George Romero’s “Survival of the Dead” exists in the same universe as his “Diary of the Dead”, including the presence of a familiar military character played by Alan Van Sprang, and references to the documentarians of “Diary”. In “Survival”, Sprang plays the fed-up Crocket (or “Sarge”, as he’s called), who has gone AWOL with a small group of soldiers after the undead epidemic hits. Along the way, the soldiers pick up a too-hip-for-school teenager (Devon Bostick) and run across an Internet advertising (I shit you not) by one James O’Flynn (Julian Richings), who promises paradise on a small, idyllic island called Plum Island. What O’Flynn fails to mention is that the island is run by the traditionalist Seamus Muldoon (Richard Fitpatrick), blood foe of the O’Flynns, who believes he can tame the undead into eating something other than human flesh. And oh yeah, being something of a major dick, Muldoon also kills any intruders that show up on his precious island.
Arriving on Plum Island, Sarge and his motley crew find themselves in the middle of a renewed war between the O’Flynns and the Muldoons. Also caught in the middle is O’Flynn’s daughter, Janet (Kathleen Munroe), who desperately wants everyone to just get along. Of course that’s impossible, otherwise what would be the point of a movie? Even as the world dies off on the mainland, Sarge and his crew must fight for survival against Seamus, who runs his clan with an iron fist using hired guns like Chuck (Joris Jarsky) to control things. Never you mind that it’s the end of the world and that most of the world’s population have either died or turned into zombies, apparently the Internet is still humming along just fine, you can still pay people with little green rectangle paper to do your bidding, and TV talk shows are still making politician jokes to cheering live audiences. Who would have thunk it?
In many ways, the first 30 minutes or so of “Survival of the Dead” looks and feels like a parody of zombie movies, with the aforementioned late night talk shows cracking wise and O’Flynn utilizing the Internet to advertise Plum Island. The film also seems obsessed with setting up as many zombie headshot kills as possible, and it’s amazing how much of a deadshot everyone in the movie has become. The zombies, needless to say, never have much of a chance, and as is his usual want, the real enemy of a George Romero zombie movie turns out to be the living humans rather than the undead ones. You’ve seen it all before, which probably makes the cartoony nature of “Survival”, especially in the early goings, very amusing. It’s as if Romero is saying, “Look, I know you’ve all seen this before, but check out how I’m going to kill off this zombie! Cool, right?”
The film introduces a ton of characters that instantly fall victim to either their fellow humans or the zombies. Death comes very easily in “Survival”, and no one is safe. There are a couple of standout characters, though, led by Alan Van Sprang as the exasperated soldier and Athena Karkanis as Tomboy, the only female soldier in the bunch. Tomboy is a lesbian, but more importantly, she’s easily the most competent soldier in the bunch, since even Sarge is prone to bouts of crazy fits every now and then. The fact that Romero first introduces us to Tomboy while she’s straddling the seat of her jeep and, er, having her way with herself is a bit jolting. Although in a way it makes sense – with the world all but gone to shit, why would you care about basic social norms such as not masturbating in public? Then again, why is the Internet still working and people still obsessed with money? You figure it out, cause I can’t.
If you’re searching for a zombie comedy, there’s value to be found in “Survival of the Dead”. Gore fiends will also find a lot to like, as Romero proves to be very gore-friendly in his old age, if not more so. There’s plenty of the red stuff in “Survival”, and Romero has learned that CGI can be his friend, especially when it allows him to kill zombies off in new and disgusting ways. The fact is, had this been a film from any other director not named George Romero, it would be an average effort with some nice chuckles and kills, but overall, nothing extraordinary. As a film by the Godfather of zombie movies, it feels dated and treading water, only now George has new toys to work with. I suppose seeing a zombie being lit on fire is amusing, and you should definitely get your rocks off anyway you can because, unfortunately, there’s not a whole lot at scares or thrills to be found in “Survival of the Dead”.
George A. Romero (director) / George A. Romero (screenplay)
CAST: Julian Richings … James O’Flynn
Kathleen Munroe … Janet O’Flynn
Richard Fitzpatrick … Seamus Muldoon
Alan Van Sprang … ‘Nicotine’ Crocket
Athena Karkanis … Tomboy
Kenneth Welsh … Patrick O’Flynn
Joris Jarsky … Chuck
Wayne Robson … Tawdry O’Flynn
Stefano DiMatteo … Francisco