Land of the Dead (2005) came out just after I graduated high school and in many ways, my anticipation of it felt like a graduation present for me. I’d spent my teenage years absolutely engrossed in Night of the Living Dead, Dawn of the Dead, and Day of the Dead and the arrival of a new George Romero zombie film was a huge event for me. I saw it opening night at my local theater, but I walked out pretty disappointed. The film was fine, but my hyping of it had well and truly backfired and I felt perturbed by some of the choices made by Romero to his zombie canon. I wouldn’t say I had felt betrayed, but that’s silly, his movies are not my movies, yet I felt myself disagreeing with someone who I considered a visionary with a lot to say.
Land of the Dead wasn’t really the sort of zombie film I wanted and I was struck by how “forced” it all seemed to me. It was the first of Romero’s final string of zombie films that pushed his social commentary in fairly on the nose ways to diminishing results. Of course, Night, Dawn, and Day also pushed messages, but the films were also really, really good. That’s not to say these messages were unwelcome to a young man out of high school who was building a worldview and political identity. In 2005, Land felt like a pale imitation of Romero’s previous highs, but by then I had already been close to two years deep into reading The Walking Dead. I had found something else.
15 years later, I realize now that the Land of the Dead is a film well-suited to today’s reality. The movie was almost prescient regarding outbreaks and of the exploitative nature of capitalism. It remains to be seen, though, if it also predicts the destruction of capitalism under the pressures of disease and the exploitation of the masses. More than ever, what George Romero was attempting in Land of the Dead rings more true for me now then it did in 2005.
I felt an urge to rewatch it after a couple of days of successive errands among a worsening situation in my state of California. The night before I had to make a run to the bank to grab money for rent, as the promised online payment system of the management company never came to fruition. I spent about an hour in a line, outside of the bank. The night of I had to run a grocery errand and was struck by just how empty my town has been. Though, not empty enough given the now mandatory requirement of masks in my county.
The parallels between our current COVID-19 reality and post-apocalyptic fiction is not something novel. A cursory Google search shows that writers all over the internet are writing about pandemics and horror films. It’s all surface level and in a lot of ways; most of society has been kinder and more collaborative (except when it comes to toilet paper).
So, Land of the Dead‘s relevance to today does need to go beyond the obvious idea of a society struggling with a virus that does terrible things. Too many people are writing about that right now. It’s obvious. Does Land of the Dead deliver beyond that?
Oh boy, oh boy, does Land of the Dead deliver.
Terrorists, Zombies, and the Bush Era
It’s been heavily pointed out that Land of the Dead is most assuredly a critique of the Bush-era of the United States of America, down to lines lifted whole from the administration. “We do not negotiate with terrorists” works its way into a pivotal scene where a representation of the callous 1% is willing to sacrifice the lives of the 99%. President George W. Bush echoed such sentiments in 2002, after all.
For the most part, the film delivers enough in that regard. Again though, it can be heavy-handed. John Leguizamo’s character, Cholo, at one point threatens a “jihad” on the head of Fiddler’s Green, Kaufman. The whole film centers around a struggle for control over a device more suited for war than survival. Shock and awe arrive with a burst of fireworks and missile launchers and machine guns. There is no real government beyond a feudalistic one enforced mostly through mercenaries: Blackwater, anyone?
Despite this, I think the movie works way better now in the context of the Trump administration, particularly when it comes to what we are seeing surrounding the current COVID-19 pandemic.
Fiddler’s Green is the Trumpian Ideal
Gaudy and hollow, Fiddler’s Green is almost disgusting in how it flaunts wealth pointlessly in an environment of dire scarcity. Romero’s parallel journeys of Riley and Cholo intercut with each other early on in the movie are some of my favorite moments in the film. As Riley and Charlie make their way through the slums, Cholo makes his way upward through the greatest concentration of wealth in Fiddler’s Green. Cholo, the temporarily embarrassed millionaire he is, is grifted by Kaufman, the conman in charge. Robbed of his chance at upward mobility, Cholo steals “Dead Reckoning,” a tank that can bring down the city, and pressures Kaufman into cutting a deal.
