“I didn’t sign up for this shit,” laments the man known as Sarge in “George A. Romero’s Survival of the Dead.” I know how he feels. I would have been happy with the preexisting Romero films. Granted “Diary of the Dead” was a piece of crap, but all the others were so good. Each one was better than the last. “Land of the Dead,” though at times obtuse, was also a whole lot of fun, thanks, in no small part, to Dennis Hopper. But this review, sadly, isn’t for one of Romero’s good films. It’s for “Survival of the Dead”, the latest film from a once great man. The man who invented the modern zombie is officially senile. Someone really needs to take away Grandpa’s typewriter.
“Survival” reads like an episode of “Walker, Texas Ranger.” If you don’t know what that means, imagine a script that sounds like it came directly from the mind of George W. Bush. Two warring families inhabit an island off the coast of Delaware. They speak with Irish brogues that sound like they’re from County Kiluckycharms. They wear cowboy hats, ride horses and talk in clichés. Their (corned) beef: A difference of opinion regarding how to deal with the zombies that plague the earth. Should the “deadheads” be shot on sight (O’Flynn) or contained until a cure is found (Muldoon)? Muldoon quotes scripture but his pacifist policy doesn’t seem to extend to the living. O’Flynn isn’t bound by religious doctrine but he too does his share of shooting first and not asking any questions. There appears to be some sort of social or political message here, but whatever it is, it’s so on-the-nose that you can’t even see the damned thing.
Joining the Irishmen on the island is another group of clichés. These are rogue soldiers who appeared briefly in “Diary.” The man in charge is Sarge. With stubble that stands at attention and a cigarette perpetually dangling from his smug mouth, he’s the poor man’s Jeffrey Dean Morgan. In his company are a tech savvy kid and a horny Latino who is forever hitting on the tough-talking lesbian. They have a truck full of cash and they behave as though all those Bejamins have relevance in a post-apocalyptic society.
It gets worse. When Romero’s script isn’t being trite or nonsensical, it’s plagiarizing his own early work. Someone will be in denial about getting infected until the last minute when they’ll come to terms with the need for euthanasia. You can bet some parent is going to hide their zombified offspring and insist that they shouldn’t be killed because they’re just children. Most certainly someone will have to kill a loved one himself.
Sometimes a terrible script can be salvaged by some awesome carnage. Not in this case. Exploding heads? Been there. A group of zombies feasting on entrails? Seen that. Even the characters in the movie seem bored, never running or screaming or even looking surprised when they are attacked. In this universe, it hasn’t been that long since the dead began returning to life, but apparently it’s more annoying than horrifying. When they do try to get creative with the violence, it comes off as lazy and cartoonish. When Muldoon uses a stick of dynamite to dispatch a large group of zombies, he may as well be a bunny in drag. A film that relies so heavily on C.G. should really be bloodier.
To the two little girls in the audience at my screening, I hope you weren’t put off the zombie genre. If you were terribly disappointed, please don’t turn to “Twilight” now. I promise there are worthwhile zombie movies out there. But this was not one of them.