Review: 'Survival of the Dead'

Review: ‘Survival of the Dead’

By Chris Ullrich

Reprinted from Fantastic Fest, 9/30/09

As a big fan of horror movies and the zombie sub-genre, I really wanted to like George A. Romero’s Survival of the Dead and was prepared to give it the benefit of the doubt as much as possible. Although, my expectations were pretty low after Romero’s last two zombie movie efforts Land of the Dead and Diary of the Dead. Sadly, this film didn’t even manage to rise up to the level of my lowered expectations and is, instead, a heavily flawed and often very bad addition to Romero’s body of work.

Still, this is the man who basically invented the zombie film genre, so attention must be paid and respect given for his enduring legacy as one of this country’s innovative artists. But something has obviously gone a bit off kilter and the writer/director seems to have lost his way. I’m not sure how this phenomenon works exactly, but somewhere along the way a director seems to lose his vision.

After several great and innovative films the later films start to get worse and worse. Unfortunately, George Romero seems to have fallen into that trap, much like another acknowledged master of horror John Carpenter seems to. Look at Carpenter’s last few films and tell me they are as good as his earlier work in The Thing, Starman, Escape from New York and, of course, the original Halloween.

Now compare that to his more recent films like Escape from LA, Ghosts of Mars and Vampire$ and I think you’ll begin to understand what I’m talking about. This same problem seems to have hit George Romero. Although, I might make the case that Romero has not had the mainstream success that Carpenter has had and also that his earlier films, however innovative and ground breaking, were simply not as good as everyone thinks they are.

Tastes change and so do people and looking back, I can often appreciate films more after watching them again. But also, the opposite sometimes happens and a film doesn’t hold up and I wonder what all the fuss was about.

I’m not trying to take anything away from Romero’s legacy or remove him from his place as the “Godfather of Zombie Movies” but as a filmmaker, he’s always left a little something to be desired — at least for me. Sure, his films are technically competent and occasionally offer a bit of insight into societies problems, but they are not really much more than that. Not much to my surprise, Survival of the Dead doesn’t really do much to rise above that level. However, it does have a few good points.

The film is basically a sort of western set on an island off the coast of Delaware called Plum where two feuding Irish clams, the Muldoons and the O’Flynns. The O’Flynns are hell bent on killing all zombies, be they family or not, and the Muldoons want to quarantine the infected until a cure can be found. Dropped in the middle of this are a group of soldiers, led by the intense Sarge (Alan Van Sprang), who are just looking for a place to hide.

There’s also some business with trying to get zombies to eat things other than people, the leader of the O’Flynns luring people back to the island, twins and a bunch of truly bad fake Irish accents. Still, the movie manages to have several moment of genuine humor and some pretty cool zombie and human kills, which almost make up for the fact that logic and story have mostly gone out the window here in favor of blood, gore and not-so-cleverly disguised social commentary.

As I said at the beginning of this review, I really wanted to like Survival of the Dead and was hoping that Romero could redeem himself somehow for his last two zombie movies and perhaps return to the form most people associate with his genius. I can say that this film is better than his last two and does have a few good things going for it. But really, having to justify and recommend a film by saying its at least better than two other much worse films, really isn’t much of a justification or recommendation is it?