Thursday, September 30, 2010

Movies: Nagging persistence of the dead.

The good news about Survival of the Dead is that it's better than Romero's last outing, the truly dire Diary of the Dead. Unfortunately, the makes only the fifth worst "Of the Dead" film.

I don't mind that Romero's lapsed into self-parody. It's that he's grown unbelievably lazy. Survival is a bizarre zombie Western that sets a bloody feud between two inexplicably fresh off the boat Scots-Irish families on a isolated Delaware island against the ever less interesting background of a zombie apocalypse. As bored as we are by concept, Romero phones it in on every level. His characters are paper thin. The leader of his crooked band of National Guardsmen is a "I look out for nobody but myself" type who, of course, has a heart of gold. He has a good natured, baby-faced sidekick who is, of course, the first to bite it. The Latino soldier is constantly offering up prayers en Español to the saints when he's not trying to lay the only female member of the troop. And she's a lesbian nicknamed Tomboy who, in perhaps the only unexpected move of the whole flick, first appears onscreen with her hands down her pants, churning the butter in front of all the other soldiers, who seem uninterested in her masturbatory display because, the film hints, it happens regularly enough. I'm not sure what this scene was meant to suggest to use about PFC Tomboy or lesbians in general. As it never happens again in the flick and nobody even so much as says, "Hey, Tomboy, you're on guard duty. Try not to miss any zombies because you're busy with all the self-fisting." It appears to be a throwaway scene. But that's not particularly shocking: there's so many throwaway scenes in this picture it's the filmic equivalent of The Mobro.

Our AWOL unit from Cliché Company pick up a random teen - who, hold on for the shock, is wisecracking, tech savvy smart ass who warms up the stone cold heart of the unit leader - and follows a youtube video to Plum Island, Delaware. Unfamiliar with digital technology - remember how those digital cameras kept losing their vertical hold and breaking into static in Diary? - Romero seems to believe that new youtube clips will keep appearing long after the zombie apocalypse has destroyed our power infrastructure. In fact, it's completely unclear what rules govern the post-Zed world of Romero's relaunched "of the Dead" series. Nobody seems to sweat conserving power, but everybody's worried about wasting gasoline. Phones don't work, but all your iPhone apps do. People find wifi in random places, and pick up late night talk shows making bad sub-Carson zombie jokes. The oddest bit is the amount of traffic on the roads. Several scenes in the film suggest the roads are deserted, but some shots include a busy I-95 in the background. Maybe that was just laziness on Romero's part.

The soldiers get to Plum only to find themselves in the middle of a shooting war between rival families, one who wants to exterminate zombies as soon as they appear and another that thinks they can tame and contain them until a "cure" is found. At least one character in the film points out that you don't get a zombie until a person is dead, so by definition zombies are a deviation from a state of death, not life; consequently, curing them would mean returning them to a state of death, a paradoxical state of affairs that makes killing zombies and curing zombies the same thing. This character, in the interest of allegedly dramatic plot development, is ignored.

The soldiers end up taking sides with the "kill 'em" family and there's a big old shoot out in which most of our characters are offed. We find out zombies, when hungry, will eat other mammals besides humans; a fact that Romero seems to think is key, but really, who gives a crap if flesh eating zombies eat everything in their path instead of just every human in their path? Besides, even if you could sustain zombie life, what's the point? If the hypothetical cure for zombies just makes them a corpse again, then you've got the cure: a bullet to the head. If the cure makes them living people again (an unlikely result since so many of them carry around damage that would be fatal is you restarted them as Pure Strain Humans), then you've essentially cured death and you've got a bigger problem on your hands than zombies. The repercussions of that would make the zombie apocalypse preferable.

Happily, Romero couldn't be bothered to parse any of this out. The same spirit that moved him not to bother blocking out the I-95 in his night scenes led Romero to simply throw random, seemingly thoughtful problems at the plot line and see if any portion of any random one of them stuck. The result is people saying a lot of meaningless babble with conviction. Still, this beats out Diary, which embarrassingly bought its own crap about the evils of the Internet Era despite its utter ignorance of the actual details of the Internet Era.

