Movie News & Reviews

Big Awful Friday: Director of zombies fails in 'Survival of the Dead'

I for one think we should punish people for their success.

The easiest way to do this is to guilt or trick them into buying you lunch, but it's simple enough to give their dogs shoddy haircuts or degrade their appearance on the internet.

If you prefer a subtler punishment, you can hold an entertainer's new work up to the standards of their best work. If you compare 2009's Survival of the Dead to writer/director George A. Romero's masterpieces, the man who invented modern zombies is going to look pretty foolish.

As the dead begin to rise from their graves, National Guardsman Alan Van Sprang and his small team of soldiers go AWOL in search of safety. Along the way, they meet grizzled Kenneth Welsh, who leads them to Delaware's Plum Island -- and right into the middle of a long-simmering family feud.

Romero is, of course, the guy who made Night of the Living Dead and Dawn of the Dead, and if you haven't seen those, go ahead and throw this paper down -- preferably into something burning -- and make haste for the video store. Or launch them to the top of your Netflix queue and down enough NyQuil to put you out until they show up. Either way.

Survival of the Dead is neither of those movies. I take no special joy in tearing down idols -- except Moai statues, now those go down with a boom -- but Survival of the Dead has big flaws, starting with the characters.

Welsh is a loony Irish sea captain, and let's face it, there's always room for a grizzled Irish sea captain. But the rest are thinly-sketched types.

Van Sprang, the ostensible protagonist, is dangerous, which we know because he tells us so. His team includes a deftly competent lesbian who scorns the advances of her swooning Hispanic suitor. They all share one thing, however: a love of announcing bald exposition about themselves.

The plot, meanwhile, is somehow too thick and too thin at the same time. Like watery hot chocolate that gets one of those gloopy skins on top. Considering the amount of computer-aided blood sailing around the screen, that's probably not the most appetizing comparison in the world, but if you're actually watching Survival of the Dead at the same time you're reading this, you're weird and probably deserve a little nausea.

Romero does produce a couple good gag deaths. As always, he's no Fainting Mabel when it comes to gore. He takes some stabs at social criticism, too, a tendency he's rightfully revered for. But if you didn't know it was him behind the camera, Survival of the Dead would look like a Sunday afternoon time-waster.

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