George Romero's ''brand name'' has taken a little bit of a battering in the past few years. Once hailed as a master horror director with the original and much cherished 'Dead' trilogy, only to almost undo all of that good work with his more recent efforts - the lackluster studio dud 'Land of the Dead' and the nearly-there 'Diary of the Dead'. So, when this new effort was announced my world weary mind just thought 'ho hum, we'll see, not expecting much' and after reading a number of reviews across the net my fears were confirmed that this new entry 'Survival of the Dead' would be just another waste of a once heady talent... however, after viewing Romero's newest movie - I didn't come away feeling that. I actually liked it.
The story is a pretty simple affair: Coming across as a semi sequel/continuation to 'Diary', the film follows a group of rogue National Guardsmen (led by 'Diary' bit-player Alan Van Sprang as the laconic 'Nicotine' Crocket) as they seek refuge from the impending zombie over population problem. Crocket and his team, feverishly searching for a safe haven meet up with Patrick O'Flynn (Kenneth Welsh in a scenery chewing performance). O'Flynn has been exiled from his home - namely Plum Island (this and Fiddlers Green? What is it with Romero and strange place names recently?), where his family is locked in a feud with the Muldoon family (led by Seamus Muldoon, played by Richard Fitzpatrick). The two families are almost living a 'cowboy' like existence on this remote isle, and here Romero rolls out his trademark social commentary, this time focusing on the family unit and how it reacts in times of desperation and conflict. On one side, the O'Flynns see the zombie plague as something that needs to be stamped out and eradicated, whereas the Muldoons want to train their undead brethren to eat things other than humans and keep them as part of their families. As O'Flynn and the soldiers arrive, the feud boils over to a bloody flashpoint as the two families fight it out to the bitter end in the usual Romero splatter happy manner.
To begin, this movie isn't perfect. It's by no means near the level of 'Night/Dawn or Day of the Dead', but (for me at least) its a major step up from 'Land' and 'Diary'. The cinematography, editing and production design are well realised and Romero's direction is sharp and on the ball. The movie is filled with many amusing sequences that have been largely absent from his recent films and they really add a welcome punchline to some of the zombie set pieces. The cast too, are well served and everyone gets their time in the sun. Each character is given a satisfying arc and when the inevitable zombie munch down begins at the film's climax, you actually care who is going to live or die. The script itself, although nothing revelatory is genuinely witty and goes from A to B in an efficient manner - allowing you the chance to actually 'get into' the film, rather than watch your clock or fiddle with the remote control until its over, which has been a recurring theme of late in my home when viewing the latest horror drivel. Sure, their are a few niggles: The CGI effects never really work and even though the make-up work is largely good - you still wish Tom Savini's magic touch was around, which is sorely missed by myself at least. The movie is a little short at 80 minutes, and you do want to get more out of the concept, but these things are minor blips in what is a surprisingly entertaining movie.
The DVD itself has a sharp transfer and the movie looks great, but there are no extras which is a shame - perhaps, the Region 1 version will rectify that misstep when it arrives. All in all, not a bad effort and good to see Romero can still deliver the gory goods given the right script and time. However, from reading the many reviews on Amazon and across the web - I fear I may be in the minority here so best to approach this one with caution, if you are in two minds whether to plunk down your hard earned. I would recommend the film wholeheartedly, but some may disagree.