Friday, January 06, 2006

Zombies, man. They creep me out

Can Land of the Dead accurately be described as a horror movie? I found it utterly lacking in scares. This from someone who can't even watch "Shaun of the Dead" without having nightmares. I am extremely susceptible to zombie fright and this movie offered absolutely none. That said, it was a lot of fun. The conceit of intelligent, sympathetic zombies actually works, as stupid as it sounds. I loved Big Daddy's increasingly outraged howls (or "ululations," as the closed-captioning would have it) as the living use his fellow zombies for target practice. The setting also seems idiotic on paper - how do the people in Fiddler's Green make money? Do they not find their name at all sinister? Why doesn't the Irish guy just lead a revolt instead of talking about it? But I loved the medieval street scenes with puppet shows, sickly beggars and general filth. Dennis Hopper and John Leguizamo are both having a great time, which helps you swallow the heavy social commentary. Still, it really wasn't scary, although it was plenty violent. Maybe a social drama with gore? Can that be a Netflix category?

Ah yes, the gore. In George A. Romero's lively mind, human bodies pop apart as easily as jigsaw puzzles; a zombie has only to tug on a head or an arm and it comes right off, spewing dark blood in every direction. There are some lovely decapitations, a painful-looking lengthwise bisection of an arm, and the removal of a tongue. It all happens so swiftly and cartoonishly, though, it's not even all that unsettling. (Perhaps in a theater it would be different.)

The most peculiar sequence to me came as the zombies are overrunning the wealthy Fiddler's Green, and the elite are shrieking and running in terror. Zombie after zombie is filmed snatching a woman and tumbling over on top of her, and one (notoriously) rips out a belly-button ring with his teeth as his victim screams. (Closed captioning: "[women screaming].") Romero's no misogynist - the female protagonists in this movie kick ass right along with the men, and his own daughter has a cameo as a zombie-blasting soldier. So what gives with the rape imagery? The best I can come up with is that he means the zombie invasion as a metaphor for any revolt of the disenfranchised, whether peasants, African-Americans or modern Hispanic immigrants; and part of the myth of oppression is often "if we let them loose, they'll run wild through our streets and make free with our women." Romero's already shown us the vicious misogyny underlying Fiddler's Green with the gladiator sequence that introduces Asia Argento. His identifying the zombies with minorities is still a little unsettling, but in Romero's world, there are definitely worse things than being a zombie.

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