Survival Of The Dead
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Survival Of The Dead

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It doesn’t happen all that often but occasionally one man can single handily create a genre and a franchise all at once. One such film maker that would have to be counted in that elite group would have to be George A. Romero. Back in 1968 he released a little black and white horror flick called ‘Night of the Living Dead’ and the horror film community was literally transformed overnight. For a budget that is infamously minute at about $114,000 this movie recreated the genre not only starting Romero’s long and illustrious career as an undeniable Master of Horror but began a trend that made the undead popular. This movie also started a lineage of films that is still going strong. The opus under consideration here in the sixth in the direct line for Romero adding to the more generalized franchise with contributions but such zombie luminaries as Dan O'Bannon, John Russo and a number of other contributing to the franchise as a whole. Many of these films, especially those created by Romero are allegories for deeper socially relevant issues. Over the years Romero has tackled everything from rampant consumerism to the corruption of military but perhaps he has mellowed of late. In this film the tag line provides a fairly accurate summary; ‘Survival is not just for the lining’. Unfortunately, many long time fans see this flick as another in the more recent trend referred to as the decline of Romero’s position as the universal zombie master. There are several factors that need to be considered along with that statement. No franchise in film, television or literature has ever lasted over four decades without undergoing some modifications. Next, not all of those changes are going to work out and finally the primary purpose of any zombie flick is to have an entertaining afternoon. This flick is admittedly not the most shining installment of the franchise it is a reasonably good beer and pizza movie when the guys come over and the game is rained out. I can understand the regrets of the loyal Romero fan base watching one of the greatest horror series of all time to become something for casual viewing.

As with most of the living dead movies this one was written and directed by Romero. While the criticism about waning quality has some foundation there is nobody in the undead business has a fraction of the experience he has accumulated. This does work against him though by forcing him to revise themes and circumstances previously well visited. If any social issue can be identified here it might be the often debated death penalty with the topic concerned with whether zombies should be executed. The impact of the ‘controversy’ is extremely diluted considering zombies are already dead. There is also an oldie with isolation of the afflicted in an offshore colony; nothing like bringing back the good old fashion leper colony. In many ways Romero is brining the ‘Living Dead ‘ saga full circle from infection, contagion, isolation and possible a cure. Zombies have been used metaphorically to represent the AIDS epidemic so the idea of a cure is a logical place to take the overall story. Unfortunately, the pervasive feel presented here is lethargy, as if cast and crew realize the franchise has jumped the preverbal shark and all that’s left is to go through the motions. I remember seeing the original installment of the franchise in a grungy Times Square theater and realized there was something unique there; something bordering on greatness. I haven’t felt that way about one of his movies in a long time so although the greatness is gone so is the anticipation of a ‘Living Dead’ flick offering something fresh. I took my own advice to watch the movie with a friend over a few slices of pizza and it did provide sufficient entertainment that we both enjoyed the afternoon.

The universe used as a setting here is a familiar one; an extension of most of the other flicks of the series. Zombies have been part of the scene long enough that dread and fear has long since been replaced by intolerance and prejudice. The undead are still prone to attacking the living but the feel here is a loss of immediacy that was stronger in the first films. Career military man Sergeant "Nicotine" Crockett (Alan van Sprang) has kept busy fending off zombie attacks for awhile now. The last raid did not turn out very well with him losing several National Guardsmen to the attack with the subsequent transformation into the prototypical Romero style lumbering, grunting zombies. Crockett had been a Colonel but failure and causalities forced him to trade his shiny eagles for a set of stripes. I know reality has little place in this flicks but that is pretty much an unprecedented demotion. Along with some other disgruntled soldiers he goes off to perpetrate a heist of a character introduced in the previous film, ‘Diary of the Dead’. This does add a touch of continuity which does have much impact on the main story. That central tale takes place on Plum Island off the coast of Delaware. An attempt is made to utilize a classic theme; feuding families. On one side is Patrick O'Flynn (Kenneth Welsh), patriarch of a family determined to hunt down and destroy the remaining undead of the island. Opposing him in almost every way possible is Muldoon clan lead by Seamus (Richard Fitzpatrick). They are attempting to preserve their zombified family members in hope for a cure that will return them to human status. This is a divergence from the usual Romero formula of the finality of the condition. After a confrontation Patrick and some of his kin are sent into exile. Through some circumstances the island folk and the wandering guardsmen meet up but honesty the plot is so muddled that by this point you just might be scratching you head wondering.

Posted 08/22/2010

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