SURVIVAL OF THE DEAD (2009, directed by George A Romero, 90 minutes, Canada )
BY DAN BUSKIRK FILM CRITIC
It starts to become difficult to find employment when you’re a film director in your seventies and George Romero, the zombie Godfather of the Living Dead series knows it. He spent the lion’s share of the nineties spinning his wheels in Hollywood, going seven years without getting a film made so he’s making up for lost time, with this his third Dead film in five years. Although he made a string of fascinating non-zombie films over his career it seems that the money men are only going to gamble on a Romero film if he makes the Dead walk in it. Which leads us to Survival of the Dead, Romero’s first Western, complete with feuding clans and cowboys on horseback who settle scores in a lawless land. Oh yeah, and zombies are lurking around as well, as almost an afterthought.
It’s Romero’s sixth Dead film and although the last one, 2007’s Diary of the Dead, received the most lukewarm reaction of any in the series, its low budget made it profitable enough to warrant a quickly-mounted sequel. The military unit seen briefly in Diary is back, led by Sarge (Alan Van Sprang) and they end up getting pulled into a Hatfield and McCoys-type feud between the ornery O’Flynn family and those straight-laced tyrants, the Muldoons. This all takes place on a island in the Delaware river, where people speak in thick Irish brogues, star-crossed lovers tempt family loyalties and things are settled in Old West style shoot-outs. A beautiful zombie also rides horseback, in one of the stranger developments in the series.
Its a left-turn for Romero that seems bound to leave even his most loyal fans unfulfilled, not least of all because the scenario is so cliche-ridden and straight-faced and the zombies, although sliced and diced in a oddly Looney Tunes manner, are fairly peripheral to the plot. After Land of the Dead’s “State of the Bush Nation” satire, Romero seems uninterested in making any big statements with those metaphoric zombies, although occasionally he makes a glancing aside at societies in crisis. Still, I enjoyed the idea that the Muldoons don’t kill the Dead due to Christian religious dogma, with the hypocritical Sheriff Muldoon (Richard Fitzpatrick) privately making mince-meat of his ranch’s zombies while imploring his followers to tie up their Dead outside. “We’re gonna keep the Dead with us” he preaches, for religious reasons. It’s not religion, just sentimental attachment to Romero’s zombie series that is responsible for my hanging on till the end of this potential franchise killer. Even as hare-brained as this film is, Romero’s pulse still beats within it, in his own idiosyncratic way. For that alone, I’ll be brainlessly back if Romero decides to make the Dead walk yet again.