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Land of the Dead Unrated Screening
(Article by Neil Fawcett, added 29-Oct-2005)

On Octover 17th, Universal hosted special screenings at selected cinemas around the United States of Romero's Unrated Director's Cut of 'Land of the Dead'. Homepage of the Dead managed to secure a pass for Buzz Cartier who was then kind enough to provide the following article on the event.

AUTHOR'S NOTE: This review is not a concise summary of merely the new footage added to the un-rated Director's Cut of George A. Romero's Land of the Dead. At the one-night only screenings on October 17, 2005 in the U.S., and perhaps elsewhere, there was a lengthy featurette, Conversation with Director George Romero, which was screened and is also reviewed here. For play-by-play action of the new stuff, check Homepage of the Dead Administrator Neil's "uber geekness" article on the differences. Jeez Lou-ise is he an invaluable uber geek to us all!

DIGGING THE DEAD FOR 28 YEARS, © 2005 Buzz Cartier

So I said to my friend as we rode the train to the Union Square Stadium cinema in New York City to see a screening of George A. Romero's Land of the Dead un-rated Director's Cut, "So, kid... you're about to get your cherry popped. How ya feelin'?"

My buddy said to me, "Pretty excited. I'm really looking forward to it." My friend was 34 years old but he was still too young to have seen Romero's last living dead flick, Day of the Dead, when it came out on the big screen in 1985. Everyone seems to refer to George Romero as "GAR" these days in print, but back in the quote unquote day, we just called him "Romero", so I'm sticking with it with no disrespect intended to the man.

I had just turned 18 a few weeks prior to the release of Day of the Dead and I had to produce my driver's license to prove that I was of age to see this future classic. It was the first time I had ever gone to see a movie and had been asked for i.d.. The days of the late 70's and early 80's when any of us teenagers could see just about any flick we wanted without a parent or guardian were past. There was a rather large crowd of the faithful, and plenty of lame-o's in Members Only jackets, out that night to see Romero's latest addition to the series and, though most of us seem to have enjoyed it, there were many, myself included, who felt rather disappointed when it came out and that it was Romero's weakest flick in his living dead series. The living dead saluting, talking and shooting a pistol?! Sacrilege! Many of us thought that it was ridiculous. It seems that there's always been such disappointment, since Night of the Living Dead was so amazing that people's standards were set so unrealistically high that it's tough for Romero to please everybody.

It seems that there are many people who saw the original theatrical release of Land of the Dead who left the theater disappointed. Admittedly, though I enjoyed the original release as a whole, I was one of them. A lot of the action-oriented living dead fans of late didn't get it and many of today's American jingoists thought that it was liberal tripe and dismissed the film as being too politically left-wing because the majority of those alive who were holed-up in a barricaded city away from the living dead were oppressed by wealthy tyrants. Screw 'em. Long-time fans of Romero who didn't realize that he's often conveyed his sometimes lefty leanings throughout his career probably just focus on the gore and fail to see the messages that Romero is trying to convey. Tunnel-visioned sonsabitches. There's a lot of evil rich guys in plenty of movies, but the current world political clime seems to make it popular to pick on Romero for political reasons.

Prior to the screening of the un-rated Director's Cut, those of us in attendance at the one-night only screening were privileged to view a lengthy featurette entitled simply Conversation with Director George Romero. It was thoroughly enjoyable and if it's not included on the Director's Cut DVD, it most certainly should be in future editions as it's an entertaining, enlightening must-see for enthusiast of Romero's living dead flicks.

In the featurette, Romero states that he's always intended that his living dead flicks be "snapshots of the decades" in which they were filmed. He stated that he was pleased that Night of the Living Dead turned out to be more than just a drive-in movie and was not just for the Fangoria crowd.

The crowd at the Union Square screening was amazingly diversified, and I mean amazingly. The place was packed. My friend and I usually like to sit somewhere in the middle but we had to go for the third row since only the first three rows had four adjacent available seats, leaving two for us and some elbow room. All around us were the obligatory Goth kids and comic book/horror geek types, both male and female, of course, but there were also people of almost every color, age, size and presumably sexual orientation, imaginable.     

