CINEMA KNIFE FIGHT: SURVIVAL OF THE DEAD (2010)
by Michael Arruda and L.L. Soares
(THE SCENE: A beautiful field of green with sprawling hills in the background. Birds are singing everywhere. A woman rides by on horseback. We close in on MICHAEL ARRUDA and L.L. SOARES taking a leisurely walk through the field.)
MA: Welcome! We’re here in this field to review the new George Romero movie SURVIVAL OF THE DEAD, which could have been titled, 1001 NEW WAYS TO KILL A ZOMBIE.
LS: 1001? I only counted eight ways, except for the always reliable bullet to the head, which gets old real quick.
MA: In this film, we see fire extinguishers used on zombies, flare guns, even people fishing for zombies. All good ways to off a zombie, but in this day and age, when zombies seem to be popping up on our movie screens with alarming regularity, it’s not enough.
LS (counting on hand): That’s THREE ways.
MA: Haven’t you ever heard of hyperbole?
(Suddenly a horde of ZOMBIES surrounds them)
MA: For example, say you’re having a picnic, and you’re only armed with condiments, like mustard and ketchup. We found that mustard works best, especially the spicy brown kind. Observe.
(MA approaches a zombie and places a container of spicy mustard at his lips. Zombie takes container and begins sucking down contents. His face turns beet red, yellow smoke pours from his ears, and then his head explodes.)
LS: I dunno. I eat that kind of mustard all the time and it never hurt me none. What about this? Let’s say you’re out for a summer evening stroll with your girl, and all you have on you is your trusty mallet. (Turns and swings mallet at zombie, crushing its head.)
MA: Smashing! Say you’re in the middle of spring cleaning, doing a little vacuuming. (Approaches a vacuum set up on a strip of rug.) This works very nicely. (Turns on vacuum, begins to vacuum rug as a zombie approaches. MA hoists vacuum up and aims it at zombie’s head. The vacuum sucks its head clear off!)
LS: Wow, that vacuum really sucks! Or, you might be enjoying a nice game of mini-golf. There’s nothing worse than getting stuck behind slow poke-zombies on a mini-golf course. (Lifts golf club.) Four! (Swings club and knocks heads of four zombies in a row.)
MA: Basically, there’s pretty much nothing you can’t use to kill a zombie. That being said, you still want to avoid being bit by one. (MA & LS scurry across field away from zombies.) Okay, since they’re not exactly fleet of foot, we should be in good shape to get our review done here. Shall I begin?
LS (Imitating Curly from the Three Stooges): Soitinly!
MA: SURVIVAL OF THE DEAD is the latest zombie movie by the king of zombie movie-making, George A. Romero, the guy who really set off the zombie craze way back with NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD (1968). While zombie movies existed before then, the way we view zombies in the movies today began with that movie.
LS: Y’know, I’m a fan of the old kind of zombies, too. The voodoo kind. Romero’s creatures were originally meant to be called “ghouls” but instead got tagged with the name zombie – and when people think of zombies now, they think of the Romero kind. But the two are completely different.
MA: Yes, like the Bela Lugosi movie WHITE ZOMBIE (1932). I love those movies too.
When SURVIVAL OF THE DEAD begins, the majority of the human race has already been turned into zombies. On a rural island off the coast of Delaware, Patrick O’Flynn (Kenneth Welsh) has decided that it’s up to him to take a leadership role and protect the inhabitants of the island. So he goes around with a band of his merry men shooting all the zombies in the head. This makes perfect sense, but his arch enemy on the island, Seamus Muldoon (Richard Fitzpatrick) has decided otherwise.
LS (imitating Jerry Seinfeld): I found myself wondering, “Who ARE these silly people?”
MA: It seems, Muldoon and O’Flynn have been feuding on the island for years, and it’s Muldoon’s take that if they wait long enough, a cure will be found and the zombies will return to their human form, which I think is flawed logic, since these folks are already dead, but more on that later. Anyway, it’s Muldoon’s method of choice to chain the zombies and keep them alive rather than shoot them in the head, and so he and his bigger band of men banish O’Flynn from the island.
With all the Irish names and accents, and the green country scenery, it really looks like the action is taking place in Ireland, not on some island off the coast of Delaware!
LS: I agree. I almost expected the movie to turn into an Irish Spring commercial, with singing zombies!
MA: Anyway, the action switches to Philadelphia, where we meet a group of four soldiers led by Sarge Crocket (Alan Van Sprang), a character we also saw in Romero’s last zombie movie, DIARY OF THE DEAD (2007). This group is wandering the land, trying to stay alive. After they save a resourceful teenage boy (Devon Bostick) from a group of savage rednecks, they cross paths with the banished Patrick O’Flynn, who convinces them to go to his island in order to find that better place to live.
LS (laughs): Yeah, “convinces” them after they kill all his men in a shootout. As for a better place to live – of course, O’Flynn has his own agenda, which is to return home from exile to get revenge on old Seamus, with the help of some well-armed soldiers.
