Survival of the Dead

Oy gevalt!


The world is, as Marsellus Wallace noted in Pulp Fiction, filled to the brim with unrealistic people.  I’m paraphrasing, of course.  My mother reads this and I don’t want her to think I’d use a word like “muthaf***er.”  So I’ll use the word “people” instead.  What are people unrealistic about?  People are unrealistic about pretty much everything.  To illustrate my point, I could talk about politics. I could talk about religion. Or I could about something that really matters – zombie movies.

Specifically I want to talk about George Romero.  He made Night of the Living Dead, which created an entire genre.  Later he made Dawn of the Dead which indelibly defined that genre to such a high degree that every zombie movie that came after it is just a variation on his Dawn theme.   From then on, every time Romero picked up a camera to make a zombie movie, people expected a total paradigm shift only to bitterly complain when it didn’t happen.


Welcome to Plum Island, a tightknit little fishing community off the coast of Delaware, dominated by the Muldoon and O’Flynn families.  These two families have different approaches to dealing with the ravenous dead rising from the grave.  The O’Flynns, quite sensibly, want to shoot them in the head and bury them.  The Muldoons, led the Seamus Muldoon (Richard Fitzpatrick), want to make them into good Irish Catholics, have them eat boiled food and teach them curling.  Okay, maybe I’m overstating the case.  Muldoon thinks that the living dead can be taught to eat something other than human flesh, and once taught to abstain from man meat, can rejoin society.  Seamus Muldoon is clearly extra-super-crazy.  The movie opens with Seamus and his lads getting the drop on Patrick O’Flynn (Kenneth Welsh) and his lot as they were about to dispatch some zombies.   O’Flynn and a handful of his followers are banished from the island.

Meanwhile, on the mainland, Sgt. Crockett (Alan Van Sprang) and the rest of his National Guard unit, who we met in Romero’s Diary of the Dead are still kicking about.  You might remember them.  They were the heroic soldiers who robbed the Winnebago full of college kids.  Apparently robbery and worse among survivors is the rule and not the exception.  Crockett and his pals come upon a camp of survivors who have been out doing a little looting and robbery of their own, from whom Crockett gets an armored truck and a College Aged Kid (Devon Bostick).

Riding down the road in their new armored truck, College Aged Kid starts showing off his iPhone.  Apparently the internet is still up because the O’Flynn has posted a video on YouTube inviting people to Plum Island.  After a little discussion, Crockett and his platoon decide that maybe Plum Island is the place to be, and to head to Delaware and take O’Flynn up on his offer.

Zombie fans will want to know whether or not Romero has returned to Dawn of the Dead form.   I give that a qualified, “No.”  Why qualified?  Your expectations are unrealistic.  You’re not still thirteen years old, watching your first zombie movie.  It’s not 1978.  Get the heck over it!

Night of the Living Dead and Dawn of the Dead were the zombie primers for two generations of film goers respectively. Both films were original, shocking and in the case of Dawn, notoriously gory; these were not just two zombie movies, but THE two zombie movies. They reached beyond dedicated genre fans and embedded themselves in popular culture.  Night of the Living Dead and Dawn of the Dead were lightning in a bottle enhanced by nostalgia.  There just weren’t that many zombie movies back then.  In the ten years between Night of the Living Dead and Dawn of the Dead there were roughly twenty-five zombie movie released, most of them were totally forgettable.  Last year there were over sixty zombie movies released and another forty or so this year (2010).  It’s getting crowded out there.

Lastly, it should be pointed out George Romero isn’t making big budget zombie extravaganzas, he’s making low budget zombie movies.  Night and Dawn were low budget and so are his recent films.  Consider this, Zombieland’s twenty-three million dollar budget is about the same size as the budgets of all six of Romero’s zombie films combined.  If you are expecting Avatar with zombies from Romero, you are barking up the wrong tree.

So let’s not compare Survival of the Dead with the movie that we dream it will be or with our memories of how great Night and Dawn were when we first saw them.  Let’s look at Survival of the Dead for what it is – an entertainingly little zombie movie from Canada.

Kenneth Welsh as Patrick O’Flynn pretty much steals the movie.  Yeah, I know, the wise-cracking elderly Irish rogue is nothing new but that doesn’t stop Welsh from making O’Flynn a compelling and entertaining character.   Alan Van Sprang as Crockette turns in a strong performance.  The rest of the cast is competent, a blessing in any low budget zombie film.

The zombies are par for the course for a Romero dead outing.  They are the freshly dead shambling type that we’ve come to love.  The make-up effects are good but nothing special.  There are a large number of CGI effects in Survival of the Dead.  They range from bad to bad but fun in a campy way.  I prefer practical effects over digital effects any day of the week.

I want to address one more thing people are already whining about, the so-called “smart zombies.”  There are no truly “smart zombies” in Survival of Dead.  Some of the zombies show flashes of memory for things that were important to them in life or that were second nature to them.  This is nothing new.  Romero did this before in his previous zombie movies going all the way back to Night of the Living DeadSurvival of the Dead is consistent with what we’ve seen before.

Are there things about it that could have been better? Sure.  In the end, Romero’s Survival of the Dead is a fun little film and a still a cut above most of the zombie films I’ve seen in the last year.

Alan Van Sprang
Kenneth Welsh
Kathleen Munroe
Devon Bostick
Richard Fitzpatrick
Athena Karkanis

George A. Romero

George A. Romero

Three out of five Vincents

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