Which, of course, results in Kaufman ending up doing an incredibly stupid series of decisions in a mounting crisis. I am sure you can already see where this is going.
Let’s talk about Dennis Hopper’s Kaufman; Dennis Hopper is fantastic in Land of the Dead and it’s one of my favorite roles he ever had. He’s just such a goddamn scumbag and such a malicious, cowardly leader. Surrounded by the trappings of traditional power, precious liquor, cigars, and a black manservant (!) Kaufman is that sort of representation of the capitalist you love to hate. He’s racist, classist, and hell, probably sexist too. He’s just so easily hated that it is so satisfying to see him die, beset by someone he betrayed and a representation of the conscious, uprising working class.
I see a lot of connections between Donald Trump and Hopper’s Paul Kaufman. The obsession with the images of power, naked, exploitative capitalistic impulses and poor leadership skills are merely scratching the surface of these parallels. Not enough is written about how repulsive a figure Trump is; he made a joke about banging models in a Coronavirus briefing. Rather than being concerned with the task at hand (a goddamn pandemic), he grasps at clout just as Kaufman grasps at loot the vault in Fiddler’s Green.
The fact that this society Kaufman inherited still revolves around money, is, of course, a bleak joke. Kaufman, for all his bluster of being the man with the plan, who made the safe new world for everyone, merely took over a building and simply tricked people into working for him with the token application of money. Money which really carries no real currency in the post-apocalypse. Kaufman builds nothing, riding on the back of an already exploitative system. Much like Trump, Kaufman lacks the discipline to manage his inherited position and it all comes tumbling down.
We could go on about Kaufman’s blatant racism as well. Kaufman slurs Cholo several times and the impression we get of why Cholo is not invited into the upper level of Kaufman’s world isn’t necessarily because of Cholo’s boorish behavior. The presence of the black manservant is far too pointed to think otherwise. It makes one wonder how Trump would treat someone like Cholo…
Kaufman, in perhaps one of the funniest scenes of the movie, ends up shooting one of his cronies, fearful that he will be discovered robbing Fiddler’s Green and going on the run. Instantly he gets a message from Riley that Dead Reckoning was secured. It’s a great bit of understated frustration from Dennis Hopper. Kaufman, motivated by greed, targets and destroys part of his governing apparatus to cover for himself. For people who follow the shakeups of the Trump administration, particularly regarding the botched handling of COVID-19, this begins to sound maddeningly familiar.
The Greed Virus
It is clear that Romero would have a lot to say when it comes to critiquing Trump. Romero’s time dealing with the Trump era was brief, but in that time he made his feelings clear about where we were headed.
There is a question that lingers in my mind regarding all of this, of course. What sort of zombie movie would George Romero have made in response to the current Trump era and viral anxieties?
Well, that movie exists: It’s Land of the Dead.
Please share your thoughts on Land of the Dead with us in the comments. Afterward, consider browsing our Weekly Wail archive.
Crashin’ in Roswell NM: Road Trippin’ with Jennifer Weigel
So on my recent road trip to Miami AZ USA for my menstruation art installation, we decided to detour to Roswell NM en route home. To be honest, this was one of the best decisions of my life, up there with road trippin’ from Arizona to San Francisco along CA-Highway 1, and I will go into the details of why here soon.
Roswell NM USA has totally embraced its alien history of the UFO crash in the late 1940s and subsequent government cover up. The whole town is alien-happy with beautiful hand carved wood totems, murals and statues everywhere celebrating otherworldly denizens of all types, though predominantly the gray aliens of the crash (and their green counterparts). Even the city logo features a flying saucer as the center of the letter “R”. It really is kind of incredible.
