore! For a 15, it’s really full-on, with beheadings, disembowellings, cannibalism.. well, you know the deal. It’s gross.
I’m looking forward to a repeat viewing. I think the satire will click better a few times in, as with Day of the Dead – at first viewing a bit of a clunker, it improves immensely each time I watch it and piggle away at the flesh of the meaning. This time out, I need to acclimatise to the idea of smart zombies, ones who can use tools and feel pity, anger, hatred. When the undead horde discover a yard with still-moaning zombies strung up for target practice, it’s a suprising moment – for the first time, one empathises with a zombie. You feel their revulsion… revulsion directed at us.