Sunday, September 13, 2009


(Midnight Madness)
(Canada, 2009, 88 minutes)
Written by: George A. Romero
Directed by: George A. Romero
Cast: Alan van Sprang, Kenneth Welsh, Barry Fitzgerald, Kathleen Munroe, Devon Bostwick, Athena Karakanis

George A. Romero returns to a more conventional narrative approach in “Survival Of The Dead”, which should win back some of the purists put off by “Diary Of The Dead”s foray into “new media” experimentation as he rebooted his four-decade-old franchise for a new century (and new home, since he relocated to Toronto). His second Canadian-produced feature (and fourth-shot, after "Bruiser", “Land Of The Dead” and “Diary”) finds the former Pittsburgh native taking advantage of rural Ontario’s bucolic landscapes and regional colour to stage his latest zombie allegory as a modern-day “western”—specifically, a tribute to William Wyler’s “The Big Country”, as he slyly quipped in his introduction.

Turns out he wasn’t kidding: When Colonel “Nicotine” Crockett (van Sprang), whom we first met in “Diary”, fights through the zombie hordes (“Deadheads”, as they’ve been nicknamed) to escape to the promised safety of Plum Island, he and his dwindling troupe, which includes a few surviving Delaware National Guardsmen and a nameless teen (Bostwick) who’s a crack shot, find themselves unwilling participants in an ongoing feud between two combustible Irish families. Only six days in, the outbreak has already spread to this remote haven, and the hot-tempered xenophobe Patrick O’Flynn (Welsh) believes the only way to deal with the problem is to shoot ‘em in the head--family, friend, or otherwise. Across the island, Seamus Muldoon (Fitzpatrick) insists a cure will be found, so he orders the newly-resurrected rounded up and contained on his ranch. When O’Flynn’s daughter Janet (Munroe) becomes infected, O’Flynn’s extreme stance is tested, but not at the expense of his hatred for his lifelong rival…

“Survival” is a unique entry in the saga in that it features returning characters from the previous installment, and the passage of time between films is only a few days (as opposed to an entirely new decade, as has been the tradition since “Night”). It’s also only the second to be shot widescreen, using the much-heralded Red Camera HD system.

A brisk 90 minutes, “Survival” is Romero’s shortest chapter yet and is the most jovial, aided immensely by Canadian character pros Welsh and Fitzpatrick, who are clearly having a blast (literally) as trigger-happy foes who’ve carried their mutual loathing into their autumnal years, for reasons never really explained.

He provides plenty of opportunities to showcase Spin FX's computer-generated gore, and while the pageant of seemingly infinite zombie splatter is more convincing (and, as Romero defends to the anti-CG brigade, easier and less expensive from a filmmaking perspective), it lacks the homespun charm and genuine awe factor of Tom Savini’s latex and karo syrup practical gags (which, because they were shot live on location, always seemed more integral to the narrative).

The creator of the most potent supernatural allegory since the vampire has seen his concepts pillaged, and some would say even eclipsed, by countless rip-offs, remakes, and tributes since Bill Hinzman first lurched at Judith O’Dea in the Evans City Cemetery in 1968. While clearly there’s a statement being made here about the futility of revenge and bred-in-the-bone prejudice, Romero seems to just want to have fun this time out, serving up plenty of gunplay and slapstick, incorporating a goofy plot twist involving a twin, and a recurring riff on whether the ghouls can be conditioned into eating something other than human flesh (the answer is "yes", btw, in the series' most bizarre plot turn since Bub dispatched Rhodes with a salute in "Day Of The Dead").

Artfire Films has secured distribution rights to "Survival Of The Dead" for Canada, the UK, Japan, Thailand, and Saudi Arabia, but curiously, a release date has yet to be determined for the U.S. at the time of this writing.

©Robert J. Lewis 2009