Two things you should probably know; 1) This piece was originally featured on CHUD.com, and 2) It was written very soon after the series finale of Lost aired, which will help you better understand the first joke…
So there’s this island, right?
Hey wait – where you going? Come back!
Thanks. Anyway, Survival Of The Dead takes place mostly on an island, where the dead are coming back to life and there are a couple different factions warring over how to rule the island, and there are farm animals on the island, and a brunette who seems to have some connection with a dark horse, and a crazy-eyed old guy who knows how he wants to run the island, and shootouts keep happening, but really people, I’m still not describing Lost.
Survival Of The Dead is the most recent zombie movie from genre monolith George A. Romero. Survival Of The Dead is somewhat hilariously-titled (spoiler warning: the dead don’t survive — kinda by definition) and the humor is mostly on purpose there and in the rest of the movie. For a bleak zombie movie about the end of the world, it’s got a pretty great sense of humor. I really shouldn’t be calling it a zombie movie I guess, since they’re not once called zombies here. The word is “deadheads,” which at least has nothing to do with hippies.
George Romero is one of those directors whose movies had some part in making me who I am, so I’ll always be rooting for his new stuff to be good. He’s a trailblazer and an iconoclast, and I would be hard-pressed to speak too critically over anything he’s done. I’m happy that a bunch of people seem to like this one, and I’d never begrudge anyone their enjoyment of a George Romero movie.
So can I just say that Survival Of The Dead is pretty far from my favorite George Romero movie, and leave it there?
No? Well before I get into it, can I at least conjure good memories by naming the contenders? My favorite would be somewhere between Night Of The Living Dead and Dawn Of The Dead (choosing between them would be like choosing between A Fistful Of Dollars and The Good The Bad & The Ugly – one started the whole thing, the other escalates it to perfection), and I also have a major soft spot for Knightriders, which is one of Romero’s most personal movies and has probably his best ensemble cast of his whole filmography.
Survival Of The Dead is not as good, or as personal, of any of those three movies. This is a bit of an understatement.
The story concerns a band of corrupt National Guardsmen who grab an armored car full of money and head to a coastal island where a pair of Irish immigrants are locked in a lifelong mortal struggle. The island is called Plum, but it would be fair to call it the Island Of Bad Accents. Really, the Leprechaun movies have better accent work. The movie’s main conflict is between the O’Flynns and the Muldoons, who always hated each other but now are at war over the problem of zombies. I mean deadheads. The O’Flynns want to take the typical approach, a bullet to the head, while the Muldoons want to keep them chained up until some kind of cure is discovered. It’s an interesting idea, and like the best Romero, it has not-so-vague socio-political implications, but it never really pans out.
One problem is that Romero’s movies are starting to suffer from casting unknowns. That’s a dangerous business – sometimes you end up with a Ken Foree and it’s great, but other times you end up with people who aren’t up to the task of carrying a movie. Of the three principals in Survival Of The Dead, Romero neo-regular Alan Van Sprang is likable if not thoroughly believably badass as “Nicotine” Crockett, whereas the film’s ingénue, Kathleen Munroe, is not nearly memorable enough (and a little too reminiscent of the young Mick Jagger), and the film’s true protagonist, Kenneth Welsh as the Irish John Locke, Patrick O’Flynn, brings the whole enterprise too close to Darby O’Gill territory to be effective in the way Romero needs him to be.
The other problem is the movie’s stilted and cramped cinematography. Romero’s movies are about human nature and end-of-the-world philosophy – they yearn to be impressively widescreen, or at least to feel more epic and affecting. Survival Of The Dead is very poorly-shot – the action choreography and character placement are slapdash, often missing several moments that would make it feel more fluid and comprehensible. It’s not worthy of the work of the low-budget innovator who made Dawn Of The Dead, and it’s not at all a good showcase for cinematographer Adam Swica. This movie looks like a million bucks, and speaking literally, that’s not a good thing to say about a movie.
All right, I’m done bagging on Survival Of The Dead now. As I said, I’d rather think nice thoughts about everything Romero. So let me say that there are a couple unique and genuinely haunting images spread sparingly throughout, and if you’re an aficionado of this sort of thing, you’ll at least appreciate the several innovative zombie-killing gags. (Romero literally invented that particular pleasure of films, and he’s still the best at it.) And I’m a fan of anything I’ve never seen before in movies, so here’s a short list to end the article of all the things Survival Of The Dead has which no other movie anywhere else has to offer:
- An Asian gentleman sitting on a rooftop and fishing for zombies.
- A zombie lady riding a horse.
- A zombie lady biting a horse.
- A bunch of zombies pulling a cowboy’s butt off.
- A zombie pulling someone’s scalp off.
- A zombie taking a bullet to the head so that their head explodes and then the scalp lands on the now-empty neck.
- A lesbian soldier introduced as she publicly whacks off in a jeep. Don’t ask don’t tell!
I feel confident that this list will let you make the final decision as to whether you want to see this movie or not.
P.S. Here is the German poster for the movie, which is very German and thus extremely scary: