Franchises of All Time
George Romero's 'Living Dead' Films
Land of the Dead (2005)
"Living Dead" Films
Night of the Living Dead (1968) | Dawn of the Dead (1978) | Day of the Dead (1985)
Land of the Dead (2005) | Diary of the Dead (2007) | Survival of the Dead (2009)
Land of the Dead (2005)
Film Plot Summary
The film opened with the subtitle: "SOME TIME AGO" - under the credits, radio reports (voice-over) were heard describing the apocalyptic collapse of human society and its consequences (society overrun by zombies), accompanied by jerky, black and white images: "Unburied human corpses are returning to life and feeding on the living," "Stay inside," "Do not try to leave your homes." "They seem to survive by eating human flesh." "Everyone who dies will become one of them." "If you are bitten, you will just become one of them that much sooner." "They're not your neighbors and friends, not anymore...They must be destroyed as quickly as possible. There's no time for funeral arrangements." "This is not only a local or a regional phenomenon. Cities are under siege...If these creatures ever develop the power to think, to reason, even in the most primitive way." "People are said to be establishing outposts in big cities and raiding small rural towns for supplies, like outlaws."
"TODAY," flesh-eating, recently-dead zombies (or undead "walkers") were "pretending to be alive," going through the motions of being human and reliving aspects of their former lives (a zombie band played in a town's gazebo, a young dating zombie couple romantically held hands together, etc.), and it was feared they were becoming intelligent, were working together, and were communicating with each other with primitive grunts and moans ("They're thinking and there's something going on" worried Riley). Respected combat unit leader Riley Denbo (Simon Baker) was in one patrol of scavenger-mercenaries raiding food and other supplies in a rural town. Vengeful, hot-tempered, second in command Cholo DeMore (John Leguizamo) was with another team in a truck dumping a large wooden container (that was dripping blood) into a garbage landfill. Fireworks ("sky flowers") were exploded to keep the zombies looking up and staring at them ("Stenches can't keep their eyes off them"), while the humans patroled through their streets. The various groups were protected from supply-gathering by a large, roving, heavily-armored tank vehicle marked Dead Reckoning, that had ventured into the zombie world to bring back supplies. On his last night out before retiring, Riley expressed concern to Cholo: "Things are changing" and he didn't want any "f--k-ups" - as a group of motorcyclists and jeeps from the group raided a Uniontown grocery store of canned goods and a drugstore.
When main operator Pretty Boy (Joanne Boland) inside Dead Reckoning reported that the fireworks mechanism was jammed, the flesh-eating ghouls posed a greater threat when not distracted, and Riley ordered everyone out of town. The massive Dead Reckoning vehicle, equipped with external machine guns, rockets and side video cameras, began firing at the zombies to massacre them, to protect the patrols. But Cholo and Foxy (Tony Nappo) ignored warnings to get out, as they searched for alcohol in a liquor store. Cholo was suddenly assaulted by a security guard zombie and although he survived, the third rookie member of their search party was bitten in the hand, and he decided to commit suicide and blow his brains out to avoid becoming one of those things. A smarter-than-average leader of the zombies seemed to emerge, former gas station attendant/owner "Big Daddy" (Eugene Clark), who had grabbed one of the motorcyclist's machine guns and slung it over his shoulder. He also ignored the fireworks and appeared to try to teach the other zombies to take cover.
The next morning's scene was set in the team's base headquarters in the fortified city. A skyscraper complex for the wealthy, called Fiddler's Green, was seen and described in a TV advertisement as "in the heart of one of America's oldest and greatest cities, bordered on three sides by mighty rivers. Fiddler's Green offers luxury living in the grand old style. Dine at one of six fine restaurants. Look for that perfect gift in our fully-stocked shopping mall...There is a difference between our place and other places." Riley confronted Cholo for not following his orders: for recklessly searching for non-essential alcohol that he would later potentially sell on the streets to make money - and contributing to the death of one of the men.
