It’s fair to say that zombies have had a pretty strong hold over the imagination of filmgoers and TV audiences over the last several years. Popular television shows such as The Walking Dead and films like 28 Days Later prove that some audiences will always be eager to watch characters try and survive in a post-apocalyptic wasteland occupied by roving bands of flesh-eating undead.
An Opportunity to Tell a Deeper Story
Fans of this genre owe a tremendous debt to director George Romero. Although he certainly didn’t invent the zombie movie, he established many of the popular tropes of the genre with groundbreaking films like Night of the Living Dead and Dawn of the Dead. Romero deserves credit for not simply creating some of the standard “rules” that apply to zombie movies. He also deserves credit because he has always used these types of films as an opportunity to tell a deeper story.
That’s why it’s a good idea to revisit Land of the Dead. Released in 2005, it continues the story that began way back with Night of the Living Dead. In this movie, the zombies that were once mindless drones have begun to develop a certain degree of intelligence. This development allows Romero to once again turn a zombie movie into something more: genuine social commentary.
A Statement about Society
Land of the Dead takes place in Detroit, years after the zombie apocalypse first began. The city now consists essentially of two sections: Fiddler’s Green, a safe luxury tower that the rich elite call home, and the slums that make up the rest of the city, where the less fortunate citizens must constantly fight to survive. Along with being more vulnerable to zombie attacks, they live in squalor, with barely enough food to stay alive.
This premise already makes it abundantly clear that Romero once again intends to make a statement with Land of the Dead. Critics often point out that Night of the Living Dead seems to speak to the revolutionary atmosphere that was prevalent throughout the United States during the era in which it was released. They also note that Dawn of the Dead, which takes place almost entirely in a shopping mall, satirizes consumer culture while disguising itself as a horror film.
In other words, Romero has long been known for his ability to take a popular horror genre and to use it as a vehicle for a message.
As Land of the Dead progresses, both human characters and now-intelligent zombies begin to reject their status as the lower class. They both develop plans to overtake Fiddler’s Green and overthrow the makeshift feudal government in which the wealthy few hold power over the many.
It’s important now to remember that Land of the Dead was released in 2005. While true stories about class relations and revolution had already existed for some time, it appears as though Romero’s film taps into a societal trend that many did not expect. Predating a 2011 movement against economic inequality by several years, Land of the Dead becomes a movie which essentially predicts the growing unrest among citizens who feel left behind by the wealthy elite. The fact that both zombie and human characters attempt to take down the elite simply confirms that Romero uses zombies to make statements about society.
An Exploration of Attitudes and Beliefs
The fact that Romero is able to explore a theme that would take on even greater significance in the years to come merely speaks to his genius. In general, horror films often address the underlying fears of society. They allow audiences to explore attitudes, beliefs, and feelings that generally aren’t approached in daily life.
Good horror films address societal fears that are prevalent at the time. The best horror films, however, often explore fears that aren’t yet obvious to some viewers. Years before the economic and class divide in the United States once again became a major topic explored by news outlets virtually every day, Land of the Dead reminded audiences that many citizens already felt anger about their circumstances. It’s likely not a coincidence that the film is set in Pittsburgh, a city where opportunities for economic growth have stagnated. Romero has long been very skilled when it comes to choosing the ideal setting for his films, and that trend certainly continues with Land of the Dead.
With that said, it’s important to note that Land of the Dead also succeeds simply because it’s a very entertaining zombie film. While it has plenty to say about society, it also has a lot to offer viewers looking for an exciting movie. While combining social commentary with genuine thrills may not be easy, Romero, as always, pulls it off in style.