We sat a few seats to the left of a kindly, old Delta bluesman-looking brother and behind us was a plus-size interracial lesbian couple. There were Asians, Latinos, WASP's, Paisanos... you name it. It looked like some politician's propaganda showing the diversity of his supporters. If some politico wants to get such a photo without doing a casting call, he just needs to go to a screening of a George A. Romero living dead flick, at least in New York City. It was the most varied and appreciative crowd I had ever seen. The vibe was great. Everyone was cracking up at Romero's often hilarious and informative dialogue and, at the end of the featurette, it seemed that the entire place was applauding, which I had never experienced at a movie, horror or otherwise.

I have been fortunate enough to have seen all of Romero's living dead flicks on the big screen. When Dawn of the Dead came out in 1978, I was eleven years old. When I saw the commercials on the tube, I was ecstatic and absolutely determined to see the flick, even though I thought it was lame that Romero had sold out by doing a living dead flick in color. See what I mean about disappointment in Romero's work? There's always something that peeves us, but we keep coming back.

Anyway, my Mom had agreed to give it a go to try to get me in the theater even though I was way under age. I was quite lucky that I was a tall eleven year-old and that the burnouts who worked the tickets booths in the late 70's were generally either too stoned or didn't care that I was too young. The flick started and, as soon as the action in the tenement scene commenced, I practically got wood. Even at such a tender young age, however, I thought that the blood looked quiet fake. The big splatters of fakeness on the big screen, especially the headshot in the tenement apartment, though not perfect, were still incredible and unlike anything I had ever seen before, which included such classics as The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and The Exorcist, which came out when I was seven. Before you think that I had negligent parents, please be aware that I begged them to go to these flicks and, since I loved the films, didn't have nightmares and I got straight A's, I was allowed to see pretty much anything. Who says bookworms don't have any fun? It really does help to have cool parents, however. Here's props to my Mom 'n Pops!

As for Night of the Living Dead, I saw it at a midnight double feature with the Hollywood Meat Cleaver Massacre, which, oddly enough, though chocked full of butcher knives, did not show one meat cleaver. The crowd at the midnight screening was mostly a bunch of rowdy, drunken idiots who yelled at the screen like they were attending a screening of the Rocky Horror Picture Show, which was quite popular at the time, which was in 1981 when only rich kids had video tape players and midnight movies were quite common. It was difficult to enjoy fully with all of the idiot banter, but it was still a rush seeing all of that gorgeous black and white horrific beauty on the big screen. Unfortunately, my folks were really annoyed by the jerk-off crowd and never took me to a midnight screening ever again.

Regarding Romero's snapshots of decades, he said in the featurette that Day of the Dead was made and released at a time when he believed that people were starting to lose faith in institutions and each other. It did come out when the Top Dog of the Free World, U.S. President Ronald Reagan, maintained that ketchup was a vegetable and that if it was on a public school lunch menu that no other vegetables needed to be served. This was the same man that said that the minimum wage for people under 21 should be lowered from U.S. $3.35 an hour to $2.50 an hour because people under 21 "don't need the money." I know that I was certainly starting to lose faith at the time and I feel that Romero hit the nail right on the head.

Romero stated that he originally conceptualized Land of the Dead in the 90's when homeless people and people with AIDS were getting a lot of lip service but very little actual help and that after the unfortunate events of 9/11 that his project seemed to be doomed because film producers were turned off from such heavy subject matter and said to Romero, "We've got to make 'fuzzy' movies."

Romero said that Land of the Dead certainly applies to current events because there's a group of vehicles and raiders "going through a village, mowing people down and then wondering why they're pissed." Regarding Land of the Dead reflecting negatively on the Bush Administration, Romero admits that such sentiments certainly come out but he that he did not specifically intend such. He said that he "is not Michael Moore" and that he had not meant to be "preachy". One point that Romero was specifically trying to get across with Land of the Dead was "that we thought we were safe and we're not."

