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Now Playing: Land of the Dead
by yo go re

Director George Romero's various zombie movies have always been popular due to the subtle social commentary mixed in with the blood and guts. But what they've lacked is a coherant narrative. Sure, it seems logical to assume that they all take place in the same "universe," forming a complete timeline from initial outbreak to final stand, but that's just speculation - there was nothing to say that they weren't all standalone stories. Nothing, that is, until Land of the Dead, when we got a bit of official confirmation.

As part of their Now Playing line, SOTA promised Land of the Dead figures, but it looked like the series had been cancelled - the regular NP line was already pushed back far enough, so actually seeing the zombies seemed like an impossible dream. Amazingly, though, the walking dead are finally shambling your way. There are three figures in the series: the Butcher, Big Daddy and Machete.

The world is full of zombies and the Machete survivors have barricaded themselves inside a walled city to keep out the living dead. As the wealthy hide out in skyscrapers and chaos rules the streets, the rest of the survivors must find a way to stop the evolving zombies from breaking into the city.

Romero's zombies aren't the total gross-out kind favored by Resident Evil or Mezco, and Machete certainly matches that asthetic. No missing limbs, no exposed bones, none of that stuff. He's dressed like a biker, wearing blue jeans and a leather jacket, black gloves, boots and a dark shirt. In fact, except for the zombified head, this could be a completely normal figure.

And what a head it is! The flesh is just a bit wrinkled, and the skintone is turning somewhat gray, but that's not what matters. It's all about the likeness, here. Does that zombie look familiar to you? It should - it's low-tech makeup pioneer Tom Savini! Before the current crop of torture porn movies with their reliance on digital trickery, Savini was the master of practical effects. You want someone hit by a truck live on camera, he's your man. You might recognize him from his guest appearance on The Simpsons, or as the whip-wielding "Sex Machine" in From Dusk Til Dawn.

The last series of Now Playing figures had some definite problems in pretty much every facet of production - namely, sculpts, paint and articulation that barely lived up to modern standards, let alone the prototype images. Thankfully, whatever caused those problems must have been fixed, because Machete is great. His articulation is very light, with movement only at the waist, wrists, shoulders and neck, but that's not out of characer for SOTA's movie lines. The neck and shoulders are balljoints, so you still get decent poseability there, but elbows would have been appreciated, even if they were just swivels, like the NP Darkman. However, there are no gaps in the joints or exposed pins this time, either. That's what you call a step in the right direction.

The "Machete Zombie," as the credits call him, gets his name from his accessory - a 2¾" blade that can be held in his right hand. The machete really looks nice, and may be the best accessory of this sort we've ever seen - it's certainly better than the one that came with MM1 Jason all those years ago. The blade is painted silver (not vac-metallized), then spattered with blood that's heavy at the tip and fades gently as it moves down the blade. Nice! The figures were originally advertised to come with interlocking brick wall backdrops, but that's been dropped.

SOTA's also jumped on the BAF bandwagon. Buy all three zombies and you can assemble your own victim, basically a bloody corpse that's been torn to shreds. It's an interesting choice, and it suits the movie well. And if you don't want all three figures, don't worry - because the body has been torn apart, whatever parts you do end up with will look fine on their own.

Machete comes with three pieces: the right arm, the hips and right leg, and a pile of entrails. These things will look great at the feet of any psychotic slasher figure in your collection.

One of the most memorable stunts Savini devised for Dawn of the Dead was chopping into a zombie's head right in front of the camera - not cutting away and then showing a wound, but doing it for real. The weapon of choice? A machete. The character doing this? The biker named Blades, played by Savini himself, which is how we finally got confirmation that all Romero's Dead movies take place together.

Blades was killed in Dawn, but in Romero's world, zombism isn't a contagion - you don't have to "catch" it from a bite or anything. Its effects were first seen on the recently deceased, and it happened everywhere at once. Therefore, anyone who dies (without suffering massive head trauma) is likely to come back to life. And sure enough, in Land of the Dead, we briefly see a familiar-looking biker zombie, still carrying around a machete, and looking only slightly the worse for wear. It was the first time anyone's had a recurring role in any of the films. All the more reason for SOTA to include him in their line-up. If you're a horror fan, you have to respect Tim Savini, and this figure is a great way of doing just that.

-- 04/26/07

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