Monday, June 07, 2010

Survival Isn't Just For The Living

Legendary horror director George A. Romero, who created the zombie horror genre with his groundbreaking 1968 NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD, sets his sixth chapter off the Delaware coast on Plum Island, which is oddly populated only by members of warring Irish families.

In the new SURVIVAL OF THE DEAD, now playing in theaters, on DVD, and on assorted high-definition digital cable channels (I saw it on HDNet Movies), the O’Flynns, led by patriarch Patrick (Kenneth Welsh), roam the island killing all the zombies, whereas Seamus Muldoon (Richard Fitzpatrick) and his kin are dedicated to imprisoning the living dead until such time as they can be cured. Into their midst come National Guardsmen (Alan Van Sprang as the mercurial Sergeant Crockett appeared in Romero’s previous DIARY OF THE DEAD).

The zombies (called Deadheads here) are the least preposterous characters in the film, though the actors playing the living do a good job adding flavor to the familiar material. While SURVIVAL would have worked better with genre-friendly stars playing the leads (someone along the lines of Dennis Hopper in LAND OF THE DEAD), Canadian veterans Fitzpatrick and Welsh relish the chance to chew some scenery.

Romero directs with his trademark irony and wit (I like the Asian fisherman who fishes for zombie eyes), but it isn’t enough to defeat the fact that the zombie genre is played out. Romero shoots action well, and SURVIVAL may be the best looking of his DEAD films, but he brings nothing new to the table this time, and trading makeup mastery for cheap-looking CGI gore removes the fun of watching craftsmen at work from the equation. I haven’t seen DIARY OF THE DEAD, but SURVIVAL, slick as it is, is the weakest of the Romero DEADs.


Mark Morgan said...

I like Romero, and I like the fact that he uses his horror films to make a statement. I'd rather watch a movie with a voice than a movie without one any day of the week. However, his messages, or at least the p.o.v. they're coming from, seem to be getting a bit repetitive and that's been hurting his films in my estimate.

Now, to be fair, I'm a pretty conservative guy, so a card carrying liberal like Romero isn't going to woo me with his statements. But, that's not really bothered me with his first two films. "Night of the Living Dead" is awesome and "Dawn of the Dead" is quite possibly the best sequel in the history of Horror Cinema. While I appreciate the social commentary about racism that bled over into Night's story, the parable of extreme commercialism that permeated Dawn struck me as a shallow, pessimistic view of capitalism and the average American. That being said, I still love Dawn even if I disagree with some of it's observations.

Despite having one of the best opening sequences of all time, "Day of the Dead" is where Romero started to lose me. I first watched this film in college with a roommate of mine who was in the National Guard, and he was appalled by Romero's portrayal of the military, not so much because of the characters, but rather because of the severe breaches in protocol and psychological profiling that would have been overlooked to put any of the military characters in the positions they were in.

I realize that in light of a zombie apocalypse, there might have been slim pickings in regards to finding new military personnel, but the base the movie took place on was supposed to be a top secret scientific facility dedicated to cracking the zombie problem. You'd think they'd want their best men on the job, and not whoever was handy.

According to Romero, the point of "Day of the Dead" was to examine how our society tried to settle everything with a gun, and given the scientists message of wanting to train the zombies vs. the soldiers who wanted to shoot them, I can understand what he was aiming for, but here he lets his politics overwhelm his duty as a director, and I'll tell you how in my next post!

Mark Morgan said...

(continued from last post)

First off, the lead scientist is thoroughly unlikeable and comes across as half crazy. The military characters are so vile and one dimensional that any hope of a realistic social comparison to the actual armed forces is laughable. Romero's not showing us the army, he's showing us a flat, hippie-idealization of what certain people think the military is.

"Land of the Dead" was a good revisit to Romero's world, and offered us better characters that DotD. The hijackers of Dead Reckoning (the zombie fighting tank from the film) have a genuine complaint that spurs their actions, the good guys work for a prick who remains the only flat character in the whole film, and the movie offers a surprisingly optimistic outlook at the end which is a refreshing change of pace from the previous installments.

The only real problem I have is that at the end when Dennis Hopper is trying to escape, he's taking paper money with him. PAPER MONEY!!! I can buy the fact that business trade would be alive and well in some regard following a governmental collapse, but it would have made a lot more sense if he was packing bullion or exchangeable goods like food and clothing. Paper money in that kind of world retaining any value is out and out absurd.

I have yet to see "Diary of the Dead" or "Survival of the Dead" and honestly I want to, and despite what I've said about disagreeing with director Romero's messages, I really appreciate that they're there. Romero is not only the father of modern horror, but also the father of socially conscious horror. We need more of that from a variety of different of voices and standpoints, but for now, Mr. Romero will have to do, and despite any complaints I might have, he'll do just fine so far as I'm concerned.

Thanks for posting. I really appreciated this article.

mark cowherd said...

Marty I just wanted to tell you that I have really enjoyed you reviews over the years.

On MHVF you often review films that have little mainstream interest and in two paragraphs you have these little films nailed.

Keep it up. People like you add so much to this world!


Marty McKee said...

Thanks for all the kind words, guys. Mark, in SURVIVAL, there's another story point involving a great deal of cash. I agree--it doesn't make sense that people would be obsessed with paper money after the zombiecalypse.