Survival of the Dead Review
George has been playing the zombie game for some time now, has it really been over 40 years that his first instalment, Night of the Living Dead, first appeared on our screens? Since that time his revolutionary Dead series has gone from strength to, well strength, peaked, and now really they are not the former movies that he once put his hand to. The more recent Dead releases have been enjoyable but they don't really come up to the depraved heights of horror and social commentary that the first three instalments he gleefully showered upon us.
The plot is a simple affair, they always are and there's nothing wrong with that premise. Crockett (Alan Van Spring) , first seen in Diary of the Dead robbing a camper van on a highway to nowhere, and his group of renegade military dudes gone AWOL, decide their best option is to flee this wounded land. They eventually come across Patrick O'Flynn (Kenneth Welsh) who has been banished from Plum Island. Where better to survive than on an island where the dead population can be closely controlled, i.e. disposed of. Stealing the local ferry they make their way over the waters, only to find that all is not perhaps as our chatty Irish friend first implied; there's a war brewing, not just between the living and the dead, but between the O'Flynns and the Muldoons.
This is essentially more of the same. Initially Romero's Dead series had a great deal of depth about them. They were scary, extremely funny in parts and often had some biting satirical or social commentary underlying their almost glossy exteriors. This social commentary has not found its way into the hoards of non Romero walking dead flicks, and, more importantly, this subtle depth is now rapidly being exorcised from the great man's work themselves. The last in the series, Diary of the Dead, is almost an immediate reboot of his ailing franchise, telling the story from the begining again, a way of him keeping control, a way of Romero and the studios coining in because there's a wide fan base out there. Give them what they want and, like the zombies they go to see, they'll flock in, pay their cash and come staggering back for more come the next release.
I'll be stumbling at the head of that queue.
The social commentary is essentially now being replaced, now they're essentially more parodies; parodies of their previous incarnations. Where Diary tried its hand to be little more serious (and in fact could have been the better for it), Romero has reverted to the comedic aspects which his audiences know, love and prefer. Land of the Dead tried its hand at evolution of the sorry death ridden population and, whilst some people accepted this as a natural progression others thought it was sacrilege to even suggest that the walking dead might actually have some brains within their rotting skulls.
That evolution continues here to some degree. The island population believe it is possible to train the dead to eat subjects other than live humans. There is also the continuing facet of retained memories coming to the surface; zombies behaving in death in the same way they would whilst alive. This is something that has been common throughout the Dead series but Romero goes further again continuing the suggestion from Land of the Dead that even emotion is carried over as well, not just autonomous behaviour. I accept both willingly, not necessarily because that's how I believe a walking, mumbling zombie would act (and let's face it I'm pretty much unlikely ever to prove my point), but because it makes for a better movie if there is some movement, something different, something to keep the viewer entertained. Yes it's ok to see the latest makeup being used on our once beloved creatures, the ways in which they can be disposed of, or the ways in which they can tear a human being apart, but this does get a little too repetitive so there has to be some element which changes, some element of the basic concept that is new and keeps the viewer wondering what will come next.
That's not to say that those visceral factors are not there for the taking because they are. If you're wanting flesh and gore then it's here pretty much aplenty; certainly enough to keep the zombie aficionado entertained that's for sure. New ways to kill zombies... check, new disgusting ways to eat the intestines of your favourite aunt... check, even humans eating zombies for a change... check!
The acting is as good as you can hope for, acceptable enough with a little slapstick thrown in for good measure, and the plot is back to your basics Romero zombie fodder. Whilst these are never ever going to be top of the tree stuff they're still enjoyable for what this vertical horror genre is and that's nowt serious, no awards to be found, bubblegum for the eyes adventure. In a digital era Romero can churn as many of these out as he can possibly make, the production costs are more or less plummeting for this type of low budget horror affair. Look at Paranormal Activity for instance, does it get any more low budget than that? These days if you're into digital then you can do wonders with a fertile imagination.
Perhaps that then is where Romero should direct his future efforts at the zombie regime. Yes we've seen it all before, yes we still see new ways of dispatching the dead and yes we do have an evolutionary storyline. Still it's becoming a little stale, and if you'll pardon the pun, needs an injection of life to kick start it somewhat. What else do we have to look forward to though, Education of the Dead, a sorry tale of Professor Higgins trying to teach his deceased student the finer points of society dining? I personally don't know where he can go with these. I still enjoy the ride, still enjoy seeing zombies placed in new scenarios but these scenarios are running out fast.
There's an old saying that you should always leave the audience wanting more. Romero has continually negated that by supplying his audience with more of the same with subtle twists, and we always lap it all up. There's the other saying that you should go out on a high and I feel that Romero is past that stage with this particular franchise. My advice would be to think up a final way of bringing this series to a close then leave well alone because if he continues going down this route then he's going to have nothing left to say, and even his most ardent fans will become a little jaded.
You don't want your zombies spinning in their graves and this one doesn't quite give them that gyroscopic momentum. Survival of the Dead ensures the series continues, it's a welcome addition but hopefully Romero can see light at the end of this particular tunnel and bring things to a close sooner than later. Romero's Holy Trinity of zombie movies, Night, Dawn and Day, are the seminal entries in this genre and since those heady days he has gradually gone downhill. Survival is better than Diary but not by much and unfortunately the final score reflects this.