Review by: A. Zombie
Rated: R (Strong zombie violence/gore. Language and brief sexuality)
Starring: Alan Van Sprang, Kenneth Welsh, Kathleen Munroe, Richard Fitzpatrick
Brr…it is getting cold in here—actually I’m always cold, but that isn’t the point. Hell has frozen over, folks. The ZSC commanders handed me a Romero movie to review this time around. I’m so happy, I could jump for joy. Except jumping requires basic motor skills, and let’s face it, I’m lucky to be able to type. Jumping is not in my skill set. Alright, on to the film…
Official synopsis for George A. Romero’s Survival of the Dead:
“On a small island off the coast of Delaware, live two families locked in a struggle for power and control over the fate of the undead. The O’Flynns approach the zombie plague with a shoot-to-kill attitude. The Muldoons feel that the zombies should be quarantined and kept “alive,” in hopes that a solution will be discovered. For both families, existence on Plum Island is a nightmarish world where humans are the minority and zombies rule.”
The part the synopsis fails to mention is the fact that there’s a random squad of AWOL military folks who happen to stumble into the middle of this large-scale domestic dispute. Why are they there? I don’t know, but someone had to talk sense amongst all the “my family is better than yours” squabbling. Though they really don’t talk sense. The military squad is a means to an end; get one of the crotchety old men back onto the island. They don’t add anything or take from it. They’re just… extra bodies to talk on screen so the film doesn’t seem quite so Hatfield and McCoy.
Let’s talk zombies for a moment. Romero couldn’t possibly screw those up, right? First off, when did he start using the word, “zombie” in his movies? Second, Survival of the Dead is supposed to take place after the drastic change in behavior from the undead in Land of the Dead, in which they began to evolve and remember how to do basic things like using tools. They also regained muscle memory of sorts and tended to repeat behavior they’d done every day while alive. The dead in Survival kind of took a step backwards. Yes, they exhibited this behavior, but one would think being isolated on a small island would give them a learning curve. There’s less to remember if you’ve lived in one very rural place most of your life. Only one zombie truly embraced this idea, and she used her skills to ride a horse. Oh yeah, that’ll get you far in the movement for Undead Rights.
The makeup was typical low-budget Romero. Possibly too low-budget. The first zombie on screen looks like a kid working his first night at a haunted house—pale skin, darkened eyes, slack mouth. He didn’t exactly scream “undead”. I’ve seen Goth kids with more makeup and zombie appeal. As the film progressed, the makeup got better, but it wasn’t congruent to the story line. A pair of supposedly “fresh” children zombies looked liked they crawled out of their graves after a year’s dirt nap, while older zombies looked like they fell into a pile of baby powder. It is rare that I nitpick makeup on Romero’s films. Survival was, by far, the worst in this department.
All in all, Survival of the Dead gets three bullet-riddle brains out of five. I love Romero and his contribution to the dialog about zombies reflecting the current ills in the human condition, but this film fell flat in comparison to his past work. It is disappointing for genre fans when the low-budget zombie master can’t succeed in the niche he created.