The final installment of George Romero’s DEAD saga was about on par with his previous efforts LAND OF THE DEAD and DIARY OF THE DEAD: flawed in many respects, but pretty good for the most part.
In his final years the late George Romero tried repeatedly to mount non zombie-themed projects, yet with this 2009 effort he was back once again in territory he pioneered with the iconic NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD. It was Romero’s sixth …OF THE DEAD film, and, as usual, was made independently. It was also one of the most contentious of all Romero’s films, inspiring at least one petition asking Romero not to direct any more DEAD movies—which I feel (even though I like this film) isn’t such a bad idea.
In the wake of the zombie contagion introduced in NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD, DAWN OF THE DEAD, DAY OF THE DEAD, LAND OF THE DEAD and DIARY OF THE DEAD, life on a secluded island is torn apart by a decades-old rivalry between two stubborn old men: Nicotine Crocket and Patrick O’Flynn. Following a particularly nasty showdown Crocket orders O’Flynn off the island. O’Flynn obligingly sails away, and sets up shop in a port to which he lures desperate people so he can rob them.
Enter a ragtag band of well-armed soldiers whose ranks include the temperamental Seamus, a tough young woman aptly monikered Tomboy, and a teenager who falls in with them. After a shootout with O’Flynn and his lackeys at the port, the soldiers head off to the island with O’Flynn in tow.
They reach the island, which is crawling with zombies and, even worse, Crocket and his underlings, who patrol the area with rifles. Also afoot is O’Flynn’s deceased daughter, now a zombie who rides a horse around the island.
In short order, Tomboy is captured by Crocket’s goons and used to lure Seamus and co. to Crocket’s farm. There Crocket is attempting to wean zombies off human flesh by encouraging them to eat animals. Thus far he’s had no luck, but plans to use O’Flynn’s zombie daughter as his latest subject, with her own father as a witness to the experiment. Everyone, however, is in for a shock, as the dead girl’s still-living twin sister(!) is looking to help her father even the score against Seamus, the soldiers are getting increasingly trigger happy, and the ever-present zombies are hungering for human flesh.
Romero has claimed that he comes up with the thematic content of his scripts before the story and characters. If true, that explains why SURVIVAL OF THE DEAD plays like a near-western with political overtones rather than a proper zombie fest. No, it’s not quite the “zombie western” it was initially sold as, but does have definite western elements. The living dead serve essentially as background to the human drama at the film’s center, and nor is the bloodletting ever too novel or inspiring (especially since so much of the gore is of the CGI variety). If anyone is doubting that Romero has had his fill of zombies, I believe this film offers ample evidence.
It is, however, efficient and entertaining. The style and personality of Romero’s best films are largely missing, but he’s succeeded in crafting a diverting action-oriented chiller. The acting by a no-name cast is adequate (a big step up from the lousy performances of DIARY OF THE DEAD), and Romero’s script does a good job balancing his political concerns with a fast moving, action packed narrative. The action sequences are often tarnished by the limited budget (a frequent problem with Romero’s films), but the scope and ambition of the enterprise are impressive nonetheless.
SURVIVAL OF THE DEAD
Blank of the Dead Productions/Magnet Releasing
Director: George A. Romero
Producer: Paula Devonshire
Screenplay: George A. Romero
Cinematography: Adam Swica
Editing: Michael Doherty
Cast: Alan Van Sprang, Kenneth Walsh, Kathleen Munroe, Devon Bostick, Richard Fitzpatrick, Athena Karkanis, Stefano DiMatteo, Joris Jarsky, Eric Woolfe, Julian Richings, Wayne Robson, Joshua Pearce