The empty streets of embattled Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania were composed of abandoned buildings, checkpoints with guards, and lower-class, poverty-stricken residents. But inside at Fiddler's Green was a walled-off, luxurious urban skyscraper, with open-air shopping malls and restaurants. To provide a sanctuary against the assault of undead, rivers bordered the area on three sides, and on the fourth side was an area called The Throat - a bridge that was "the only overland access," with armed guard stations and electrical fences or barricades for defensive protection. Zombies had 'learned' that they couldn't enter through the Throat and were rarely seen there, although one stray zombie was seen. Paul Kaufman (Dennis Hopper), a rich and powerful feudal overlord leader and opportunistic supercapitalist who lived in the inner-sanctum of Fiddler's Green (and owned and managed the facility), was viewed contemptuously by the exploited and sickened masses, including angered, homeless Irishman Mulligan (Bruce McFee) who once worked for Riley, and was attempting to encourage rebels to join his cause against the ruthless despot Kaufman: "He didn't build that place. He just took it over. Kept the best for himself and left us with a slum to live in." Riley gave him a new supply of antibiotics for his sick son.
As Cholo delivered the seized alcoholic supplies to the inner-sanctum of Fiddler's Green, to Paul Kaufman's #1 penthouse apartment, he found a suicidal neighbor next door in #2 apartment who had just hung himself. Rightfully fearing that the deceased man would soon turn into a reanimated zombie, Cholo battered the zombie's skull as a security guard arrived.
The masses of people were entertained by various diversions: bars that offered photographs with chained zombies, a zombie shooting gallery, prostitutes and strippers, and gambling. Hoping to leave the city soon to escape north to Canada where there were no people, Denbo went looking for "little fat man" midget Chihuahua (Phil Fondacaro) when he discovered his newly-purchased car was missing. He found Chihuahua in a barroom where a new zombie game was being promoted - a fighting match in a fenced-in ring (surrounded by a cheering crowd of gamblers) in which a hooker named Slack (Asia Argento) was the main bait for two partially-chained ravenous zombies (painted red and black). When Denbo saw the contest, he killed the two zombies to save the hooker (although she was wounded in the arm by gunfire when she shielded him), and Denbo's quiet, slightly-retarded but trusted sharpshooting companion Charlie Houk (Robert Joy) (with a disfigured face from a fire) killed Chihuahua with one shot to the head.
The three were arrested and jailed, where Slack told them that "Mr. K." had ordered her killed in the game, because of his powerful rule over the city: "If you can drink it, shoot it up, f--k it, gamble on it, it belongs to him." She explained how she was one of Mulligan's agents: "They found out I was helping out Mulligan and his people, tired of eating bones while he's having a steak." They talked about how "everything changed for all of us" after the zombie phenomenon, and then watched as a bruised Mulligan was dragged into another cell. Meanwhile, "Big Daddy" led a group of zombies (including Butcher (Boyd Banks) who broke down the wooden doorway with his meat cleaver) to the zombie target practice area to rescue them.
In Kaufman's plush penthouse apartment, Cholo spoke to his cigar-smoking boss after personally delivering presents and souvenirs (a box of liquor) from Uniontown. He revealed he was being paid $20,000 each night, and had saved up enough to retire and buy a Fiddler's Green apartment. Kaufman informed him that it wouldn't be possible, because space was limited in the very desirable location: "There's a very long waiting list." Feeling discriminated against, Spanish-speaking Cholo was extremely disappointed after working for Kaufman for three years - secretly "taking out your garbage, cleaning up after you" (dumping corpses of Kaufman's murdered enemies). When Cholo objected, double-crossing Kaufman quietly ordered his execution: "I won't be needing this man anymore," but Cholo disarmed Kaufman's security officer, and then assembled his own gang of men to hijack the Dead Reckoning. Their plan was easily executed when guards were distracted by walking dead zombies "stenches" led by "Big Daddy" that emerged from hiding in the target practice area. As the zombies tore down a chain-link fence and overran the outer-perimeter of the city on their way to the river and the Fiddler's Green skyscraper, Cholo commandeered the Dead Reckoning, with Pretty Boy, Foxy, Mouse (Maxwell McCabe-Lokos), and Anchor (Tony Munch), ordering them to drive off without helping to turn the tide of the zombie attack.
