George A Romero's Survival of the Dead - 2nd September 2010

I hate to say this, as I am unapologetically a huge fan of the (slow) Zombie genre, but it maybe time to go up to ol' Georgie and scream 'Enough with the damn dead already!'
Ok, so that's not entirely fair, there were things that I liked about Survival of the Dead but you got the impression from the sloppy, lazy use of CGI to the unlikable, thinly drawn, lackluster characters that the enormous spectacled, beardy one's heart just isn't in it anymore.
The trouble is, they won't give him money to make anything else it seems.
Back before Resident Evil (the movie) and a certain remake of Dawn of the Dead, that everyone else tripped over each other to praise but which I thought stank like a trolley filled with rancid pickled fish, there wasn't much happening in the world of the Zombie. The 90s had come and gone without the usual, once-a-decade offering from Romero and they had re-started every other type of horror film from slasher to monster movie but the undead, it seemed, were yet to poke their gnarled hand through the earth of a graveyard. All that changed of course with the release of the three big hits, the aforementioned, Resident Evil and Dawn remake and Shaun of the Dead. After that, all manner of movies featuring the brain hungry hordes spewed forth on to the screens, ranging from the sort-of good to the spectacularly awful. That was until, all of a sudden, the fans were left standing around scratching their collective noggin thinking, whatever happened to George A Romero? In fact apart from Wes Craven and the success of the Scream trilogy, on the big screen at least, the other horror directors were decidedly absent.
Then word must have filtered through Hollywood that any studio to be the first to drag Romero, really now at the height of his fame, back to the genre he invented, would not only be able to claim an original superiority over the others but also would, hopefully have a walloping great hit on their hands. 
Sadly life doesn't work like that because while Land of the Dead, I thought, was pretty damn good (and actually improves the more you think about it), anticipation for it rose way too high, it was badly marketed and the clever allegory that Romero's films usually carry were lost on a mainstream audience used to mindless crap like the Dawn remake.
I remember that the critics were not kind to it and seemed to hold it up to an impossible standard. That's not to say it wasn't financially successful, just a quick glance on BoxOfficeMojo shows it to have trippled it's budget in takings worldwide and it did pretty good on DVD too. Quite why George Romero didn't get the chance to continue a studio career is a mystery, maybe he didn't want to, but what he did get to do was to continue his Dead series on smaller budgets up in Canada.
Possibly realising that he couldn't really take the story of the evolving flesh eaters much further than he had in Land or possibly realising it would be cheaper another way, he started a whole new series of films with Diary of the Dead, the premise being that it's the 21st century, digital HD cameras and the internet exist and what would happen if a zombie outbreak happened right now. 
I avoided Diary for a long time because I didn't like the idea of the first person camera perspective, as it sounded wholly unoriginal. That was, actually, a mistake. When I finally saw the film I actually liked it a lot more than I thought I would and there were some genuinely good ideas, some creepy situations and the usual band of Romero characters.
So that, pretty much, brings us up to date and Survival of the Dead. 
The basic premise is there is an island off the coast of Delaware where two rival Irish families are dealing with the zombies in their own way. One, an old sea-dog looking crazy believes you go round killing as many as you can, even if it means shooting any humans standing in the way and the other who believes zombies can be cured, or at least chained up and put to good use. Both of them are quite obviously barking mad.
The bald one finally kicks the bearded sailor one off the island and banishes him to the mainland where, meanwhile, a group of soldiers, we first encountered in Diary, are still milling about indiscriminately robbing people and often killing them too, just for good measure. Through a series of contrivances they end up at the dock where the old beardy islander has set up a thievery post of his own, in a security van, with a safe full of cash, zombies all around (even in the water) and Captain Birdseye, with his rag tag band of miscreants, taking pot shots at them from their cunning hideout, which appears to be a shed. The survivors of shoot out at the dingy docks all wind up back on the island, where through a series of events, everyone ends up out for each other's blood (in the case of the zombies, literally). 
Now the idea of the humans struggling with petty vendettas while the world goes to hell or turning into psychopaths in the name of continuing the race, some trying to solve the problem and others trying to kill it dead are all themes which Romero has dealt with before and, in many ways, hark back to the original Night of the Living Dead. There are also overtones of the struggles that take place in Day of the Dead which is probably Survival's closest cousin out of all the films, albeit better written, more original, better acted and with a more kick ass soundtrack. The difference, however, this time around is that the zombies play fourth fiddle to three different groups of grotty humanity, each despicable in their own way, and a tacked on after thought about whether zombies can be taught to eat animal instead of human flesh seems redundant and out of place without someone like a Dr.Frankenstein type character from Day of the Dead walking around muttering quotable dialogue, rolling his eyes and generally being madder than a box of luminous cheese graters.
The zombies, too, have always been a reflection of ourselves, some metaphor for society and also have always been fairly sympathetic, comical even in some cases. There is none of that here. Nondescript shuffling figures in the shadows, presumably because they couldn't really be bothered to make most of them up, are dispatched quickly with ridiculous sound effects, poor CGI and little or no regard. It's almost like they have nothing to do with the film Romero is trying to make but because, I imagine, they have to be there in order to get funding for the film, they end up being a confusing and sometimes, even, annoying distraction. 
There are great satchels filled with suspension of disbelief needed to get over some of the convoluted plot points that are only there because of the zombies, it feels like the whole thing could've been a different and maybe better film if it just played out as a strange rival-families-go-psycho-from-too-much-inbreeding-on-an-island-movie. Sometimes you get the feeling or the hint that Romero is trying to make a point about humanity or something but hasn't quite decided what that point is and if he has, he isn't telling us clearly enough it seems.
All of this is not to say there aren't enjoyable moments in the film, there are and maybe on a second or third viewing, like Day, these will grow on me and shine through. The acting, by a cast of complete unknowns, isn't awful and when the cinematographer eases off the blue night filters, it's on real locations and George focusses on the plot for a moment it doesn't look and sound half bad either. The script is not particularly strong though and there are not many of the trademark one liners that Romero likes to write.
It is definitely the weakest of six films but when you think of other series or franchises that lost steam way before they reached film number six, that's not a terrible thing to say. 
George A Romero remains a master and innovator of this genre and if he makes a 7th then, yes, I'll watch it but I can't help wandering that, despite my love of zombies, it is the hordes of shambling corpses that have kept him down, kept him from making varied, interesting films about a whole slew of topics and if studios had a little more guts (them undead get hungry!) they could've got more from this true original.

a disappointing 5 out of 10 macaroni cheeses
Points from the Misses 3 out of 10 macaroni cheeses

MacGruber - 5th September 2010

Temple Grandin - 31st August 2010