However times have changed, zombie movies have mutated and today’s audience is used to stronger, faster, blood filled, decapitating, virus spreading thrill rides as apposed to Romero’s trademark allegorical character driven stories full of political and social comment and slow moving menaces.
So with Romero approaching 70 is Survival of the Dead a return to form from the godfather of zombie movies? Or does this movie prove once and for all that he should let the dead stay dead?
Before we answer that its time for a little history lesson. For the 2 readers of this wonderful web-site who don’t know anything about Romero’s classic zombie series, lets go back to the beginning.
When Night of The Living Dead was released in 1968 it changed the face of horror forever. With its stark stylish black and white look, simple but excellent story, and never ending horrifying horde of decomposing human eating corpses, it shuffled its way into our collective consciousness and defined everything we know about zombies.
The sequels Dawn of the Dead, released in 1978, and Day of the Dead (1985), firmly cemented Romero’s crown as king of the undead and as a horror auteur. Set in the same world with the same rules both where brilliant pieces of movie making.
Dawn was a reflection of the consumer driven culture of the time and Day deconstructed aspects of social interaction and military might versus scientific exploration while both also worked purely as all out horror films full of graphic gore and truly terrifying moments.
It was 20 years before Romero retuned to the graveyard to dig up another zombie movie and it was here that things began to fall apart. Set far in the future from the other films Land of the Dead was an overblown, unsubtle attack on the Bush administration post 9/11, which although ambitious and passionate, failed to capture the ingenuity or creativity of his early work.
Obviously feeling that there was more to say, 2007’s Diary of the Dead was a giant examination on our media obsessed culture.
Although containing some amazingly quirky characters, including an Amish zombie killing farmer, it suffered greatly from an over simplistic and old fashioned view of modern media and the internet, and stylistic comparisons to Cloverfield, Blair Witch and [REC].
Romero’s strangest decision with Diary was to reboot and alter the timeline, starting the zombie outbreak from the beginning again – thus ignoring the previous films and everything that had happened. And so we arrive at Survival of the Dead.
Set straight after the events of Diary, it follows the rouge band of military dropouts lead by Sergeant Crocket (Alan Van Sprang), fighting for their lives in a world of flesh eating freaks.
They meet patriarch, Patrick O’Flynn (Kenneth Welsh) who takes them to Plum Island, a place he claims they will be safe. However they soon discover that is far from the truth. Walking into a family feud, they discover O’Flynn was banished from the island by the head of rival family Seamus Muldoon (Richard Fitzpatrick).
Whereas O’Flynn set about making sure the dead stayed dead, Muldoon has made the island into a perverse zoo, full of chained-up zombies, pretending to live normal lives while he prays for a cure and attempts to force them into eating something other than human flesh. Sarge and his team are caught between the two men who fight for control of the island and the lives of the undead. It’s a physical and moral battle that can only end in carnage and death.
Part zombie movie, part examination of humanity as a whole, Survival bears all the trademark Romero elements including slapstick, social comment and a very large dose of guns and gore.
Bullets fly, heads exploded and there are some wholly imaginative and inspired zombie killings – which will have you laughing and cringing simultaneously.
Credit is due for the adventurous way it attempts to mash traditional stylistic and narrative elements (usually found in westerns) into a modern horror movie to make something new. The ethical dilemma it examines regarding what a zombie actually is and if the reanimated corpse of a loved one is still the person they were. It’s an interesting and a complicated question on the nature of humanity and the soul.
All that said, this is ultimately a disappointing film. Like Land and Diary before it, Romero still hasn’t lived up to his glory days.
The plot is messy, the characters are unengaging and the acting is hit and miss. It lacks the relevance of his previous work, the immediacy, and the edge, and this is perhaps due to the total freedom Romero now has writing and directing his own films – which has led to self indulgence and a loss of focus and purpose.
Romero’s influence and importance throughout horror is undisputed. However the genre he created has been overrun with a million pretenders to his zombie crown, many who have created stale and dumb cash-ins purely for profit, but some who have taken the undead to new levels of fear and originality.
Survival of the Dead is interesting and entertaining enough to make it still worth watching, especially if you are a fan of the flesh eating undead.
Let’s hope his next return to the series is the ‘return to from’ we are all waiting for. As long as he keeps the zombies slow, I’ll keep watching.