Review: SURVIVAL OF THE DEAD
Author: Kyle Byrd
Official Site: magnetreleasing.com/survivalofthedead
SURVIVAL OF THE DEAD is the sixth entry in George A. Romero’s iconic LIVING DEAD series of films. The film centers around two feuding families on Plum Island, a tiny island off the coast of Delaware. The O’Flynn and Muldoon families have been feuding in the aftermath of the zombie plague that started in DIARY OF THE DEAD (2007). The O’Flynns led by Patrick O’Flynn (Kenneth Walsh) believe that all zombies should be seen as a threat and exterminated.
The Muldoons, led by Seamus Muldoon (Richard Fitzpatrick) are clinging to their dead loved ones, letting them live as undead flesh eaters in hopes that a cure can be found to turn them back into their former selves. In the middle of all this lies a group of soldiers led by Sergeant Crockett (Alan Van Sprang), who was last seen in the previous film (DIARY OF THE DEAD) robbing the lead characters.
SURVIVAL OF THE DEAD is a bit of a return to form for b-movie genius George Romero. It ditches the soapbox message-heavy documentary feel of his DIARY OF THE DEAD and the large scope of LAND OF THE DEAD (2005). And, like those films, SURVIVAL is a bit of a mixed bag. For example, some of the actors are very good and have a great time with their roles. Alan Van Sprang’s Crockett and Kenneth Walsh’s Patrick O’Flynn are especially fun and likable characters. On the other hand Richard Fitzpatrick gives a rather flat performance as Seamus Muldoon and lacks the charisma of his rival, O’Flynn.
This film takes a consciously different tone than the last few entries in the series. Romero has ditched the more serious and heavy handed approach of his experimental and polarizing DIARY OF THE DEAD. Instead of taking a serious message and pushing it to the forefront, he has loaded SURVIVAL OF THE DEAD with comedic touches, focusing on just making a fun b-movie. Some of the gags here could have come straight out of a LOONEY TUNES short. It’s possibly George’s funniest film since his groundbreaking zombie masterpiece, DAWN OF THE DEAD (1978) and his tongue in cheek comic book homage CREEPSHOW (1982).
This isn’t to say the film doesn’t have a distinct theme or message. Romero has said himself that the rivalry between the Muldoons and the O’Flynns could be compared to current state of the United States Senate. You could also look at their feud as a metaphor for the pointlessness of war. As with most of Romero’s films, its social subtext is largely open for interpretation. One could actually say that this is one of the least message-heavy films in the series. Regardless, the question of “would you kill your loved ones?” is an interesting one.
The way the film delivers its message is more in line with something like DAWN OF THE DEAD, which managed to be both subtle and upfront at the same time. That being said, the characters and atmosphere are probably more in line with LAND OF THE DEAD in that it follows a team of military anti-heroes and has a distinct villain. Like LAND, the whole thing has a very heavy comic bookish vibe to it.
The DEAD series has a bit of a reputation for having each entry feel radically different from one another, so with SURVIVAL sharing so many qualities of other films, some may find it a bit repetitive or generic compared to the rest. But for people who weren’t fond of the drastic change that DIARY OF THE DEAD provided, it may be a welcome return to form. Like all of the DEAD films, its bound to divide its audience.
Even though SURVIVAL OF THE DEAD has many of George Romero’s trademark touches, the quality of the film really isn’t close to the caliber of film making as NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD (1968), DAWN OF THE DEAD (1978), or even DAY OF THE DEAD (1985). As I mentioned already, it’s a mixed bag. A lot of this is really the fault of the film’s flawed script. Some of it is brilliant (especially the scenes showing what Muldoon has done to people who have turned) and some if it well… isn’t. For example, the running gag of lesbian soldier Tomboy (Athena Karkanis) being sexually harassed by male soldier Francisco (Stefano Colacitti) is awkwardly written and given so much attention that it practically defines their characters. There’s also a twist in the middle of the film concerning O’Flynn’s daughter (Kathleen Munroe) that seems so pointless, you really have to wonder how it was included in the final draft.
Even with all the flaws in this film, it still manages to be a lot of fun. Romero continues to be a master at zombie scenes. There’s a particularly spooky and tense scene where a character is swimming in a lake full of zombies who are trying to grab him from the bottom. Romero also shows that he’s still as creative as ever when it comes to killing off his flesh-eating ghouls. It’s a wonder that he’s still able to create fresh and interesting gore gags after all these years. The only drawback to this is that the effects are mostly done with CGI, which really isn’t as convincing. In a series known for its realistic special effects, it really does put a bit of a damper on the whole experience.
Although heavily flawed, SURVIVAL OF THE DEAD manages to be a cheesy good time. As far as quality goes, it probably falls somewhere in the middle when compared to the rest of the series. Its not as heavy handed or divisive as SURVIVAL OF THE DEAD, and the pacing and tone are much more consistent than in LAND OF THE DEAD.
For people who weren’t fond of the last few DEAD outings, you may want to avoid this one as it suffers from some of the same pitfalls (sub-par acting, CG gore, etc). But even though SURVIVAL OF THE DEAD may lack the brilliance of the genre changing classics NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD and DAWN OF THE DEAD, it is still a fun b-movie that should please fans of George Romero’s brand of humorous and politically conscious horror films.