MA: When they get to the island, they are shot at by Muldoon’s men, and Crocket is wounded and one of his men is killed. This sets up the climactic confrontation between O’Flynn, Crocket, and their people, against Muldoon and his men. What do the zombies have to do with all this? In terms of story, not a whole heck of a lot. They’re around so they can be killed in all sorts of ways. Of course, they’re also the central reason for the most present rift between O’Flynn and Muldoon.
I found SURVIVAL OF THE DEAD surprisingly entertaining. In terms of story and character development, I thought it was well written by George Romero. He was in his element for sure.
LS: Are you sure we saw the same movie?
MA: Well, you raise an interesting point. You saw it on the big screen at the movies, and I saw it on cable television on OnDemand. since it was released there the same day it hit theaters. And while I doubt that in itself would make THAT much of a difference, I do have a beef with Comcast, which is that this a brand new movie–which I had to pay for– and it wasn’t a widescreen print. I think that’s a rip-off. But, on the other hand, maybe the movie worked better up close and personal!
Like I was saying, I liked the characters a lot, as well as the acting performances. My favorite character and performance was Alan Van Sprang as Sarge Crocket. He was a convincing hero, and he got to deliver lots of cool lines.
LS: Yeah, Sarge was okay. One in a long line of military/mercenary heroes who pop up a lot in Romero’s zombie movies.
MA: Kenneth Welsh also turned in a good performance as Patrick O’Flynn. The rest of the acting was also very good.
LS: Are you kidding me? I thought this movie had the weakest cast Romero has used in a long time. He usually works with unknown and even amateur actors, due to budget constraints, and sometimes it adds to the whole documentary feel of his flicks. This time around, I thought the cast was one of his weakest and their spouting of dialogue was so stilted it had me laughing several times.
MA: I thought they were good, especially compared to a lot of the low budget performances I see on DVD these days.
But even better here was the writing by George Romero. These characters as written were interesting and fun to watch. At one point in the movie, Crocket says of O’Flynn, “Why do I like you so much?” I found myself asking the same question, about all the characters, and the answer was because of some good writing!
LS (scratches head): Are you SURE we saw the same movie? I’m a hardcore Romero fan, but I thought this was the weakest script by him yet. The dialogue was downright silly at times. And with the stilted acting, it seemed more campy than serious.
MA: Well, it WAS campy. Did you think that was unintentional?
LS: I hate to say it, but yes, I think it was meant to be serious.
MA: I didn’t think that at all. I had the feeling throughout that it was supposed to be campy.
There are a lot of neat scenes and images in SURVIVAL OF THE DEAD as well. I thought the image of zombies swimming underwater was a good one and rather creepy, which was rare in a film that truly isn’t all that scary.
LS: Lucio Fulci did the underwater zombies decades ago in his DAWN OF THE DEAD rip-off ZOMBIE (1979). So it’s not that original.
MA: Still, there are lots of memorable sequences. At one point we see moaning zombie heads on impaled sticks, put there by those scary rednecks, which makes the point that some humans are worse than zombies.
LS: The heads on the sticks thing was a very cool image. Even in his worst movies, Romero delivers a few cool images.
MA: While SURVIVAL OF THE DEAD is an entertaining movie, what it ultimately has working against it is its own zombie formula, which has grown old and predictable. It’s not fresh, not scary, and the creative killings of the zombies serve almost as a self-parody.
LS: You can say that again. Killing zombies has become almost boring at this point. Which is an awful thing to say! And no way are there enough creative ways to kill them this time around.
MA: At times, I thought I was watching ZOMBIELAND (2009). Now, ZOMBIELAND was funnier, as it was supposed to be funny, but the feel of SURVIVAL OF THE DEAD was often similar, and when you go back to NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD, it’s oh so very different. That movie was scary. This one is not.
LS: ZOMBIELAND was much better than SURVIVAL OF THE DEAD. Which is downright depressing, considering Romero is the originator of all this stuff.
MA: But this doesn’t take away from the fact that SURVIVAL OF THE DEAD is a very entertaining movie. It’s well-written, the zombie sequences are done the way you expect Romero to do them, with guts and pizzazz, it’s got some really memorable characters, and the acting from all the players is really good. It even goes a little “deep” in terms of story, with the debate over can the zombies be saved.
I did find this a flawed argument, however. I mean, these folks are already dead, so if there’s a cure, then what happens? They just die?
LS: I didn’t get this at all. Even if they were cured of their need to eat human flesh, they’d still be dead people. What exactly would be a “cure” for such creatures? And the whole experiment Muldoon does, to try to get zombies to eat animals instead of people, is simply pointless. So what if they ate animals instead? They’d still be dumb-ass monsters. This entire plotline is pointless.
MA: Maybe they would come back to life as a new life form, a “post-zombie” creature.
