Romero's use of metaphor, skillful casting and artistic storytelling turned what was undeniably a Midnight B-Movie into something more akin to an art film packed with social commentary. This is true even to the point that thirty one years after its initially meager release, the explicit and bleakly gory zombie flick was deemed "culturally significant" by the Library of Congress and preserved in the National Film Registry!
That debut became a career and that zombie movie became a Trilogy that spawned imitators and unofficial sequels alike. That is until the series came back in the form of the big-studio funded Land of the Dead, a full twenty years after the latest film in the series. When big studio involvement didn't sit too well with the Zombie Maestro he did exactly what one would expect from the man who launched his career with one of the most successful Independent Films of all time... he made his next film independently.
And now, the sixth film in the increasingly misnamed Trilogy has hit theatres in the form of Survival of the Dead! Is this the sixth film or the final entry in Romero's second Trilogy?
Well, that's complicated, actually. Until a familiar looking (and now-undead) biker from Dawn of the Dead popped up in Land of the Dead, there had been no real connections between the films aside from the themes and, well, the Zombies, Zombies, Zombies. However as the new Survival of the Dead kicks off we are re-introduced to the renegade miltary commander from 2007's Diary of the Dead in all his survivalist, greedy glory, complete with his camouflaged posse in grumpy tow.
Of course, Romero indicates that the series somewhat ended with Land of the Dead and actually rebooted with the fifth feature, Diary of the Dead! So the original trilogy might not be such a trilogy anymore! Be that as it may, the film still fits beautifully into the relatively timeless saga that came before it.
And it doesn't stop with the Zombies themselves. as with Day of the Dead we focus on the surviving military and their efforts to find and secure a place of solace and closure amid a world gone mad... without ever forgetting that they, boy howdy, are the big bad motherfuckers with GUNS, man! All the while those poor souls who have somehow held on to this mortal coil seem to be re-learning the things that have made them so alive! Yes, the pattern continues.
So... direct sequel, then? Yes... direct sequel. But there's more to it than just that.
Eschewing the mockumentary style of the previous entry in the series, Survival of the Dead gives us a decidedly third-person viewpoint of an Island off the coast of Delaware. There, two families who make the Hatfields and the McCoys look like the Fraggles and the Doozers are still locked in the deadly struggle they were in before the world ended with no shotgun wedding in sight to bring the fractured tribes together. The latest disagreement between the thoroughly Irish O'Flynns and Muldoons is whether to desecrate the dead once they come back as Zombies! The O'Flynns say "Shoot them in the Head!" while the Muldoons say "Somebody's bound to find a cure, boyos!"
Thus Patrick O'Flynn and his Fighting O'Flynns don their ten-gallons and pick up their shooting-irons to go riding horseback across the island shooting up some Undead Ass! But when true-believer Seamus Muldoon (Richard Fitzpatrick) and his Muldoon Baboons gain the upper hand on the O'Flynn leader Patrick (Kenneth Welsh), ol' Paddy Boy finds himself set adrift in the Atlantic ocean at gunpoint! Hell, he got off easy. The Muldoons wanted to turn him into a pile of blarney, but sweet, sweet Janet O'Flynn (Kathleen Munroe) manages to talk the gunslingers out of using her dear-old-dad as target practice before they ride off into the moonset!
Yeah, every Romero Zombie Movie is completely different, but in case you couldn't tell, yep, he's going for the whole Wild, Wild West thing here. Sure this here Shootout at the Decay Corral is a cool and interesting way to go, especially in a nigh-apocalyptic time, but with these only vaguely different Irish families at perpetual war on the island they share, I have to wonder if he was going for a little more metaphor on the backdrop of the Catholic/ Protestant angle here. Or, at least, Big-Endian, Little Endian angle. (Uh, look that up... I didn't misspell that!)