Cholo radioed to Kaufman, demanding a payment of $5 million within two and a half hours (at midnight), or else he would seek revenge with Dead Reckoning: "I'm gonna blow you out of your f--king castle." Kaufman told his business advisor: "We don't negotiate with terrorists," and chose another option - to hire Denbo (whom he released from jail) to repossess the stolen $2 million dollar vehicle that he had designed, and capture or kill Cholo. In exchange, Denbo demanded a vehicle, and enough weapons and ammunition to go North, accompanied by his friends Slack and Charlie. Kaufman assigned additional support for Denbo from his own officers: tough Latino Manolete (Sasha Roiz), female soldier Monica/"Motown" (Krista Bridges) and large Samoan Pillsbury (Pedro Miguel Arce). After their search for ammunition and hot-wiring the Woody jeep, Manolete was bitten in the shoulder by a slightly decapitated zombie, and before he would turn into a ghoul within the hour, Slack shot him dead.
Meanwhile back in his penthouse, Kaufman described how his evacuation plan for his advisors (and families) would succeed, with outposts of food and supplies available along the escape route to one of many alternative sites. He boasted: "It was my ingenuity that took an old world and made it into something new. I put up the fences to make it safe. I hired the soldiers and paid for their training. I kept the people off the streets by giving them games and vices which cost me money. But I spend it because the responsibility is mine...We have to do what we have to do." During preparations to leave, he emptied his bank vault of cash into two bags.
Riley was tracking the Dead Reckoning's position with a homing device, but he abruptly stopped their vehicle during their mission and explained how they would capture and stop Cholo, but he would not allow Kaufman's two officers with them to do their job: "to bring the truck back with or without me." He further vowed: "Kaufman is never going to see Dead Reckoning again. And when I get it, I'm gonna do what I want with it." And as midnight approached, there was no sign that Kaufman would pay the ransom money to Cholo, and Mouse (waiting at the port's dock boathouse by the river to receive the money) had been killed by a zombie attack. Cholo prepared to blast Fiddler's Green with missiles from a site overlooking the city called Mount Washington, by loading two six-pack missiles inside Dead Reckoning.
At the river's edge, the smartly-evolved and more advanced "Big Daddy" demonstrated to a well-organized horde of hundreds of other fellow zombies that they could cross the river without drowning, by walking on the riverbed bottom under the water. They entered the streets of the city itself to overtake it, and attacked surprised residents. Some of the undead had learned how to shoot guns as they invaded and overtook the fortified city; others used sharp machetes, such as Blades (Tom Savini), and still others gathered together tools (a pneumatic jackhammer, a shovel, an axe, etc.) to use as weapons.
At Mount Washington, Charlie joined Riley to meet the arriving tank Dead Reckoning and to confer with Cholo. Slack and Pillsbury watched and hid nearby to provide defense, but were helpless as Riley was held at gunpoint by Cholo, who asked rhetorically: "Kaufman sent you up to take care of me?" Cholo ordered Pretty Boy to lock in their target with the missile launchers, disregarding the fact that innocent people might die. He vowed retaliation against Kaufman: "Kaufman is the one that's killed our friends. Every time I took out his garbage, man, I took out one of his friends, people he wanted off the streets." At midnight, the missiles malfunctioned due to Riley's electronic tampering, and Cholo was accidentally hit in the stomach by crossfire between Slack and "Motown" just before she was attacked in the neck and killed by one of the flesh-eating zombies. Riley reported Cholo's capture to the cowardly, double-crossing Kaufman, who had just murdered one of his associates. Kaufman didn't believe Riley, since he could hear and see fiery explosions near Fiddler's Green (due to the zombies) in the streets below. The wounded Cholo remarked: "I didn't even have to blow the place up. The f--king stenches did it for me."
Riley decided to take Dead Reckoning into the zombie-besieged city to see if his crew (Pretty Boy, Pillsbury, Slack, Anchor (Tony Munch) and Charlie) could help save it, while Cholo (with Foxy) elected to take the nearby Woody jeep vehicle (with guns and ammo) and head west to Cleveland. As they walked back to the Woody, Cholo was bitten in the hand by a zombie ("Nothing works out the way you want it to") - he elected to pursue Kaufman before turning into an undead zombie himself: "I always wanted to see how the other half lives." Foxy drove off in the Woody after taking him to the city limits.
