On Plum Island, off the coast of Delaware, there is a long feud between the families of the patriarchs Captain Patrick O’Flynn, who wants to eliminate the zombies, and Seamus Muldoon, who intends to keep his undead relatives waiting for a cure. Eventually O’Flynn is expelled from Plum. Elsewhere a group of people led by Sarge ‘Nicotine’ Crocket are plundering and seeking a safe place to stay. When they rescue a young boy from a group of sadistic hunters, he suggests that they head for Plum Island since he had heard a broadcast from O’Flynn’s broadcast inviting people to move to the island. When Sarge and his team arrive in the island, they are attacked by Muldoon’s men and they see that the place is also full of zombies….
My wife puts up with quite a lot regarding my taste in films and she’s got to the stage where she’ll give most horror movies a go, unless I know that she won’t sit through it and therefore I warn her if I feel I need to. About a year ago I bought Survival Of The Dead and she was up for watching it as she hadn’t seen any of George Romero’s ‘Dead’ movies but enjoyed the remake of Dawn Of The Dead, throughout which she was constantly reminded by me that, “this is good, but the original version is better”. Well, twenty minutes into Survival Of The Dead, I found myself starting to periodically apologise and say, “honestly, this isn’t like the others, the first three especially are really good”. Quite simply, this is a bad movie, and kind of a depressing one, because it’s by a director who I admire and who’s made many films I love, including some non-zombie ones such as Knightriders and Martin. After the muted reception to Diary Of The Dead, George Romero was only ever going to be able to make another low budget production, and Survival Of The Dead was shot in Canada, if ostensibly set in and off the coast of Delaware. Dispensing with the ‘found footage’ style of the previous film, Romero set out to make a more ‘conventional’ movie, and was obviously constrained by budget, though it really seems as if he had a Western script written and simply adjusted it so he could put the zombies in. It also seems that the 7o-year old had basically forgotten how to make a decent film, and most people agreed.
Survival Of The Dead debuted on Pay Per View TV in the US, followed by a very limited cinema release a month later, though outside of the US it went straight to DVD. It’s a painful thing to watch. It follows on from Diary Of The Dead, with the main character of Sarge being the leader of a group of people who robbed the vehicle in that film. Obviously this is a new timeline; the zombie outbreak didn’t now start in 1968 but in 2007. Huh? O well, never mind. Sarge and his crew are a pretty uninteresting bunch, except for ‘Tomboy’, who’s a lesbian and is introduced to us masturbating. “Maybe you’ve forgotten what it’s like” she says to one of the men who catches her. We soon switch to Plum Island, where two families are in conflict. The idea of quarreling families in the old West is an oft-used plot in Westerns, from The Big Country to A Fistful Of Dollars, but here all it does is beggar the question, “why are they Irish”?, or rather, “why are they Irish with mostly bad accents”? A few do try, but the majority are really quite poor, with Richard Fitzpatrick as Seamus Muldoon doing a poor impersonation of Geoffery Rush’s Captain Barbosa, from the Pirates Of The Caribbean films. The second time I watched this movie [Oh the things I do for the cause!] I just started laughing as soon as he came on screen, which is often as he’s a major character.
The two sides seem to be fighting because one side wants to kill all the zombies on the island and the other side wants to keep the zombies alive in the hope there will be a cure, or it will be ‘God’s will’. This might be interesting if Romero hadn’t explored much of this back in 1985 [what a long time ago that seems!] in Day Of The Dead. O’Flynn is banished from Plum Island but soon encounters Sarge and his gang, and we have a three way battle between O’Flynn’s group, Sarge’s group, and some zombies. Memories of Dawn Of The Dead are ignited, and indeed this is a fairly good sequence, despite some crappy CGI. Unfortunately they soon return to Plum Island, and Tomboy is excited because O’Flynn has a daughter on the island. Wow George, you’re so ‘with it’, having a lesbian obviously on the make for any female around. Another thing that shows you’re ‘with it’ is the scene where Sarge gets out a lap top.
Boy-“You call that a computer”?
Sarge-“It is a computer”.
Boy-“Piece of shit PC”.
Sarge-“Well I think it’s cool so there”.
Boy-“well that is not cool, this [whipping out an I-Phone] is cool”.
It’s quite painful seeing Romero try to be’ cool’ and ‘modern’ and just come across as being dumb. Anyway, O’Flynn wants to retake the island from Muldoon, now helped by Sarge and co, while O’Flynn’s daughter is riding around on a horse and – she’s actually a zombie. Wow, how exciting! Actually – well, I’m not going to ruin anyone’s viewing of this piece of crap by going into detail, but there’s a plot twist concerning this lady which is both incredibly pointless and totally stupid at the same time. Things build up to a standoff, and the zombies who are contained break loose. Despite Romero having pretty much forgotten by now how to create good characters, it’s possible that Survival Of The Dead could have been fun in a bad way, with its retarded plotting and awful dialogue that sometimes reaches truly awesome levels of idiocy. Here’s another classic exchange.
Sarge-“Small towns give birth to small people”.
Boy-“But you’re not a small person, what are you, about 6.2., 6.3.”?
However, it’s not fun; it’s mostly boring, despite Romero every now and again showing new cool ways to kill zombies. I liked the scalp that’s shot off then lands back on the neck, and the Roman Candle zombie, but none of the CG is especially good, and sometimes Romero contradicts his ‘mythology’. It was stated as far back as Night Of The Living Dead that if you shoot a zombie in the head it dies, but here we have a sequence where zombie heads are on stakes and are still alive. Muldoon doesn’t explain sufficiently why he likes to keep zombies alive, and his bright idea of trying to get the zombies to eat something other than humans may result in a pleasingly gruesome scene of a horse being eaten, but makes no sense. I always assumed that the zombies ate animals as well as humans anyway, basically anything containing meat they came across, and what’s so great about them turning to animals anyway? The farm would be pretty useless without any animals and it hardly bodes well for the world.
In any case the Dead in this movie, which vary in appearance from looking like Evil Dead ‘Deadites’ to totally normal looking, are entirely unscary and the climax of them ‘getting loose’ just seems shoehorned in because Romero suddenly remembered he was making a zombie film. And what’s with the zombie riding a horse, apparently for days on end without the horse dying from exhaustion or the zombie getting hungry? The acting in Survival Of The Dead is reasonable but I can’t think for the life of me why Romero didn’t hire actual Irish actors – in this day and age, you just can’t get away with bad accents. Adam Swica provides some nice photography of the countryside of Plum Island. Really though, this is a staggeringly misconceived and depressingly inept film that shows Romero doesn’t know what to do with his zombies. I actually really like the guy and admire the fact that, in his ’70s, he still enjoys making films. The trouble is, he’s just not very good at it anymore. He’s said that he has two more Dead films in him. I never thought I’d say this about Romero, but the idea fills me more with dread than anything else. George, put your feet up mate and call it a day.