Plus the CGI is embarrassing.

There's a general unspoken rule amongst horror bloggers that you shouldn't speak ill of Romero despite the ever mounting crappiness of his work. Whether this is because people feel early genius forgives later stupidity or because they simply find it bad form to talk smack about an old man, I don't know. The result, however, is that bloggers review Romero's work in bad faith. From here on out, get your reviews of Romero's flicks from the pitiless anonymous hordes of horror site commenters. They've got it right. Romero's later zombie films simply aren't that good. End of story.


Sasquatchan said...

Is Romero self-consistent in his movies ? I think the resident evil and shaun of the dead series put the zombie premise as a virus that infects you.. Thus you aren't dead, you just turn into a zombie..

(At least, based on my remembrance..)

stonerphonic said...

Totally agree.

Romero, for all his good work (and yes, I'm sitting here writing this wearing my Night of the Living Dead T-Shirt no less) has indeed gone beyond even lapsing into self parody. SOTD sucked. And sucked badly.

The story sucked.
The acting sucked.
The CGI sucked.

And I actually, for the 1st time in my long love of and my loyalty to Romero and his films, didn't bother finishing the film. My GF couldn't believe it, and to be honest, neither could I. But it was just THAT bad...

Time to tell the unpopular truth indeed.


CRwM said...


I would say that Romero is mostly consistent. In the "of the Dead," his zombies are people who are dead rather than infected living people. Getting bit by a zombie - or biting them, as this particular flick shows - does seem to infect people with some fatal condition (and in the latest movie their are several lines about blood sharing that suggest some disease model), but it doesn't turn them into a zombie directly. Instead, it kills them and all dead people with their brains intact come back as zombies.

In the first movie, the implication is that a downed space probe brought something back to Earth that is reanimating the dead. By the second flick, nobody much cared what the causes of zombism were. In the third, there's talk of taming zombies (which seems to actually be what the "cure" advocates of this film are really talking about instead of a cure proper), but no discussion of curing them.

Sarah said...

I think anyone and everyone who made it through Survival of the Dead deserves some sort of merit badge. Everyone I know personally who attempted to watch this movie cut this movie off early. One 5 minutes in, the other 45 minutes in. And although I wanted to cut it off at the DVD menu asking me to choose a side at "Living" or "Dead" (or whatever), I made it through, probably because I was knitting while watching it. Yay for divided attention!

I was listening to a podcast earlier the other day that was trying to reason it out with the idea that although Diary and Survival sucked, they are still better than most direct-to-DVD zombie movies out there. Which on the one hand, is kind of true. But there is, or at least should be a difference between a zombie movie by someone who has worked in TV and film for at least 45 years and a zombie movie by someone who is barely out of film school, if that.

I think if another film in the series is made, I will try my best not to get fooled again and watch it. Unless there are zombie horses, which I believe Survival of the Dead hints at the possibility of. I would totally watch a movie with zombie horses in it.

Andrew said...

I've been sad to see Romero go so far downhill....
I'd hoped he might make a comeback with Land of the Dead a few years ago, but everything he's done since then has been so darn uninspired.

It's a shame.

Spooky Sean said...

Yeah, Romero is going the way of Argento.

gil mann said...

I love the hell outta Land, I don't care how well it does or doesn't measure up to the OT. Still can't believe that's the same guy who made Diary.

Anybody see American Zombie? they give him a shout-out with a character who's a Romero lookalike, but since Diary came out at the same time, it comes off as less-than-affectionate (think "beating a dead zombie").

Douglas A. Waltz said...

Wow! You guys really don't like SOTD, do ya? I am not one of those rabid Romero fans, I've seen all of his films and Dawn and Knightriders remain two favorites, but I really liked this flick. It gives a little more insight into the zombie thing. I like that he gives us just tiny bits of information in each flick that tells us a little more about what is going on. So, I really liked SOTD. Sorry it wasn't anyone who reads this' cup o tea