Friday, October 29, 2010

Survival of the Dead - Home Video Review





Release Date:  Sometime in 2009...maybe.


Review Vital Stats:
Service: Netflix
Download Type: Instant Stream
Picture Quality: High Definition

Biases:
Loves: The old George Romero, Zombie movies
Likes: Directors that take chances
Hates: The new George Romero


What the hell happened to George Romero...? This is the guy that invented zombie movies and the mythology itself as we know it. The original 1968 Night of the Living Dead is a classic and its two sequels, one of which made my top 11 horror films of all time, were superb. The horror movie genre would not be what it is today if it were not for his influences. He took a large hiatus after Day of the Dead and didn't return to the genre he helped create until 20 years later with Land of the Dead. While that movie did have its share of problems it still showed he had what it took to make a good zombie flick. Then there was Diary of the Dead...and now we have Survival of the Dead...and now I am a very very sad person.


It really hurts me to say this but Diary of the Dead was an atrocious piece of garbage. So much so that I refused to believe George Romero had anything to do with it. He seemed to be going back to his roots and leaving the Hollywood system behind, the same way he did when he made Dawn of the Dead. He had a cast of unknowns and a script that he wrote which left him with complete creative freedom. Who would have thought that letting him do whatever he wanted would result in one of the worst horror/zombie movies...cancel that, worst movies I had ever seen. Then after I put that turd at the back of my mind forever I hear about his follow up zombie movie, Survival of the Dead.

The Sarge, annoying geek boy and the bald guy.
I was excited for Diary of the Dead, but the way that movie took my enthusiasm for another Romero zombie movie destroyed it has tainted me in an awful way. So I awaited this entry into the Romero zombie portfolio with bated breath. George Romero took a chance with what he did with Diary and it failed...badly. So with Survival of the Dead he seems to be going back to the basics...people being eaten by zombies along with a little social commentary thrown into the mix as well. It pleases me to report that this back pedal has worked because Survival, while still not a very good movie, is at least watchable and has a little of that old Romero zombie magic to it...very little.

The premise is actually a decent one and also a long overdue one I might add. Basically you have an island where a group of locals, two feuding families no less, have claimed the island as their own sanctuary from the outside world. The feud involves a difference of opinion on how to handle the undead, O'flynn (Kenneth Welsh) wants to clear them out and rid the entire island of them where Muldoon (Richard Fitzpatrick) believes there is a way to domesticate them and wants them spared. This conflict is resolved with O'flynn being banished from the island and sent to the mainland, a resolution his daughter Janet (Kathleen Munroe) has arranged with Muldoon if he spared his life.

Cool guys don't look at flaming zombie heads.
We then meet up with what appears to be whats left of a small National Guard unit led by a man they call Sarge (Alan Van Sprang). He only has a few people left under his command and he makes it his business to get them to safety. They eventually make their way to a dock after seeing a strange advertisement offering ferry rides to a secluded island sanctuary. That commercial they saw was done by O'flynn, who is looking for some way to get back to his home while also sending people over to the island in hopes of upsetting Muldoon. When Sarge and his group arrive they are met with hostility, but due to being a little better armed than O'flynn and his guys they win out.

O'flynn ends up tagging along for the ride to the island after convincing him of his intentions and in no time they are on their way. The rest of the film plays out with O'flynn trying to overthrow Muldoon with the military refugees as his helpers. At least that is what it appeared to be leading towards but just like Diary of the Dead there isn't really any focus on...well anything. I think my description makes it all seem much more coherent that it actually is. The first real problem at hand here is the acting, these actors are light years better than the "off the road" actors he had in Diary but they still leave much to be desired.

It's love at first bite.
The two actors playing O'flynn and Muldoon do an adequate job I suppose, although many of the issues I had with them may be because of Romero's script which is kind of all over the place. O'flynn lures those soldiers to the port where he plans on...well...I'm really not sure. He says he has sent many other groups of survivors to the island but as soon as Sarge and his group arrive he fires upon them. Then after Sarge's people kill all of O'flynn's people and take over the ferry he jumps on board, becomes friends with them and doesn't skip a beat. Wouldn't he be upset that his friends were killed by Sarge? Why would Sarge be so trusting to a man that just tried to shanghai him and his soldiers? Why if all O'flynn wanted was to get to the island did he not hitch a ride with all the other people he sent over previously?

Muldoon has similar motivation issues, he says he wants to try and train the zombies to eat something other than human flesh (a major plot point from Day of the Dead that was handled much better there). Same with Sarge and his people, they are all...you know what, who the hell cares? I know George Romero didn't or else he would have written and developed better characters. If the man that created the film didn't care enough to give us at least one compelling character then I am not going to waste another minute talking about them. Let's just sum it up by saying they are one note characters that take that one note and stretch it through the entire movie with maybe the one possible exception of O'flynn who shows he has grown from his experiences by doing one of the single most stupid thing in the entire movie.

"You'll shoot your eye out kid."
Let's talk a little about the good points of the film and yes, there are some good things to be found here. Despite some really shoddy CG effects here and there we are given some good old fashioned blood and guts zombie effects. The actual zombie make up is just OK but when people start to get feasted on it generally looks good. Plus there were a couple of interesting things done with the zombies here I hadn't seen before such as a scene at the docks involving a person swimming through some shallow water filled with zombies reaching up to grab them and, this is a spoiler for the ending by the way if you care, seeing a group of zombies devour a horse.

I do like the premise as well, not the whole feuding family thing but the idea of using an island as a sanctuary from the zombie outbreak. Many zombie films have used that as goal for their characters in the past "I know this place off the coast where we should be safe". It is interesting that no other zombie movie has actually used that as the location for their story before, although Land of the Dead had a similar location for its city and did it pretty well. Unfortunately though Survival doesn't use this location to its full potential and that is a shame. I have noticed that I keep referencing Romero's other zombie movies which makes me wonder if there might be another problem at work here.

Yummy yummy in my tummy.
George Romero seems to be just rehashing stuff he has done in the past and doing a poor job at it no less. I hold no grudge against the man, he has given me plenty of thrills and chills over the years but I have to wonder if maybe he has run out of ideas. After the one two punch of Diary and Survival of the Dead he is sadly losing my confidence to the point of me actually hoping he stays away from zombie movies all together. Either that or he takes a good long look at what he has created recently and then what he has created in the past and figures out what he is doing wrong.

I really wanted to like this movie, I wanted to continue to believe in George Romero's ability to deliver the goods but have been left a broken man. While Survival is not quite the travesty that Diary is, it still leaves a lot to be desired. Poor script, poor acting, and poor directing do not a good film make. See one of his earlier zombie films instead, hell see Land of the Dead before you see this drivel. One day maybe he will find some inspiration again to make something worthwhile but as much as it pains me to say it...


AVOID IT

The ultimate zombie standoff...this image is ridiculous.


George A. Romero's Survival of the Dead (Ultimate Undead Edition) [Blu-ray] 

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