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Knight at the Movies: Land of the Dead and Herbie Fully Loaded
by Richard Knight, Jr.
2005-06-29

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Pictured Lindsay Lohan in Herbie.

It's been 20 years since George Romero's last 'official' living dead movie, Day of the Dead. There have been dozens of other killer zombie pictures to fill the void since then. From camp to gore galore, these imitators of Romero's original Night of the Living Dead and its sequels have multiplied almost as fast as the body count in each succeeding movie. Night of the Living Dead itself has been cut and re-cut in numerous versions, with new 'found' footage added in one edition and has been remade ( in 1990 by Romero's make-up man turned director, Tom Savini ) as has Dawn of the Dead. But as Land of the Dead, the third 'official' sequel so aptly proves, when it comes to killer zombie pictures, nobody does it better than George A. Romero. Once again the writer-director has found the perfect blend of horror, social commentary and black comedy. Midnight movie fans rejoice: you've just been handed another perfect stoner picture.

After the words 'Some Time Ago' appear on the screen, we're given the history of the living dead plague during a Seven type credit sequence and are quickly into the first set piece. The world now belongs to the living dead but survivors have banded together, military style, to conduct raids for food and supplies on the small towns where the dead aimlessly hang out together. The marauders distract the zombies during these night raids with 'sky flowers' ( fireworks ) . While the dead are staring up at the skies, the survivors grab what they can. Conflict quickly surfaces between the principled commando leader Riley ( Australian actor Simon Baker ) and his hedonistic counterpart, Cholo ( John Leguizamo ) .

Both are in the service of a group of ruthless businessmen led by Kaufman ( Dennis Hopper ) , who control the waiting list for accommodations in the fabulous sealed off skyscraper that closely resembles Water Tower Place. The haves get to live inside, shop, and kvetch at the coffee bars while the have nots live in the surrounding burned out slums, scraping by and weakly protesting their fate. But even the have nots are safely ensconced within the walls of the city away from the living dead. Naturally, with Romero at the helm, the walls of this pseudo Jericho are about to come tumbling down and the zombies are about to shuffle in.

Working with his largest budget and most notable cast ( though the unsung cast for Day of the Dead remains my favorite ) , Romero proves to be ingenious in finding new, ever more graphic ways to kill people onscreen. But like the zombie getting his brain sliced off by the helicopter in Dawn of the Dead, there's something both gross and funny about the gore at the same time. Could any other director make cannibalism humorous? Romero also manages to put a nice spin on the stock characters that are selected to battle the zombies and he's always had a knack for creating and sustaining tension. There are elements of many other End of the World movies here—Escape from New York, the Mad Max series, Universal Solider, etc., but again, Romero has his own way of tying them together.

As intended, Hopper's character is horribly evil, a cartoon of villainy so despicable that he's also funny. Whether stomping around his rooftop penthouse while his clock ticks ( a nice nod, I assume, to the prissy Charles Laughton in the noir classic, The Big Clock ) , bellowing at his Black manservant, and announcing with a straight face, 'We do not negotiate with terrorists!' Hopper has the time of his life and hams it up for all it's worth.

The similarities to the current White House administration, whether intended or not, also give the picture a huge lift. There's one ironic moment after another—the perfect movie for the counter culture to embrace. Just one of my favorites is a quick shot of two lesbians passionately kissing before being grabbed and eaten by the zombies. Naturally, my vivid imagination immediately translated the zombies into fundamentalists just waiting for the chance to gorge on our flesh. Perhaps the largest irony of all is that Land of the Dead is one of the most energetic, alive pictures I've seen this year. It's a hoot.

_____

There are very few reasons to see Herbie: Fully Loaded. One might be that you grew up with the original Herbie the love bug pictures and are curious about what another Disney remake has wrought ( the answer: not much ) . Or perhaps you are a fan of teenage tabloid star Lindsay Lohan who, it must be admitted, has an enormous, likeable screen presence. She's also developed into quite the dish and her assets are fetchingly displayed here, complete with her freckled sunny smile and pale pink lip gloss. She's like a teenage Doris Day —who also had a knockout figure that was softened by her perky, virginial persona.

Another reason to see the movie might be that you have little ones clamoring to be taken on an outing. If that's the case you know what to expect: the theater in which you see the picture is likely to be filled with other screaming, piping children running up and down the aisles during the quiet parts. When Herbie falls in love with another Volkswagon ( a newer model ) and when Matt Dillon the villain gets oil sprayed in his face, there will be giggles aplenty. Adults may also enjoy the nonstop '70s rock songs on the soundtrack and be fascinated by the presence of Michael Keaton ( Michael Keaton?!? ) in the movie ( you'll have plenty of time to ruminate on what happened to his career ) . There's not much else to do except count the number of times lesbian director Angela Robinson manages to sneak in quick shots of coupled women aka lesbians.

This last, finally, is the reason for the GLBT community to do their part and celebrate one of our own. Herbie: Fully Loaded might not be the greatest way to spend 90 minutes but it's worth supporting. When a company like Disney, where 'family' is everything, doesn't hesitate to entrust one of their sacred franchises to a 33-year-old bi-racial out lesbian, then maybe things are looking up.

_____

Local Screening of Note: The Great Water, a Russian import from gay-friendly Picture This! Entertainment, is the story of the friendship between two young adolescent boys ( one of whom is played by an actress ) interred in a Russian orphanage after WWII. A Chicago premiere, it opens this Friday, July 1 at the Gene Siskel Center.

See www.siskelfilmcenter.com .


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