If there was ever a reason for Jack Kevorkian to visit a movie franchise, George A. Romero’s Survival of the Dead is it.
I don’t wish ill on Romero. He’s still the man when it comes to horror — a lovable hippie director who looks like your favorite uncle but who has a penchant for gory films while offering a bit of social commentary at the same time. In the classic Night of the Living Dead, the heroic Ben, an African American, survives an onslaught of zombies only to be mistakenly shot by a squad of rednecks. The flick resonated quite strongly during those not-so-humdrum days of the late ’60s, when America’s leaders were being assassinated and the civil rights movement continued to wage on. And in 1978’s Dawn of the Dead, Romero whacks viewers over the head with an anti-consumerism screed, featuring a legion of undead shuffling aimlessly around a mall. After that, there’s Day of the Dead, which drives home his message that military might ain’t always right
After Day of the Dead, the zombie genre was basically stillborn until Danny Boyle’s 28 Days Later, which cannibalized the storyline of Day of the Dead while the director thumbed his nose at the genre. (Danny Boyle is a big turd.) Following that, there was the solid Dawn of the Dead remake, and Edgar Wright’s love letter to Romero, Shaun of the Dead.
With the genre’s resurrection, it was inevitable Romero would revisit his old burial ground. In 2005’s Land of the Dead, the director pointed his zombie gaze at the ever-widening divide between the classes, while 2008’s Diary of the Dead focused its attention on the media’s dominance of our lives. The big-budget Land dashed fanboy hopes while the Blair Witch-style Diary, a low-budget whine-fest, was filled to the brim with self-absorbed idiots pondering the meaning of it all. It also didn’t help that both films utilized a crap-ton of CGI blood and a lot less of the gory makeup the previous films were famous for.
For the record, CGI can be a nice thing when used to sparing effect, but, usually, it’s the go-to gadget for studios and lazy directors who don’t feel like using dyed-red Karo syrup, actual sets, or even real people. CGI blows. It cripples great cinematic art. Matrix Reloaded. Attack of the Clones. Frankenfish. I believe I have made my point.
As it is for most of his loyal fans, my love for Romero and his work is boundless. His underrated 1977 meditation, Martin, uses his main character’s vampire complex as a way to examine identity confusion. Night of the Living Dead freaked me out in a way that few horror films before or after have done. It’s annoying that, thanks to a copyright deal that sent the film into public domain, the director never saw any of the money that was made from his classic. It’s also why Romero has continued to revisit the well that made him a haunted-household name.
There is a reason for all this rambling. There’s really not a whole lot to say about Romero’s latest. To put it nicely, Survival of the Dead almost drove me to tears but not because it was so amazingly awesome. (For the record, I cried when E.T. “died,” when Stripe the Gremlin melted into a green puddle, and when Harvey Keitel unsheathed his meat sword in Bad Lieutenant). Survival of the Dead is the equivalent of watching Mike Tyson lose the magic that made him great.
This go around, the zombie series focuses on a minor character from Diary of the Dead, as well as two warring families — the O’Flynns, who think the undead must be destroyed, and the Muldoons, who believe their undead loved ones should be kept “alive” until a cure is found. Or at least that’s what I remember the movie being about. It’s not a good sign when you kinda forget the plot of a film an hour after you’ve watched it.
Reportedly, Romero used the western The Big Country as inspiration. Here is what I can recollect: Athena Karkanis plays Tomboy, a world-weary soldier. How can you can tell she’s world weary? She walks around holding a gun while making sad faces most of the time. At one point, a character we’re supposed to care about gets killed, and, apparently, said character was another character’s best friend. I know that because someone states it, but it definitely wasn’t showcased by their banter. A lot of zombies get shot in the head, and CGI blood flies everywhere.
Like Diary of the Dead, there are no memorable moments in Survival of the Dead. It goes right through the viewer, kinda like Indian food.