Review: Survival of the Dead
PLOT: When a group of ragtag soldiers end up searching for someplace safe after the zombie outbreak, they come across a man who can possibly bring them to a safe haven. After a very long time, the crew finally makes it to this island off the coast of Delaware. But much to their disappointment, they realize the dead are everywhere. The families on the island keep them around, on chains and under lock and key, hoping for a possible cure. But this is Romero, so dont think for a second that the walking dead arent gonna get to grubbin on human flesh at some point. But there be a whole lot of talkin before that happens.
Lets get this out of the way right now. I love George A. Romero. When I saw NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD at a very young age, it started me on a whole slew of nightmares, ones which I look back on fondly. It soon turned into a strange obsession about wanting to hang out in cemeteries. Especially one called Cemetery Hill over in Magna, Utah. That one really looked like the dead would be rising one dark and dreary night, sooner as opposed to later. So the thing is, Im glad Romero is still making zombie movies. Whether I like them all or not, I like the fact that he is still out there, making the movies that he wants to make. It is almost refreshing really, and the world is a better place for it. I also like the fact that he continues to make a statement, even when it sometimes feels too obvious or over the top, I appreciate that he hasnt lost his original intention. George Romero was making a strong statement from the very beginning and he probably will as long as he is making movies.
Okay, here is the bad news. As much as I respect Romero as a writer and a director, something didnt quite work for me with his latest, SURVIVAL OF THE DEAD. The idea is based on the 1958 western THE BIG COUNTRY. It takes place on an island off of Delaware that may or may not be a safe haven from the undead. But on this island are two families. Both are headstrong and both have different views on how to deal with the dead getting up and feeding off of the living. Seamus Muldoon (Richard Fitzpatrick) feels that they can teach the flesh eaters and thinks they should be kept, well, alive? After all, those that have passed on the island are kin. But Patrick OFlynn (Kenneth Walsh) thinks they are a deadly nuisance that must be taken care of. Kinfolk or not, they should be immediately exterminated. This is a basic, Hatfield and McCoy tale that leads to all sorts of fightin and other nonsense.
Cut to a fella named Sarge (Alan Van Sprang) who is leading a group of soldiers to a place where they can be safe and free of the pesky walking dead. Not surprisingly, there is a lot of tension in the group of women and men he leads as they seem to always run into some dead dude that wont stay down. With all this zombie run amok stuff, it is clear that they are looking for a place like an island. Well, you know where they are going to be heading, and you also know that therell be a mess of trouble once they arrive. And while I appreciated the attempt to merge these two worlds, it seemed a little slow going at times. So the thrill of watching them figure out how to survive is curbed by predictability. And when they ultimately arrive to give Mr. Seamus Muldoon a heapin mess of problems, you know the dead peeps on a leash are gonna get loose. Sadly, to finally arrive there sure as hell takes a long time.
The strangest thing about Survival of the Dead is that there is a surprising lack of zombie action. Oh, its there, but for some reason it feels a little light. Perhaps this is because there are more human characters that are explored and they sure take up a lot of space. In fact, I really liked the idea of these two families dealing with the walking dead in completely different ways. It gets a bit preachy throughout, but it is Romero so it wouldnt be right if he didnt have that element. But with Survival, it is very clear that he is making a statement on how the human race behaves in a time of crisis. This feud that goes on between the two families explores the difference between the completely opposite ideas and sometimes, how equally problematic they are. With Romeros characters, he expresses their fear and disgust with one another, leaving guard down enough for those slow muther f*cking zombies to show up and rip folks to shreds.
While there are many Romero elements here, I found the use of CG to be incredibly distracting. While it may be damn near impossible to go back to the days of all practical effects for a Romero zombie movie, I miss the messy and downright gruesome look it offered. Here, the exploding heads and other zombie grooviness looked a little too similar to something youd see on the Sy Fy Channel. Certainly there are some exceptions, and occasionally the computer generated effects worked, but not nearly as well as one would hope. With that said, Survival of the Dead was an intriguing idea, but it just didnt have the same impact as Romeros previous films. Although I will say that there are moments of sheer zombie fun, and I really enjoyed both Athena Karkanis and Stefano DiMatteo as two soldiers battling zombies and their own hidden respect for one another. I also continue to appreciate the connection his undead have had to the human race. It makes it a little more fascinating to see the experience they go through.
If you are a fan of Romero, I see no reason to avoid this, as even you will find some joy in watching the master at play. Especially evident in one of the iconic flesh eating, bloody intestine scenes (groovy). But as much as I enjoy seeing another living dead flick, some of his earlier magic seems to have faded into this flawed and slightly uneven film. My rating 5/10 -- JimmyO
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