I was all revved up to see GEORGE ROMERO’s new zombie burger SURVIVAL OF THE DEAD at the movie theater on Friday but I got distracted. Actually I think I was just wearing short pants and it was too hot to switch to long pants and too early in the season to expose the public to my zombie stems, so I stayed home. Later that night, at about one in the morning, I discovered that S.O.T.D. was one of those ON DEMAND “same day as theaters” specials offered up by my cable provider and I could watch it in the privacy of my own home while dressed like a deranged hillbilly. I wounded up saving some dough, having full access to my well-stocked fridge and enjoying the company of stinky cats rather than stinky humans…right on! I think I’m going to like this “same day as theaters” set-up a bunch. Will it kill movie theaters? Well movie theaters, in the words of LUNG LEG “You killed me first!”
So what is going on with this ROMERO chap anyway? SURVIVAL OF THE DEAD is a pretty weird movie. Fans that envision the film delivering an expansive apocalyptic view of the further infestation of the planet by zombies will be disappointed at best. On the other hand, if you don’t mind ROMERO pulling out a magnifying glass and inspecting a strange little bubble of the mayhem, you might get a kick or two. At this point he does not seem to have neither the budget nor the inclination to keep unfolding the zombie map, so focusing on a tiny tale within his charted territory appears to suit him fine. There’s a scene in SURVIVAL that shows a zombie postal worker chained to a mail box delivering the same mail over and over again and I couldn’t help but wonder if that’s how ROMERO might feel. His latest movie may not eclipse any of his others but it at least it shows him pulling against that chain a bit.
I’m not going to lie to you, SURVIVAL is no great shakes but ROMERO really does deserve credit for shuffling against the herd and fooling around with a couple of game changers. This joint is so myopic and audience ambivilant that it feels like ROMERO by way of JOHN SAYLES. In fact, if you can imagine the living dead invading THE SECRET OF ROAN INISH and MATEWAN you might get an idea of how unusual the overall tone is. It should be said that some of the visuals really shine, I was taken aback by an arresting shot of some animated heads propped up on a row of sticks and a glorious/bizarre PATTI SMITH looking zombie galloping on a horse while skeletal branches wave overhead. It’s an overall crisp looking film that takes full advantage of the damp vibrant verdure that surrounds its autumnal island enviroment. It’s a nice change of pallette after a career of mostly gritty visuals (or maybe my HD TV just frickin’ rocks!!!)
The problem is that the story involving two rival families with opposing views on how to face the undead does not satisfy as much as the ones that satellite it and that the specter of death, the battery of a living dead movie really, is nowhere to be found. The zombies here may as well be robots; they’re so clean and acceptable and they seem to putter around like firecrackers waiting to be lit and nothing more. Luckily there’s an ace up ROMERO’s sleeve named ALAN VAN SPRANG who SPRANG my VAN ALAN every time he was on screen. His character Sarge Crockett (who we got glimpse of in DIARY OF THE DEAD) is a charismatic throwback to the “scoundrel with a soul” archetypes of yesteryear. He carries the film to such a degree that it wilts when he’s not present and his benching during the film’s climax leaves it kind of flat.
I don’t blame ROMERO, an older gentleman himself, for focusing on the misguided wrinkly patriarchs whose stubborn refusal to budge destroys everything that they hold dear. It’s a nifty, maybe too forced parable for the inanities of war (Happy Memorial Day!) that probably inspired the entire film to begin with. Still, it’s rather a wet blanket considering the stronger more enticing routes that he bypasses to get to his final shot. I was left feeling strangely similar to the way I did after watching THE HUMAN CENTIPEDE, that I had just seen a passable “C” movie worth watching for one lone “A” performance.
It will surprise exactly nobody that SURVIVAL ends with the threat of yet another entry in the series soon to come. If VAN SPRANG is signed on then frankly, so am I. Here’s to hoping that in that next venture ROMERO will remember to invite that good old, worm-infested Grim Reaper too. A zombie movie that neglects to revel in decomposition is just begging to leave its target audience cold.