Regarding Dennis Hopper, who played Kaufman, the despotic leader of the city in which the living sought refuge from the living dead, Romero said, "F*ck you, Dennis Hopper!" It turns out that Dennis Hopper is a Republican. Romero stated that they remained friendly and, though they didn't actually fight, that they did "throw pies at each other".

Romero stated that he never intends to be specifically political and likened his living dead films unto Westerns and Shakespeare, which seems to make sense because there's both action and drama in the entire series. One thing I personally found endearing about Romero's rap was that he admitted that he is a "rip-off artist" and that everyone in the industry who wants to be successful is a rip-off artist. He has a charming demeanor and certainly does not seem to be full of himself.

Regarding his films reflecting contemporary fears, Romero likes to emphasize, "that the real problem is us". In Night of the Living Dead, he tried to show that, "it's not a monster movie" and that, "the neighbors, who I've always been suspicious of, are out to get me." He mentioned about when he was growing up that his fears were, "the Bomb and the Guineas that beat me up because I was a Latino". He then chuckled heartily. Though it seems that Romero is by no means racist, the man is not afraid to use a racial explicative in this often chokingly politically correct era.

Regarding the special effects/gore, Romero stated that Tom Savini's bite in Dawn of the Dead, when the husband bit a chunk out of his wife's shoulder, "was the best" and that Greg Nicotero, the master craftsman behind Land of the Dead's special effects makeup and splatter, as talented as he is, could not beat Savini's bite and that there would be no point in trying to duplicate such a feat. The added gore scenes included an amazing scalping and eye gouging that did not appear in the theatrical release, but the rest of the gore seemed to be more of the same, but extended, old limb and gut ripping that many of Romero's admirers so cherish. Romero did admit that there were some CG living dead walking by that were added to some of the gore scenes so that they could pass with the censors and that they "used smoke and shadows in Land of the Dead when in the old days it would have been right in your face."

Romero mentioned that, "zombies are blue-collar monsters" and for whom he could care. He stated that he did not want to re-establish order at the end of Land of the Dead, which did seem rather like a happy-as-possible under the circumstances Hollywood ending with the living "good guys" still living, the "bad guys" all dead and the living dead peacefully getting the Hell outta Dodge without the good guys blowing the piss out of them (I would have wasted 'em) and that it just happened that way. He said that his characters become endeared to him and that he sometimes chooses to let them live. He said that even when the protagonists live that it's still not a happy ending because the dead still walk the Earth.

Although there were a few added bits of dialog and action to the Director's Cut, which sometimes seemed rather trite and somewhat disposable, there was only one entirely new scene, which took place in an apartment, which was not in the original theatrical release of Land of the Dead. Prior to the screening that I attended, I had read on www.homepageofthedead.com, the ultimate site for anyone who digs George A. Romero's living dead universe, that word on the street had it that that there was an added apartment scene. I was psyched. I figured that it would be a scene in an apartment that belonged to one of the flick's exploited, ass-kicking, working-class heroes but such was not the case. It turned out that the apartment was in Fiddler's Green, the luxurious skyscraper where high society dwelled.

It was quite disappointing to not see how the raiders, who procured supplies for, and were kept down by Kaufman ("the Man"), lived. It seemed that everyone not privileged enough to live in Fiddler's Green bitched about what a hellhole their ghetto was, but we did not get to see anybody's crib. It seems inconceivable that Kaufman could have procured and stored every decent piece of furniture, every garment and other essentials, but I suppose that it's possible. Seeing what crappy apartments our heroes had would have added much depth to their plight of poverty, oppression and general suck-ass standard of living that they supposedly endured.

Instead, we were treated to the consolation prize, a scene that took place in an apartment across the hall from Kaufman's, which presumably belonged to one of Kaufman's top cronies. We get to see how the upper crust lives, which is evidently not always too wonderful either.

