Survival of the Dead
R2 - United Kingdom - Optimum Releasing
Review written by and copyright: Adrian Busby (10th February 2010).
The Film

The master filmmaker continues to reinvent the genre he created with a film that draws new battle lines between the living and the dead. Rogue soldier Sarge (Alan Van Sprang, Diary of the Dead, Land of the Dead) leads a band of military dropouts to seek refuge from the endless chaos of the zombie uprising on remote Plum Island. Patriarch Patrick O’Flynn (Kenneth Welsh, The Exorcism of Emily Rose) and his family believe the only good zombie is a (truly) dead zombie, whilst rival clan the Muldoons believe in chaining up the un-dead until a cure can be found. But there is no cure for death, and the consequences of the feud are bloody. Caught in the middle, Sarge is drawn to Janet (Kathleen Monroe), Patrick’s daughter, who tries to make peace between the two warring factions. But hope of a truce is shattered when Sarge’s best friend is killed, and the battle that follows overtakes everyone on the island, living and dead. Romero has crafted a sharp subversion of the classic Western, and continued to raise societal issues while devising new and ingenious ways to exterminate flesh-eaters! So who are you going to side with, The Living or The Dead?

OK, enough of the publicity blurb, I want to start by sharing my initial thoughts before even watching the film.

First there was Night...Dawn...Day, then Land...Diary...Survival! There's not quite the same feeling of inspiration in those titles the second time around and, less face it, there's a strong whiff of consumerism behind the 2nd trilogy. The very same issue critised so strongly in the wonderful Dawn. Why else would there be almost 20 years separating Night and Day, another 20 between Day and Land, but only 6 between Land and Survival. Of course George isn't getting any younger (he's just turned 70 as I write this) so can be forgiven for not wanting to wait quite so long between films this time around, but the main motivation here has to be financial!

But to be honest, I wasn't really expecting much more than a well made zombie-fest when Land was announced. I just wanted to be entertained and that's what I got. Diary tried something new and, despite the fact is was purely mimicking many that had gone before, gave the viewer a fresh take on the Romero zombie film. So what will Survival bring, let's find out...

...Oh dear. Where to start?

My strongest thought having watched the 85-odd minutes that is Survival of the Dead is what's it trying to be?. Many scenes seem to be played for laughs but, unfortunately, I never even raised a chuckle.

I think the trouble I had was the general concept as noted in the publicity notes above. It's Romero's take on a western and the zombies simply feel incidental. Perahps he actually wanted to make a western but thought he'd struggle to generate the necessary interest. But by making it as another Dead film, there's bound to be interest by the bloody bucket load!

And oh for the good old days of Tom Savini special effects. There are some practical effects here but all too often I cringed at the CG-tastic ones - particularly the first zombie kill at the start. There are a couple of nice shots towards the end of the film, one in particular being an obvious homage to a famous death in Day, but again a number are spoilt by being obviously CG.

And then we have the plot holes. Skip this paragraph if you don't want any spoliers. There are three just off the top of my head. Why didn't Patrick attempt to get back to the island before the military group turn up if he had all the resources to do so? Why do the dead-heads (zombies, or even undeads, for the traditionalists) on the ferry only become active when the scene requires them to? How did the two Muldoon gang guys on horses manage to sneek up on Tomboy without her hearing them or the horses? The answer to the latter is that Romero wanted a scare - pure and simple.

Video

Romero returns to the 2.35:1 aspect ratio he used in Land, having departed from that to use 1.85:1 for Diary. He does make occasional use of the full wide frame available but never, it seems, to the advantage of the story telling. Certainly not in the same way John Carpenter would, for example.

The presentation is a very clean picture for the most part with only minimal grain and slight aliasing noticeable in no more than a couple of shots. Whether or not the Blu-Ray presents the picture any better than this remains to be seen. I did ask for the Blu-Ray for review but had to make do with the DVD check disc instead :(

Audio

There are two audio options available: an English Dolby Digital 5.1 track and English 2.0 Stereo track. I watched the film with the 5.1 option and it was clear and crisp throughout. Unfortunately I only noticed good use of the surround channels for directional effects on a few occasions. There are no subtitles available at all.

Extras

None! Oh dear Mr Romero - go stand in the corner of Film Class and don't come back until you've seen the error of your ways. Do I smell a Special Edition brewing in the marketing department? Having said that, if they feel the same way I do about the film, perhaps they decided it wasn't worth the effort, hence this vanilla flavoured DVD.

Overall

The fact that this is a direct to video release in the UK and will be available via video-on-demand before only a limited theatrical run in the US speaks volumes.

Average story + no extras = possible rent for those intrigued enough to see how Romero completes his second Dead trilogy, but nothing more.

The Film: D Video: A Audio: B Extras: F- Overall: D

 


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