Riley realized the remainder of the city's surviving inhabitants would be trapped by their own electric fencing ("What was built to keep people safe is gonna trap them inside") - whose power couldn't be shut off. He determined their best approach was to come in outside of The Throat. The zombie horde approached the front entrance of the insulated Fiddler's Green skyscraper, as a PA system calmly announced a reported disturbance on the outskirts of the city. Inhabitants inside panicked, as "Big Daddy" crashed through the glass doors with the jackhammer and the ghouls overcame the fleeing humans within the mall area.
Riley left Dead Reckoning to lower the city's main gateway, the bridge called The Throat, to enter the city, but found the vehicle surrounded by clawing and lunging zombies when he returned, so he was forced to re-enter through the escape hatch on its roof. As they crossed the bridge, inhabitants (both lower and upper class wealthy) in another part of the city were trapped between the electrical fences and the approaching stenches. Their massacre was delayed only briefly by Reckoning's sending up of fireworks to captivatingly distract the zombies (but "Skyflowers don't work no more"). Kaufman stood face to face with "Big Daddy" as he came downstairs to his escape car in an underground garage. He screamed: "You have no right" and shot at "Big Daddy" but missed his head. The angered zombie followed Kaufman to his Lincoln Continental limousine getaway car, and pumped gas from a nearby pump into the car through its broken windshield, as Kaufman's black chauffeur ran away. A reanimated and zombified Cholo (with his spear gun) also converged on Kaufman in the garage, and they shot at each other during a brief duel. As he attempted to escape with his money, Kaufman suffered a double-fate: as he was being bitten in the neck by Cholo, "Big Daddy" intelligently rolled a flaming propane tank toward the gasoline-drenched car - and there was a massive explosion. The undead Cholo was hurled away by the blast.
Riley's strategy was to blow the electrical fences, but when they arrived there in Dead Reckoning, it looked like they were already too late to save survivors - zombies were feasting on the human flesh of dozens of bodies. They blasted the area anyway to destroy the zombies, and then found that they had actually saved a group of the city's inhabitants who had been led away to a safe place by Mulligan, and had now emerged to leave the area. Mulligan asked Riley to stick around to rebuild the city: "We could turn this place into what we always wanted it to be," but Riley replied knowingly: "Then, what would we turn into?"
As they planned to finally hit the road for Canada, one more legless zombie attacked Anchor inside the Dead Reckoning, although Pillsbury shot and killed it, and then announced: "Now we can go." Once the elite hierarchy of society was eliminated, the zombies seemed to withdraw. As they started to depart, Pretty Boy triggered "Big Daddy" in her sights as he was leading a group of zombies out of the city, but Riley commanded her to stop: "They're just looking for a place to go. Same as us."
As Denbo exited the city in Dead Reckoning, he commanded: "Take us north," and set off its last cache of unneeded fireworks - not to distract the zombies but now to celebrate.
Film Notables (Awards, Facts, etc.)
This fourth film of the Dead series, a comeback film for Romero, posited the apocalyptic collapse of human society. It was a symbolic 'haves & have-nots' class-struggle story with prototypical characters. The masses of poverty-stricken, exploited residents in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania were forced to live in the empty, embattled streets. Although protected by mercenaries, society was overrun by recently-dead zombies or undead "walkers" nicknamed "stenches" who were "practicing to be alive." Meanwhile, the elite lived in a fortified walled-off city known as Fiddler's Green, bordered on three sides by rivers and lorded over by Paul Kaufman (Dennis Hopper), a rich and powerful feudal overlord and opportunistic super-capitalist.
Although this film was written before the events of 9/11/2001, it was released during the era of President George W. Bush's "War on Terror." To update its significance for the time, some of the lines of dialogue were revised (e.g., "We don't negotiate with terrorists").
Although it was an unsubtle film, it presented the idea that the zombies, led by smartly-evolved and more advanced "Big Daddy" (Eugene Clark), could be trained to shoot guns, use tools as weapons, and besiege the corrupt city. They were portrayed as more human than the humans: "They're just looking for a place to go."
Studio-produced through Universal Studios, with a production budget of $15-16 million, but grossed almost $21 million (domestic) and about $47 million (worldwide).
With the tagline: "The Dead shall Inherit the Earth."
(Pedro Miguel Arce)
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