Land of the Dead is the fourth film in George Romero’s “Dead” series and the fourth to feature a strong black lead or co-lead. This time, however, bro’man is batting for the other team. That’s right, he’s a so-called “stencher” — making the slur (the “S” word?) all the more troublesome — but the zombie known as Big Daddy (Eugene Clark) isn’t your daddy’s zombie; he’s one o’ them new-fangled, thinkin’ zombies.
Taking Bub, the friendly, learning zombie from Day of the Dead, a logical step further, Big Daddy is the ringleader of a new breed of corpses who, while they’re still slow physically (unlike the other new breed in 28 Days Later and the Dawn of the Dead remake), are starting to ease out of the held-back-in-kindergarten phase. See Big Daddy teach the horde how to shoot guns! Use tools! And swim! (Since he’s already dead, he doesn’t have to worry about black people’s natural tendency to drown.) Of course, you may wonder if they’re suddenly so smart, why don’t they learn to, like, duck? Asking “why” in a zombie movie, though, is about as pointless as hoping it’ll win an Oscar.
The other black character in the film is bad guy Kaufman’s (Dennis Hopper) butler Knipp (Gene Mack), sort of a throwback to the loyal “yessuh” servant-types of the ’30s and ’40s…although he proves not to be too loyal when the zombies come a-knockin’. Some people found Land of the Dead disappointing because they were so in love with the previous three films, but perhaps since I was never blown away by the second and third ones, I found the fourth to be satisfying and frankly, more entertaining that either Dawn of the Dead or Day of the Dead. While the “war on terrorism” subtext is unsubtle and the characters are bland, that’s more than made up for by the great visuals and inventive, well-done gore (particularly on the unrated DVD)…even though the digital blood — as with most digital FX in movies today — is overdone.