One of the biggest draws is the International UFO Museum and Research Center, housed in the wonderful old theater building. This museum details the crash history as well as celebrating aliens in movies and media and examining newer alien sightings and abductions. It is very thorough and includes maquettes, statues, written accounts and an extensive research library, as well as an interesting art collection of various items.
And there are TONS of fun alien themed curiosity shops. I will give a shout out to the newer Invasion Station north on Main Street where there had once been an old car dealership. I love the quirky nature of this particular store as well as their strong desire to promote local artists. Most of their wares are hand-painted in NM and feature designs by prominent local artists including one of the lead muralists in town (I bought a magnet of his). They also feature really alternative kitsch like KISS and Ace Frehley alien bobbleheads, marijuana and anal references, and such. All in all, our own Haunted MTL’s kinda folks…
And the city is a huge tourist draw internationally, so you can meet some amazing and interesting folks from all walks of life who have caught the alien bug or at least want to check out all the hype. As a result of the tourism, the residents seem really laid back and accommodating (kind of like Hawaii but not quite as much) and there is a thriving art scene. And it’s totally my kind of art – weird and a little creepy. Anyway, I feel like I’ve finally found my peeps and am eager to return someday.
If you’re feeling a bit extraterrestrial, I invite you to also check out some of my alien-themed stories here on Haunted MTL: LTD UFOs among us; my Drive-By short story; and LTD Abducted.
American Horror Story Season 12, Delicate
Killer Queens, I wasn’t expecting to be back so soon with American Horror Story info. But yesterday we were blessed with a teaser for the intro of Season 12, which we believe will be titled Delicate.
We are looking at a Summer release for season twelve, but won’t know for sure until June, according to The Hollywood Reporter. Here’s what we know right now.
First, yes Kim Kardashian is starring alongside Emma Roberts in a role that was written specifically for her.
That’s the bad news. The good news is that AHS favorites will also be involved. According to IMBD, Charlie Carver, Rebecca Dayan, Cody Fern, Leslie Grossman, Billie Lourd, and Denis O’Hare will be included this season.
AHS Delicate is different from other seasons in many other ways. It’s the first season to ever be written by just one writer, Halley Feiffer. This isn’t a writer most of us as horror fans will be familiar with. She’s written episodes of shows like Kidding, SMILF, and American Crime Story. The last one can at least be seen as a sister show to AHS.
As far as I have found, Feiffer has never written horror content. She is now the sole writer for an entire season of the most popular horror show in America. I’m not saying this is a bad thing. It’s just not what I would have expected. Most AHS writers are staff writers, actors from the show, or at least people I’ve heard of. So as we don’t have any former work to look at, we can only wait to see how she does.
We also know what the source material is for this season. It’s a book called Delicate Condition, by Danielle Valentine. This book will be released in August of this year. Which also seemed strange to me. Normally a book would be, you know, published before it inspires additional work.
Even so, Delicate Condition seems like a fascinating story. According to Goodreads, it’s the story of a woman named Anna. Anna is trying to get pregnant but starts to believe that something dark is working against her. Her doctors don’t believe her. Her husband doesn’t believe her. Is she losing her mind?
I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t deeply interested in this book. And I have to assume that Feiffer and Murphy already have hands on it, to jump to this sort of decision.
By the way, Valentine at least is not an untested writer. Her first novel, How To Survive Your Murder, also made it right on my TBR pile. With a rating of 3.7 out of 4 on Goodreads, I think we can assume Valentine knows what she’s doing with the written word.
This is all that we know about American Horror Story Delicate so far. What follows are my thoughts and opinions only.
My first thought is that this season is going to be dealing heavily with women’s reproductive rights. This is a topic a lot of us are concerned about right now, as it feels like every day women lose more and more rights to our bodies.
(By the way, if you want to help fight the good fight for body autonomy and get some spooky stories, we have an anthology for that. I have a story in it, as does the horrifyingly talented Jennifer Weigel. All proceeds go to support organizations that help women make their own health decisions.)
