The Film (2/5)
George A. Romero at one point was one of the greats of horror. His landmark 1968 film Night of the Living Dead didn’t just change the zombie genre, but the horror genre in general. Over the years his films have been homage, remade, and ripped off (mostly by Eurohorror filmmakers, post Dawn of the Dead). He was truly a master of the horror genre, however, it appears that era has long passed. Romero’s last passable film dates back to the mid-90’s (The Dark Half), and that was far from exceptional.
Thoughout the 90’s he began talking about an epic fourth film in his Dead series. The script leaked, and we all salivated over the
possibilities of a truly epic definitive entry in the series “Dead Reckoning.” When that script finally got made as Land of the Dead, I found myself largely disappointed. I know some of Romero’s films are growers (Day of the Dead, Jack’s Wife), that reveal more of themselves with each subsequent viewing. However, Land of the Dead appeared to be more style over substance, it was entertaining, but it never called me back to revisit it. It was the first Dead film I didn’t own on some home video format.
Romero then decided to cash in on both the zombie and reboot trends with Diary of the Dead. I tried to get together enthusiasm for the film, but when I found out it was shot in a cinema verite (errr shaky cam) style, I knew I wouldn’t be able to watch it. When Survival of the Dead was announced, I wasn’t even interested. I read a few news articles on Chud.com about the film, and liked hearing about the Big Country vibe he was going for, but I just couldn’t get interested in actually seeing it.
A few weeks ago I received a copy of the film in the mail, and finally sat down to check it out. Having recently completed a viewing of some of my favorite early Romero films (Martin, Creepshow, Dawn of the Dead), I found myself sort of excited, although I went into the film with tempered expectations. I hoped at minimum it would be an entertaining film, but secreted hoped for a masterpiece on par with the first 3 entries in the series. Survival of the Dead did not even fulfill my minimum requirement.
Survival of the Dead is the first film is Romero’s series that directly follows up on another entry, in this case Diary of the Dead.
It tells the story of a group of military soldiers led by Sarge Crocket (Alan Van Sprang), who in an attempt to evade the zombie
menace end up on Plum Island, a small island in the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of Delaware. The island, unfortunately, is not the refuge they are hoping for, and they soon find themselves caught in the middle of a Hatfield and McCoy-esque feud over the treatment of the
living dead. The O’Flynn family lead by Patrick (Kenneth Walsh) believe that zombies need to be killed immediately, while the Muldoons lead by Seamus believe that the zombies should be kept alive, and restrained in case a cure can be found for their “illness.”
The premise is good, but it really goes nowhere. Also, the film seems to fall back onto themes, and issues that were handled better in the initial 3 entries of the series. The film, because of this feels very uninspired, and derivative. George Romero has spent his career having his ideas ripped off by other filmmakers, only to reach this point, and begin ripping himself off. So the film was derivative,
the acting pretty horrible, and the story not engaging in the slightest, so what is left?
I had hoped the gore in the film would at least make up for the lack of any other interesting elements, sadly, all the effects in this film are CGI, and done badly. I would like to think that the film would have been better off with the addition of Tom Savini, the guys at KNB, and buckets of liquid latex, and Karo syrup. The only positive point I can give the film is the performance by Kenneth Walsh in the Patrick O’Flynn role. While the character is a pure one dimensional caricature of a vindictive Irishman, Walsh has a play day with the role, and practically chews the scenery in every scene he is in. I would like to think that like Day of the Dead before it I will find myself coming back to this film every once in a while, and each time liking it little bit more that the last. However, at the moment I can’t imagine a second viewing.
Magnolia has presented Survival of the Dead with a decent 2:35:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer. The transfer is pretty damn good. It is a really sharp transfer, flesh tones are accurate, and color is solid. The only minor complaint I can register is some compression issues during some of the darker scenes.
The audio is presented with a 5.1 Dolby Digital track in English. The track is solid, effects and music are mixed well, and dialogue is completely audible throughout. I could not hear any traces of hissing or background noise on the track.
This review is based off the single disc DVD of Survival of the Dead, and thus does not include the immense slew of extras found on disc 2 of the DVD, or the Blu-ray release of the film. What we have here is interesting, but far from substantial. The most significant extra is the commentary track with George A. Romero himself, aside from that we get a mostly silly introduction to the film from Romero, and a couple of short making of pieces.
George Romero is a master of the horror genre, and reignited the stagnant zombie subgenre with his late 60's classic Night of the Living Dead, sadly, this is far from that movie, and what we are left with is a weak zombie entry from the man, who used to be king of the genre. I remember not liking Day of the Dead the first time I saw it, but now it is arguably my favorite of the 3 films. I have been sitting on this review for a few days now just to confirm my feelings for the film, weren't just initial impressions, they were not. I hope that maybe one day I'll pop this disc in again, and at that time it will begin revealing it's many layers to me. Do I think this will happen? Probably not, but one can hope.
If you are curious about the film, the transfer is pretty good, as is the sound. The extras are not that substantial on this version, but I have been told that the 2 disc DVD, and Blu-ray are fairly stacked. Survial of the Dead is not currently recommended except to the very very curious.