Cholo, second-in-command of Kaufman's raiders, played quite cogently by Latino supreme-o John Leguizamo, is on his way to Kaufman's with a case of champagne, after checking his weapons with security. Going to Kaufman's with the intention of announcing that he wishes to get his own place in Fiddler's Green, Cholo is greeted at Kaufman's door by his panicked, knife-wielding butler. Before he can really ask what's going, Cholo hears a scream from the apartment across the hall. He then enters the neighbor's apartment to find a grey-haired, stocky man in the process of hanging himself with his wife looking on in horror. It's too late to save the ol' bastard, of course, and he soon becomes one of the living dead and takes a piece out of his wife's arm as she's freaking out that Cholo is not security. The couple's teenage son soon enters in quite a frenzy.

Cholo is faced with the task of taking out the old man without any weapons on his person. Of course most rich folk have some sort of sculpture handy, they have since the days of Alfred Hitchcock, Stanley Kubrick, etc., and some of them, Kaufman's neighbors in this case, have pointy sculptures that are conveniently, absolutely perfect for skull bashing. Cholo takes out the old man and a security guard is soon on the scene asking what's going on. Cholo points at the wife's bite wound, tells the guard to do his job, and promptly but casually splits, with John Leguizamo proving that he can play an insouciant bad-ass as well as he can a stunning drag queen, as he did in the 1995 film To Wong Foo, Thanks for Everything, Julie Newmar.

Other than Dennis Hopper, whose fame and talent certainly precede him, John Leguizamo was the only actor whose work I really appreciated, yet alone had even heard of, prior to seeing him in one of Romero's flicks. I had seen and appreciated Mr. Leguizamo's roles as a promiscuous, guilt-ridden Guido hedonist in Spike Lee's Summer of Sam and also as a wigged-out speed dealer in the 2002 film Spun, but I'm particularly partial to his stand-up, which is gritty, fast-paced, hard-hitting stuff. Check it out. Romero could certainly have been stuck a with a lamer mainstream star.

As for the added gore scenes, well... it would seem that most Romero enthusiasts dig and would probably agree with me that the un-rated Director's Cut ponies up satisfying, liberal (Oops! I forgot that's considered a bad word these days!) doses of flesh and gut ripping that simply cannot be seen in an R-rated (USMPAA standards) movie.

The USMPAA ratings people, they don't like to be called "censors", gave director John Waters' latest flick from 2004, A Dirty Shame, an NC-17 (no one under 17 admitted) rating for "pervasive sexuality", which essentially considered the dialog to be thought crimes. There was no violence and very little nudity in  A Dirty Shame, yet Mr. Waters was slapped with an NC-17 for his ideas. It should not seem at all surprising that Romero had to compromise slightly with the blood and guts to have a successful flick that could be seen by many of his adoring fans. Romero made sure that Land of the Dead could be seen on the big screen by many instead of a handful of "art" theaters where John Waters' movies generally show for a few weeks.

The legendary grunge master Kurt Cobain of Nirvana caught similar flack, as Romero's been getting, for changing the text on the back of the jewel box for the song Rape Me, off of the In Utero album, to Waif Me so that he could sell it certain popular mainstream stores such as Walmart. He justified this to critics who thought that he was compromising his art by stating that where he grew up, in semi-hick Washington State towns in the US of A, that the big chain stores were often the only place for him to get records and that he wanted all of the kids who wanted his music to be able to procure it. Romero did state in the featurette, "delivering the goods... that's what it's all about."

It seems that George A. Romero had done essentially the same thing with the original theatrical release of Land of the Dead as Kurt Cobain did with his album. He had to make sure that he got his stuff out there. Romero wanted all of the boys and ghouls to get their dead-on, even if it was with a proverbial condom. Well... Romero's going bareback with the Director's Cut, so sit back and enjoy the ride, baby. It seems that the Old Man can still get it up most of the time.

George A. Romero marches to his own groove but, in order to keep his pimp hand strong, he plays ball with the Man. He plays it well. The featurette before the screening of Land of the Dead seemed to convey the message that Romero was quite pleased with the results of his endeavors and that he did not feel that he compromised his artistic vision to any major extent. I always say, "It's okay to play ball with the Man. Just don't be his batboy." It seems that George A. Romero is nobody's bitch.

© 2005 Buzz Cartier, www.buzzheavy.com

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