What would our 2010 Halloween Zombie Movie Fest be without a look at a film by the undisputed King of Zombie Cinema, George A. Romero? As luck would have it, he’s got a brand new sequel to his earlier classics just out on DVD this month, and so it seems only fitting that I give it a “Nekolishous” look and review for all my Gentle Readers here at the ol’ Litterbox.
The synopsis, short and simple goes like this here: “The newest film from horror master George A. Romero (legendary creator of the “Night of the Living Dead” franchise) picks up where Diary of the Dead leaves off. On Plum Island, located off the coast of Delaware, live two families locked in a struggle for power and control over the fate of the undead. The O’Flynns approach the zombie plague with a shoot-to-kill attitude. The Muldoons feel that the zombies should be quarantined and kept “alive,” in hopes that a solution will be discovered. For both families, existence on Plum Island is a nightmarish world where humans are the minority and zombies rule.”
I remember thinking that the last entry in this series of films, “Diary of the Dead” was more than a bit disappointing overall, losing much of the originality of the earlier films by trying to recreate the whole “amateur documentary” look and feel of “Cloverfield” and “The Blair Witch Project” instead of breaking new ground on it’s own and wowing us once again. It seemed that Romero might just had just about said all he could say with his zombies…. and yours truly was probably as surprised as anybody when news of this film surfaced.
So…. the question is: “Is it a return to the glory days of flesh munching fear with some pointedly sharp social commentary disguised as horror or just another stale excuse for a story that makes you think it’s about time someone shoots this shambling corpse in the head and George calls it a day before he moves on to fresher story ideas?”
Guess you’ll have to “Read On” and see if there’s enough life in the franchise to send a few more thrills and chills down your Favorite Catgirl’s spine on a cold October evening of movie watchin’ time….. (or if I’d wished I was watching “The Horde” one more time….)
Our heroes this time out are actually the villains from last time out. Yep…. remember those evil National Guard army guys who waylay the students in “Diary” and steal all their stuff? Yep… those guys. They’re our protagonists for this one… tying the two films together in a odd way and giving us some sense of continuity that the films are really part of an overall series rather than isolated, unconnected tales that all happen to feature hungry walking cannibal dead guys.
They’re a fairly cardboard cast…. lead by Sarge (played by Alan Van Sprang) and his best friend Kenny (played by Eric Woolfe), our token Hispanic guy Francisco (played by Stefano Colacitti) and our prerequisite token lesbian, “Tomboy” (played by Athena Karkanis) who all desert thier unit at the beginning of the film to become bandits. There’s an attempt to cast Sarge in a more sympathetic light…. world weary and tired of seeing fellow soldiers sent into danger for reasons even those sending them into harm’s way don’t fully comprehend when faced with an enemy they can’t seem to hope to understand let alone defeat. Sound familiar? Yep… the shadows of Iraq and Afghanistan cast themselves over this one in a not so subtle way… zombies or insurgents… the wars are different,but it seems the “rules of engagement” are pretty much the same.
Eventually our motley crew hook up with a fresh faced loner who seems to be destined to simply be called “the Kid” (played by Devon Bostick)… at least Neko doesn’t remember any other name being given. They “rescue” him from a loathsome gang of redneck killers not too dissimilar to themselves who none the less manage to be even more repugnant by destroying zombies merely for fun and who spitefully behead them just to listen to the still intact heads moan and wail while harmlessly impaled on stakes like lawn ornaments. It’s an attempt to make the soldiers less…. thuggish… and more acceptable as heroes, but doesn’t really work, given the “Spaghetti Western” anti-hero feeling they already give off. In plain terms… they just aren’t really a likable bunch. Not that it’s a prerequisite. Plenty of films have protagonists of this sort… but if they do, it’s best simply to present them for what they are and not try to soften them too much. That just never seems to work.
Right after this…. the Kid tells our heroes all about the rumors he’s heard on the Internet about a safe haven of sorts… Plum Island, a small isolated place off the coast of Delaware that seems to promise a chance to escape the general mayhem that seems destined to drown the mainland in zombie death. Sarge… tired of running and raiding decides to take a chance to finally have some peace and so it’s off to find the man, Patrick O’Flynn (played by Kenneth Welsh), who promises to lead them to the sanctuary of the island… for a price. Anybody smell a trap?
You see O’Flynn has an axe to grind…. seems his family has shared Plum Island since the very beginning with another family, the Muldoons, and they’ve just never gotten along. Along with the usual stupid vendettas that seem to always occur in such situations the Zombie Apocalypse has simply given these boneheads something new to fight about. O’Flynn has the unwavering notion that the zombies need to be exterminated…. wiped out to remove their threat from the island once and for all…. but the Muldoons have some stupid religious idea that the zombies are simply “part of God’s plan” and that they should be kept around as loyal members of the family until miraculously they stop trying to eat people and start behaving like their old selves once more. Ummmm? Say what? Yep… sounds pretty stupid even to your favorite Catgirl too….. I’m leanin’ really heavily towards the “Only Good Zombie is a dead Zombie with a really big hole between his eyes” school of thought. O’Flynn just wants the soldiers and their guns as an annoyance to send off to the island to tick off his enemy as payback for running him off the island in the first place. Sounds about as petty and stupid as it plays out too.
So basically… for the majority of the rest of the movie we get a preachy philosophical discussion on the stubborn nature of Man and our innate unwillingness to surrender old grudges and feuds even to survive the unthinkable. It’s a shame…. as for the most part the zombie action… when it does happen is pretty good. But overall there’s precious little zombie action to be had in this second half… until the very end when the Muldoons lose control of their “Zombie Rehabilitation Farm”, most everybody ends up dead and our survivors leave the island to the zombies to wander off in search of that illusive haven that seems to never exist leaving the zombie O’Flynns and the zombie Muldoons to fight out their silly feud for all eternity.
Sigh…. I’m sorry to say, Neko didn’t like this one very much at all. It seems the King has indeed run out of ideas. I’m thinking he need to stop fixating on the “zombie as a metaphor” and start remembering the days of “zombie as a cannibal thing that just wants to eat you”. I’m not a picky girl…. but I do like my monsters scary, and these guys…. well… just weren’t. With that in mind, I have to give “Survival of the Dead” only 2 “Meows” out of 5. A shame… as there is still “life” in these shambling things from beyond the grave, it just needs to be looked at, I think, with a fresh eye. The acting here was competent… the effects topnotch…. with perhaps the best looking zombies I’ve seen all this month but it takes more than that in a film to make a real zombie fan happy and it just wasn’t available here. Ah well…. it’s still a few days till Halloween, so maybe with our next film we’ll have better luck next time out.
As always, there’s a Trailer just waitin’ for you to take a peek…. Enjoy.