Thursday, 22 April 2010

Survival of the Deadest!

Survival of the Dead 2009 US
Directed by George A. Romero
Optimum DVD Region 2

There’s something comforting about a “night in” with a Romero zombie movie. He’s a bit hit and miss as a director (I found his original version of The Crazies almost unwatchable when I checked it out a few years back) but for some reason, and this probably has a lot to do with how he reinvented the genre back in 1968, his zombie films are always a good watch.

So it didn’t worry me too much when the sixth movie in his shuffling dreadnought of a zombie series bypassed a cinema release in this country and went straight to DVD a few weeks back. Heck, a lot of people really hated the last one (his cheating riff on the first-person shooter school of movie making) but I thought it was really excellent... and frankly his third film in the series, Day of the Dead, will always be my least favourite of the series (even if it does have Bub in it). This movie is probably my next least favourite next to that, but only because the other four; Night of the Living Dead, Dawn of the Dead, Land of the Dead and Diary of the Dead, have been really top notch.

Having watched Survival of the Dead now, I’ve been trying to get a handle on what it was really trying to comment on. There is a returning character from the previous film (one of the “home guard” who stole all the “heroes” stuff in the last one) and he has been made a lot more sympathetic in this movie. Actually, I think you’ll find that this is the first time in the series where a character has actually come back into the next film... unless you count Tom Savini’s brief reappearance in Land of the Dead as the zombified biker leader from Dawn of the Dead. Anyway, this character and his group get caught up in a power struggle between two embittered old clan leaders on an island. There’s not much in the way of plot development and the only really new thing is when the zombies finally show an inclination to eat something other than human flesh. I don’t want to spoil it too much for anyone but the phrase “So hungry I could eat a -” comes to mind.

If Night was about racial intolerance, Dawn was about consumerism, Day was about the refutation of the term “military intelligence”, Land... a metaphor for the homeless community and Diary was a look at the way information is used virally through modern technology, then perhaps Survival is making a comment about cultures clashing and heading naturally to violence rather then changing course and making peace. Oh... and lots of shuffling dead people getting gorily shot in the head... but that’s a standard factor in all these movies.

I can kind of see why this movie didn’t get a release over here... most of the protagonists are not young and the suits that decide these things probably thought that the youthful, “beautiful people” would not sit still to watch old men blasting away at each other. And they might have had less confidence that some of the little in-jokes, like a whole mess of dialogue from Sturges’ Kurosawa remake The Magnificent Seven, would fall on uncomprehending ears.

Still, there’s a lot to like in this one.

Zombie movies are rarely very scary (except REC.... that was unbelievably scary) ... and nor, more often than not, are they trying to be. They’re really just body count movies. Even so though, there was a shot in this movie which actually succeeded in making me jump and caused my heart to beat faster. Admittedly it involved a flying bird in the foreground of the shot and no zombies, but even so... scarey bird.

I, for one, would have welcomed the opportunity to see Survival of the Dead on a larger screen. Hopefully the general public’s lack of enthusiasm for this one won’t put Romero off from making another installment. Love to see those shuffling corpses making mischief!

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