Meanwhile, back on the mainland, Sergeant "Nicotine" Crocket (Alan Van Sprang) is barely keeping his ragtag clan of highwaymen mercenary guardsmen together as they pillage the survivors and execute the already dead. Survivors like the Deadly Dead-Executing Boy played by Devon Bostick! Quite a handful, to be sure. Luckily he's got his trusted commando Francisco with him, as played with Latin Spice by Stefano DiMatteo and fortunately for this Latin Lothario he's got a female guardsman with whom to re-populate the Earth, right? Well, no, unfortunately for Francisco, but fortunately for her (and us), Tomboy (Athena Karkanis) more than lives up to her name and surrounded by nothing but Men she'd much rather masturbate in the Jeep and wait for a woman than settle for some hairy dude. But then, who could blame her? No zombie apocalypse could make me go for a Dude... why should a sweet, tough Lesbian?
Especially when the Nicotine Mercs are summoned to "The Island" like a post-apocalyptic Dharma Initiative! And if Paddy Boyo can team up with the likes of Sarge Crocket and Company, then the Muldoon Dudes might have another think comin' as they attempt to learn the Dead a thing or two!
Along the way we've got our fair share of action sequences and gunfights as well as a number of surprises and Romero-style Oddities. From decidedly UN-conjoined twins to zombies on horseback to, oh yes, that fateful High-Midnight at the Decay Corral! (Yeah, I realize I've used that one once, but it just sounds so COOL!)
Likewise, Survival of the Dead is decidedly cool and well worth watching. That said, it's definitely not a perfect film. For the acclaim that Diary had, Survival is getting almost as much derision. However, many of Romero's films failed to get their recognition early on but have been praised in that 21/21 Hindsight! Still, there are a few moments hither and yon that feel forced in acting, directing, writing and even logic. Sure Romero can fall back on the idea of "Metaphor" and the fact that his movies aren't REALLY about "Zombies", but still... He's the man and we expect a lot. There is a good flow to the film and its story, but once Romero (as writer and director) decides that it's time to hit the finale all the dominoes fall at once to make that happen... and not in a decidedly seamless way. This jarring affect is less about grueling horror than it seems to be about expedience. Further, Romero's reliance on CGI effects for both terror and (something Romero rarely goes in for) sight gags is quite notable when compared to some of the more groundbreaking and inventive though cheap effects he employed in his earlier films.
Still, a great deal of the complaints that many might have about this film don't hold the water a Ten-Gallon Hat purports to. Many just won't get what Romero is going for here (these are the same people who might dismiss 1978's Dawn of the Dead while praising 2004's Dawn of the Dead). Sure this movie has its fair share of Zombie moments from the flesh eating to the head shooting to the neck biting to the standard staggering around and moaning, all while staying firmly set in the Romeroverse, but Survival of the Dead is really much more about the survival of the living and just how we, as people, might get away with doing just that. It's not that this film is devoid of zombie action, horror and chills, it's just that it doesn't rely on those things nearly as much as the next horror flick would (and so many of George's imitators have). In fact though not always 100% consistent, this is one of Romero's most character driven and character developed films of his entire career. Perhaps that's one more reason this still-independent feature is being screened in art-houses and not usually your giant Googolplexes! When your standard commercial horror fan staggers to the Nuart enticed by the name Survival of the Dead and finds a drama set against a Zombie Backdrop instead of the usual combination of hit songs popular TV stars and product placement, sure he or she is likely to growl and moan. But like I said... it's much more arthouse fair than Cineplex.
One more place it's showing even now is On Demand over the internet as well as on DVD in the UK. Yes, today (May 28, 2010) is the ostensible theatrical release of the film, but it's been available for viewing for over a month over the internet. Wise marketing or just another sign of the future? You decide... just trust that in Romero's future you just MIGHT be better off watching your films at home rather than staggering in hoards to the Mall for your viewing pleasure. You never know what other hoards might be staggering there with you!
When it comes to Zombie Flicks the name George Romero should always fall right from the tongue. When it comes to art films... well, you decide. No, Survival of the Dead isn't quite perfect and it's true that a great many "fans" might dismiss it! However, taken for all with all Romero's sixth Zombie Film is a great entry after his Diary and, like Diary is worth Three and One Half Stars out of Five! My daughter is in College and thus her weeks and weekends are packed, so I had to balance my desire to see this right away with my desire to see this with her. Thank Heavens for On Demand, which allows me to watch all the Romero Flicks with her first run... until the Zombie Armageddon! See you in the Next Reel, Zombie Western Aficionados!
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But those words weren't easy to say, and I meant them all. So "getting over it" is different from merely "surviving"!
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