LS: Romero already did this before, when he had the Dr. Logan & Bub storyline in DAY OF THE DEAD (1985). And these zombies were no way as smart as Bub.
The only way I found this movie entertaining was to laugh at. Its logic was flawed, the characters were hokey, and the dialogue often quite goofy. O’Flynn and Muldoon seem like stereotypes who walked off the set of THE QUIET MAN (1952).
(PATRICK O’FLYNN pops up from the tall grass, shaking with anger)
O’FLYNN: Gosh and Begora! How dare ye accuse me of being a stereotype! I’d hit ye with me box of Lucky Charms if I weren’t late for the pub!
LS: When I left this movie, I found myself wondering if for once I actually hated a George Romero movie. This really bummed me out. The guy is an idol of mine, and obviously you go into an idol’s movies wanting to love them.
Who knew George Romero would become the new George Lucas? Remember back when Lucas made his very first STAR WARS trilogy? They were revered as these science fiction masterpieces.
MA: Well, the first two films were. I think the slump began with RETURN OF THE JEDI (1983).
LS: And then, years later, he came back with his second trilogy and people were very angry and disappointed. Well, I used to laugh, cuz my favorite trilogy, Romero’s original three Dead films (NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD (1968), DAWN OF THE DEAD (1978) and the underrated DAY OF THE DEAD (1985)) were three great movies that were never tainted by bad sequels.
Until now, that is. Now, that Romero went and made his own second trilogy.
I still say the first of the new batch, LAND OF THE DEAD (2005), is a really fun ride, and I enjoyed the hell out of it. It wasn’t in the same league with the first three films at all, but hell, after 20 years of waiting, I was thrilled to have even a flawed Romero zombie flick.
DIARY OF THE DEAD (2007) seemed to be a step down. It felt different from Romero’s other zombie movies, kind of cold and forgettable. Except for the Amish zombie killer – who was easily the best thing in the entire movie – there’s not a lot that stayed with me about DIARY.
MA: Would you like a tissue to dab the tears out of your eyes?
LS: SURVIVAL OF THE DEAD is just 90 minutes of hokum. I didn’t care for the characters or their plotlines for the most part. The only characters I really liked at all were the women – Tomboy (Athena Karkanis), the only woman in among the soldiers, who I thought had real presence (but not a lot to do). And O’Flynn’s rebellious daughter, Jane (Kaltheen Munroe). The rest of the characters just seemed one-dimensional to me.
I used to laugh at STAR WARS fans for the way Lucas screwed up the second trilogy. Now the STAR WARS fans are laughing at me.
(In the background, zombies are suddenly dressed up like STAR WARS characters, rolling on the ground in fits of uncontrollable laughter.)
MA (shaking head): You zombies better watch yourselves, or I might just come after you with this! (Waves a container of horseradish.)
In terms of this movie, SURVIVAL OF THE DEAD, it is what it is, a zombie movie way late in the zombie career of George Romero, and so while originality and scares are lacking, the story, characters, and bang-for-your-buck entertainment value are all there in their walking dead glory, and so I give SURVIVAL OF THE DEAD 3 Knives.
LS: I guess I expect more from a George Romero movie. Personally, I wish he’d just stop making zombie movies and go back to more diverse flicks like his vampire masterpiece, MARTIN (1977). I’m guessing he keeps making new zombie movies because that’s the only thing he can get funding for, but he just turned 70, and I’d hate to remember him for something like SURVIVAL OF THE DEAD. I’m hoping he has one more masterpiece left in him.
I didn’t like this one. Not the plot, not the characters, not the goofy dialogue. Even the movie’s “big messages” were actually rather puny. But for the sake of camp value, I’ll give it one and a half stars. Although it breaks my heart to do it.
MA: Here, have a whole box of tissues.
Well, obviously, I liked it better than you did, mostly because I’m not as big a Romero fan as you are, and my expectations weren’t as high. So, my message to the folks out there is simple: Don’t expect anything groundbreaking, but do expect to be entertained.
(Gunshots ring out, and a group of armed men approach, firing their rifles.)
MEN: Look! Zombies! Kill them!
MA: Wait, we’re not zombies! LL, stop moaning! They think we’re zombies!
(Gunshots fill the air))
(CUT TO: another part of the field, where moaning zombie heads are impaled on spikes. In front, are the impaled heads of LS and MA.)
MA HEAD: Well, this is another fine mess you’ve gotten us into.
LS HEAD (moaning): Why did you let me down, George Romero?
MA HEAD: Well, folks, I guess that about does it for this week’s column. We’ll see you next time.
(LS HEAD continues to sob)
MA HEAD: Damn! I have to sneeze. This isn’t going to be pretty. Hurry up and fade to black already. (Rears back to sneeze.) Aa—aaa—aaa—ch—!
Fade to Black.
Michael Arruda gives this movie 3 Knives
L.L. Soares gives this movie 1 and a half Knives
© Copyright 2010 by Michael Arruda and L.L. Soares