The final feature release from the late, great George Romero was the 6th official entry in his ‘Living Dead’ series. After following after massive success with the ‘Night’, ‘Dawn’, & ‘Day’ saga and entering into ‘Land’, and ‘Diary’ territory, George decided to expand his zombie universe with a fresh take that was written in a short amount of time with independent financing. It is a movie that was hated at the time of its release and has since been called “unwatchable” and “abhorrent.” It’s reputation has become that it is a lifeless slog to watch, and that it is in fact the worst swan song a director could have offered. I entirely agreed when I watched it 13 years ago at the time of its release – I was bored, it was unmemorable, and ultimately it was disappointing.
But time changes everything. With fresh eyes and an even larger appreciation for the director than ever before, I decided to revisit this oddity last night in hopes that my memory simply was wrong – and I have mixed emotions.
‘Survival’ takes place on Plum Island outside of Delaware. The island is entirely occupied by two rivaling families – the O’Flynns and the Muldoons. It’s been 6 days since the zombie apocalypse has begun, and the residents of the island are arguing over how to deal with the mess. The O’Flynns want to kill all of the walkers to save their families, while the Muldoons believe in tradition and keeping their dead around by incorporating them in mundane daily tasks, treating them like cattle, and even trying to rehabilitate them in hopes of a cure one day arriving.
While not the most exciting offering in George’s library, this film is entirely misunderstood. This is for all intents and purposes his zombie movie that takes place within a comedic western-styled universe. There are showdowns, there is lots of Looney Tunes-esque gags , there is a bunch of hollering and people who will not flinch on their beliefs, and there is also a whole lot of disembowelments that the fans have come to love. Looking back, it’s easy to understand that it is a film that is boring, slow, bogged down with awfully cheesy CGI instead of his trademark practical gore effects, and a smaller scale story that doesn’t give you a real reason to cheer. But, it’s rather an intimate story about family decay, the results of clouded opinions, and the interference of outsiders who fail to see both sides of the argument.
This movie has a lot to laugh at. This movie has a lot to be engaged with. The last fifteen minutes are arguably some of Romero’s grossest and most cheer-worthy gore moments (which you can tell are actually practical). It is filmed absolutely beautifully with great camera work and a colorful autumn landscape. The characters serve their purposes and are having fun with the content. And you can tell that George is having a blast behind the camera doing something different than he usually had to do.
It’s arguably a lost relic. And while definitely still among the bottom tier of his work, it is definitely not the “unwatchable” mess that its reputation has foreshadowed it to be. You can say it’s for Romero completionists only – and I can’t argue with that – but it turned out to be quite a treat as compared to what my brain was prepared for.
Long Live George A. Romero. Long Live The Dead.
“Survival of the Dead” is currently streaming on Vudu, Tubi, Pluto, and Amazon Prime.
‘Til Next Time,
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