Survival of the Dead: George A. Romero

By Michael T. Dennis

George A. Romero’s career-long fascination with zombies continues in “Survival of the Dead,” which follows up on the 2007 reboot, “Diary of the Dead.” “Survival” has all the gore and humor to fit nicely into Romero’s oeuvre, along with an intelligent theme that, somewhat ironically, condemns senseless violence.
“Survival of the Dead” plants us within Romero’s world, in which the slow-moving, dim-witted living dead outnumber humans, posing a constant threat with their vast numbers and insatiable taste for human flesh. Leading a small band of soldiers who fight for humanity (but mostly for themselves) is Sarge (Alan Van Sprang), a smooth-talking roughneck with a machine gun that never runs out of ammo. In his charge is a motley crew of warriors composed of the token woman, buddy, Hispanic, and young kid.
The band of warriors encounters Patrick O’Flynn (Kenneth Welsh), the deposed patriarch of a family living on Plum Island off the coast of Delaware. O’Flynn paints a picture of his rural island as a place where they can take control and make a stand against the undead. But no sooner do they arrive than they’re all drawn in to a long-standing family feud between the O’Flynn’s and the neighboring Muldoons.
At the center is a disagreement about what to do with the zombies who keep turning up on the island; O’Flynn advocates a bullet to the brain of every zombie, including those who were once beloved family members. But across town, Seamus Muldoon (Richard Fitzpatrick) has constructed a veritable zombie rehab center, corralling the undead like cattle and trying to dissuade them from eating people.
The idea of educating zombies, or at least keeping them alive until someone can find a cure, indicates that “Survival of the Dead” has something new to say. Despite the two families at its center, “Survival” is less about crippled family ties and self-destructive relationships than Romero’s original and superior “Night of the Living Dead,” back in 1968. Instead, “Survival” looks at the absurdity of fighting, using zombies to represent what should be an easily-agreed upon common enemy that somehow causes even more conflict between two men who are determined to not get along.
Romero’s indictment of petty squabbles reflects a world of warring nations and violent religious factions. Muldoon is guided by his own religious beliefs, seeing the preservation of zombies as a personal moral charge. Meanwhile, O’Flynn is pragmatic, adhering to a secular philosophy of staying alive at any cost. This is the very philosophy that his old enemy sees as a sort of blasphemy. It shouldn’t come as a surprise that O’Flynn and Muldoon’s rivalry continues well beyond the grave.
While the soldiers struggle for survival amid the crossfire on Plum Island, Romero turns his attention briefly to what originally endeared him to a generation of young moviegoers: namely, finding creative and entertaining ways of killing zombies on-screen. Flare guns, fire extinguishers, pitchforks, and pistols are all equally effective at taking out the creatures.
The film’s body count is ample but the silliness stops whenever there’s important note in the story. This kind of control signifies a steady hand and mature sensibility from the veteran Romero, whose movies have been called shocking, juvenile, groundbreaking, derivative, and very entertaining.
His debut film, “Night of the Living Dead,” first acquainted moviegoers with the idea of zombies and set the tone for most similar movies that have come since. Several of those pictures have been made by Romero himself, rolled out through his independent (and aptly named) Blank of the Dead Productions. Romero has never lost the spirit of a young director working with a low budget that made “Night of the Living Dead” a success more than 40 years ago. “Survival” contains great looking practical effects and bad dialogue that seems tailor-made for a drive-in screen or Halloween night marathon.
Romero’s lasting accomplishment is laying out the ground rules for zombie lore. One of the interesting things about “Survival of the Dead” is how it follows characters who were minor players in 2007’s “Diary of the Dead.” By exploring another story happening in the same fictional world, Romero shrewdly frees himself from telling the same story over and over again.
While zombies are always going to be Romero’s specialty, allegory and satire are not far behind. “Survival of the Dead” is not deep but it brings up the question of why so many people spend so much of their time and energy fighting with one another unnecessarily. It’s there for any viewer who wants to look just beneath the blood-spattered surface.
Sarge “Nicotine” Crocket – Alan Van Sprang
Patrick O’Flynn – Kenneth Welsh
Janet/Jane O’Flynn – Kathleen Munroe
Boy – Devon Bostick
Seamus Muldoon – Richard Fitzpatrick
Tomboy – Athena Karkanis
Francisco – Stefano Di Matteo
Chuck – Joris Jarsky
Blank of the Dead Productions, Devonshire Productions, New Romero and Sudden Storm Productions
Distributed by Magnet Releasing
Written and directed by George A. Romero
Producers, D.J. Carson, Paula Devonshire, Michael Doherty, Sam Englebardt, Dan Fireman, Jeff Glickman, Peter Grunwald, Jesse D. Ikeman, Ara Katz, Art Spigel
Original Music, Robert Carli
Cinematographer, Adam Swica
Editor, Michael Doherty
Casting, John Buchan and Jason Knight
Production Designer, Arvinder Grewal
Art Director, Joshu de Cartier