I’m not really sure even where to begin with Survival of the Dead. The film left me dumbfounded and a bit mystified by just how poorly it was made and how much of a fall from grace it felt like, from the guy who created this genre in the first place. If you saw George A. Romero’s last zombie flick Diary of the Dead, and thought it missed the mark and were hoping he would get back on track with his sixth zombie outing… You would be sorely mistaken. With the last two Dead movies Mr. Romero seems hopelessly out of touch with the undead onscreen and the living audience members that have to suffer through these half-baked attempts at cinema and social commentary. More after the jump.
The plot for Survival of the Dead is intriguing enough, this time focusing more on what the humans would do with all these undead walking around, especially when it’s their loved ones. The film focuses on a small island off the coast of Delaware, where two families have been feuding since any of them can remember over who knows what, now shifting their feud to how to deal with the undead. The O’Flynns think the undead are better if they stay dead, while the Muldoons want to keep them alive in hopes of one day finding a cure.
Seamus Muldoon, the patriarch, banishes Patrick O’Flynn and his cronies from the island for their brutal tactics of hunting down the undead. Patrick and his boys kill zombies with the zeal of deranged hunters and it would appear that he is going to be the antagonist of the film. Then we meet a trio of soldiers that were briefly in Diary of the Dead, when they robbed main characters. The soldiers have a ruthless, survive at all costs mentality and have no problem stealing from innocents, to help them live. They hear a radio broadcast saying the island is free of infection, so they book it to the docks, only to be ambushed by Patrick and his gang of exiles. There is a shoot-out and both teams agree to play on the same side to go fight the big bad Seamus Muldoon. This is where the “antagonist ball” shifts to Muldoon’s court. Turns out Muldoon isn’t exactly an angel of mercy after all, he only keeps the undead alive that he deems useful and has shackled them like slaves. Not to mention anyone that approaches the island is killed onsite, because the Muldoons only care about protecting their own. So Patrick and the soldiers come over in a boat and have a shoot-out with the Muldoon boys and then there’s a lot of talking over who’s right and who’s wrong, as well as what to do with Patrick’s daughters who happen to be twins and one is a zombie. And then there’s a massive throw-down at the end between the two families with a slew of zombies caught in the cross-fire, that plays out more silly than climatic.
In case you didn’t notice, for being a zombie movie, there aren’t a lot of zombie moments in this film. And there sure as hell aren’t any scary moments. George A. Romero has an intro to the film on the disc where he reminds us that it is a horror film, but with moments of humor, but he doesn’t warn us about all the unintentional moments of laughter due to bad acting and terrible special effects. The few times zombies actually show up on screen, their make-up looks worse than a straight-to-DVD-Romero-rip-off. There is no way tension can be built or a genuine belief that the characters would be afraid of these “monsters,” when they all look like people with slightly pale skin and dark circles with a little bit of blood splattered on them. The zombies look awful in this movie. It’s as if the special effects crew forgot that technology has advanced since the 70’s and they could make the zombies look really cool, but just didn’t feel like it. Same thing with the gore, the overuse of CGI is nauseatingly bad in this film. One shot stands out in my mind where a zombie’s head explodes and only the scalp flops down on the remaining stub of a neck. Sound awesome? Well it’s not. It looks like CGI for beginners. There is way too much CGI blood splattering all over the place, which is a new trend in movies that drives me INSANE!!! How much can squibs possibly cost, that it becomes necessary to add computer-generated blood? It’s pretty bad when gun shot wounds look more realistic from 30 years ago because filmmakers weren’t lazy. And this is not just directed towards this film, but every movie that takes the easy way out and “fixes everything in post.” How about you do most of it practically so the audience can feel like the film is grounded in some sort of reality? So to sum up this point of contention with the film, the special effects really took me out of any moment that was supposed to be scary or even tense.
Now onto the unnecessarily slow plot. What good is a zombie film if you don’t bother to focus on the zombies? I know that we are supposed to be invested in the human struggle this go around, but that is nearly impossible, since none of the human characters are likeable. Sarge is kind of a douche, robbing people to survive. Patrick would kill your wife without blinking if she turns to the undead side. And Seamus uses zombies as his socially accepted slave labor. So, I’m not really sure who to root for in this debacle… Other than maybe Patrick’s daughter, the living one, not the zombified horse-riding one, yep apparently zombies continue doing some of the things they did while alive. I get the social commentary that Romero is beating over our heads about humans and their age-old feuds that have no end. I get the fact that the humans are more inhuman than the zombies and that we should be more afraid of the Muldoons than the helpless undead. The thing I don’t get is why it all feels tired and like a bad made-for-TV movie. Was there absolutely no budget? Is there some missing link I don’t know about that makes this movie awesome because it’s so poorly crafted? Is Romero a genius by giving the middle finger to audience members for paying to see this film? I have no idea. I just really hope that if he decides to grace us with another film from the genre he birthed from his brilliant mind, that the next go-around he remembers what made his films great to begin with and sticks with that.
Even the most die-hard Romero fans will most likely be disappointed with this film. I would just watch the first three and maybe Land of the Dead, which was actually pretty awesome now that I think about it. And forget Diary and Survival even existed. I hate to bash such a brilliant filmmaker, but I’m hoping if enough people speak up about how bad this film is, that maybe it will give him the kick he needs to get back on track and redeem the series he made epically awesome thirty-plus years ago. Please George A. Romero, listen to your fans!!
Introduction to the film by George A. Romero
Audio Commentary with Director and Crew
“Walking after Midnight” Making of Documentary
“Sarge” Short Film- a monologue from Sarge
“A Minute of Your Time”- 13 slightly longer than a minute featurettes
Time with George- talking with George A. Romero
Storyboard Comparison- Heads on Stakes- storyboards to scene, not sure why the special effects still looked so bad
How to Create Your Own Zombie Bite- self-explanatory
Fangoria Interview with George A. Romero
HDNet: A look at Survival of the Dead
Special Features: B