American Horror Story has handled important political issues before. Last season, AHS NYC discussed the AIDs epidemic that went largely ignored in the 80s and killed hundreds of young gay men. They did this in the best way possible, in what this critic believes to be the only way fiction should handle heavy topics. They rooted the issue in a good story. A story that was pure fiction, but also true.
However, this season has a lot of red flags. Never before have I seen the guest star be the main focus so early. Never have I seen any franchise bank so much faith in an all but untested writer, basing work on a book that isn’t even published. And frankly, I’ve never been much of a fan of Kim K, or anyone else who’s famous seemingly just for being famous.
I’m not rooting for this season to fail just because I don’t like the guest star. If Kardashian is good at this, I’ll be thrilled. I’ll be the first one singing her praises. But when everything we know so far is added up, I’m a lot more concerned about AHS Delicate than I am excited.
The Last Drive-In Season 5 Premiering April 21st Exclusively on Shudder!
They say good things come to those who wait, and boy have we been patient. It has been close to a year since our eyes have indulged a full season of ‘The Last Drive-In with Joe Bob Briggs’, in fact, the season 4 finale premiered on Shudder July 1st, 2022. Since then, we have been able to satisfy our appetites with festive holiday specials sprinkled throughout the past year. Specials such as ‘Joe Bob’s Halloween Hangout’ guest starring horror’s favorite Mistress of the Dark, Elvira (played by the legendary Cassandra Peterson) and ‘Joe Bob’s Ghoultide Get-Together’. Last month was a treat in itself, as we were able to witness Joe Bob Briggs and co-host Darcy the Mail Girl (Diana Prince) marry one lucky couple for the first time on the show with ‘Joe Bob’s Vicious Vegas Valentine‘ special.
While the current changes in staff at Shudder have left fans questioning whether we will receive a new season of the popular series, I can happily say mutant family, we need not worry. In fact, to our wonderous surprise, Joe Bob Briggs has officially announced via Twitter, season 5 of ‘The Last Drive-In‘ will be premiering April 21st, exclusively on Shudder! One thing that is noteworthy, is unlike previous seasons, it has been reported by 1428Elm that season 5 will be broken up into two parts of five double-feature blood-curdling episodes. Though we have not been provided the official release schedule for the second block of season 5, here is a sneak peek of what we can expect for the first half of the season:
April 21: Season 5 Launch Party!
April 28: Walpurgisnacht Part 2!
May 5: Cinco de Fucking Mayo!
May 12: Mama’s Day!
May 19: Dysfunctional Family Jubilee!
Unfortunately, we do not have an official list of the brand-new double feature films for the first half of season 5 but, with amusing episode titles such as these, one can only imagine what grindhouse-classics will be joining ‘The Last Drive-In’s’ already eclectic list of sloshy goodness. For those impatient mutants eagerly waiting for more hilarious Joe Bob rant-filled commentaries, or those newcomers who’ve yet to experience the magic that is ‘The Last Drive-In‘, all previous four seasons, including past holiday specials are currently available to stream now on Shudder.
If you are just as big of fans of ‘The Last Drive-In‘ as we here at HauntedMTL are, please be sure to follow us on Twitter @HauntedMTL and join us April 21st as we tweet along with Joe Bob and Darcy the Mail Girl for the season premier. As is tradition, we will be hosting live watch parties every Friday with each new episode, including fresh holiday specials. The road to season 5 is upon us…let the countdown begin!
April 21: Season 5 Launch Party!
April 28: Walpurgisnacht Part 2!
May 5: Cinco de Fucking Mayo!
May 12: Mama's Day!
May 19: Dysfunctional Family Jubilee!
. . . and that's only the beginning.#TheLastDriveIn pic.twitter.com/WfeTx0shNa— Joe Bob Briggs (@therealjoebob) March 16, 2023