Texas Frightmare Weekend 2010: Survival of the Dead (2009)

Alright!!  My first night at TFW was a fucking blast.  We were at the Studio Movie Grill in Lewisville to see Romero’s Survival of the Dead and Tim Sullivan’s North American premier of 2001 Maniacs: Field of Screams.  The cast, crew, and director were present for 2001 Maniacs, but unfortunately there wasn’t the same fanfare for Survival.  Here’s the review for Survival and I’ll hit the 2001 Maniacs a little later.

Let me first start by releasing a huge sigh of relief (I’m wiping the virtual sweat from my brow).  Survival is Romero’s best zombie work since 1985’s Day of the Dead.  For various reasons I just wasn’t a fan of 2005’s Land of the Dead or 2007’s Diary of the Dead.  At all.  Although flawed Survival recaptures a little of the good old “Romero Magic” and zombie fun.


Sarge “Nicotine” blasting zombies.

Survivalbegins six days after the dead started walking.  We join two warring clans on Plum Island, located off the coast of Delaware.  The O’Flynn clan, headed by patriarch Patrick (Kenneth Welsh), wants to scour the island by killing both all the zombies and anyone who’s been bitten.  The other clan is the Muldoon’s, headed by patriarch Seamus (Richard Fitzpatrick), and he wants to wrangle the dead up and “protect” them.  Seamus feels it necessary to keep the clan together, and, as he argues, you never know when a cure will be found.  These two clans have been warring for centuries.  But Seamus gets the upper hand on Patrick and exiles him from the island.  Yes, its the old Hatfields vs. McCoys.  I was a little worried about how this would play out in Survival but Romero handled to pretty well overall.

Nice to see the shambling dead again!!

One problem I did have was that Romero should have made Seamus and Patrick a little more “even.”  There was never any doubt that Seamus was being set up as the “bad guy.”  And even though Patrick was an old son-of-a-bitch there was no doubt he was the “good guy.”  But both Patrick’s and Seamus’ points of view were valid.  Besides hoping for a cure, Seamus was trying to find an alternate food source for the zombies (echoes of Day of the Dead??) which really isn’t that bad of an idea.  It could have added a lot more tension and conflict for the audience if Romero presented both their points of view as being valid, and letting the story unfold from there.  It would have been fun to split the audience down the middle:  “I agree with Seamus.”  “Are you fucking crazy, Patrick was the right one.”  As it is you automatically side with Patrick because Seamus is portrayed as bat-s**t crazy.

Old bastard Patrick O’Flynn

Our other group, that eventually runs into Patrick and brings him back to the island, is made up of some ex-soldiers who go AWOL and band together.  The soldiers run into a 20-something kid (Devon Bostick) who joins them.  The kid is wasted in his role:  He’s pretty competent with a gun and has a tough-as-nails attitude.  I would have liked to have seen more about him.  He plays prominently in the first half of the movie then seems to be forgotten in the second half.  Maybe he was introduced now and will be featured in a future Romero project?  Anyway, the ex-soldiers are Nicotine (Alan Van Sprang), the leader; Tomboy (Athena Karkanis); Francisco (Stefano Di Matteo); and Chuck (Joris Jarsky).  They end up taking Patrick back to the island, and as soon as they get there the feud picks up right were it left off.

THIS takes me back!!

The plot here is definitely stronger than Land and Diary and it got me more involved than those other two films did.  The zombie violence is also better done (Greg Nicotero supervised the f/x) than his last two outings.  The majority of the f/x are practical f/x and are great.  But for some reason there were a few CGI f/x and they stuck out like sore thumbs.  Poor choice in using CGI; the only thing it did was pull me out of the moment.  There’s a scene where the ex-soldiers run into some rednecks in the woods.  The rednecks cut the heads off of a group of zombies (keeping their brains in tact) and plunk them on stakes.  Great idea; we get about a dozen decapitated zombie heads stuck on sticks with their eyes and mouths moving!!  The problem; it was done using CGI and what should have been creepy and scary ended up just being funny and ridiculous.

We did get a few new creative kills.  One zombie’s head bursts after Francisco shoves the nozzle of a fire extinguisher into its mouth and fills him up (reminds me of the “tire sealant” kill in Laid to Rest).  And another has a flare shot into it’s chest which results in the zombie’s head bursting into flames (I didn’t know that could happen!!).  Nice, creative kills tainted only by the use of some CGI.

Wait till you see her dead ass ride a horse!! Blech.

Romero was also playing with the idea here that you don’t need to get bitten by a zombie to turn into one.  All you need to do is die.  This is an idea that is also used in Kirkman’s The Walking Dead comic.  But we never really dive into this point in any detail.    And then there’s the treatment of the zombies themselves.  We all know since 1985’s Day of the Dead and Romero’s introduction of Bub that Romero has been flirting with the idea of “evolving” the zombie.  He tried to examine this in 2005 with the Zombie Big Daddy; the results were disastrous!!  I absolutely hated Big Daddy and the entire Land of the Dead project!!  And once again we get a few pretty stupid zombie elements.  The worst is the “zombie girl on horseback”; don’t ask … trust me its really gay.  I like and can appreciate that Romero is trying to focus more on the zombies, but there has to be a better way of doing it than by trying to give them intelligence.  I’m just not into that.

director George Romero

Overall Survivor of the Dead is a vast improvement over his last two zombie films.  The plot is more interesting and we get good performances by everyone involved (I really like Nicotine’s character and what Sprang did with it).  This is far from a perfect movie but is definitely a step in the right direction as far as getting his zombie flicks back on track.  I recommend this one for a rental.

My Summary:

Director:  George Romero (and writer)

Plot:  3 out of 5 stars

Gore:  6 out of 10 skulls

Zombie Mayhem:  3 out of 5 brains.

Reviewed by Scott Shoyer from the Texas Frightmare Weekend 2010

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13 Responses to Texas Frightmare Weekend 2010: Survival of the Dead (2009)

  1. Pingback:Survival of the Dead (2010) « AnythingHorror Central

  2. Dave Farbing says:

    From what I remember, Bruiser has some interesting scenes and a cool , if somewhat heavy-handed, commentary on losing identity. Not all that different from his recent unsatisfying zombie flicks, the film is more enjoyed for its individual moments. OR maybe the whole thing plain sucks ass! Haven’t seen it in years.

    • I’m with ya …. haven’t seen Bruiser in years so I don’t feel comfy saying it out right sucks or not. But I do remember being completely underwhelmed and disappointed with it. The “featureless” mask was pretty cool though. I might have to suck it up and watch it again.

  3. Dave Farbing says:

    @ “I refuse to include anything after Day as part of his masterpieces.”

    That may be the most tragic aspect of it all. Growing up, I remember scouring Fangoria issues, and the web, for everything, and ANYTHING, on Romero’s long awaited Day-sequel, “Twilight of the Dead.” Fans like me longed for the day the master would return. Bruiser and The Dark Half were decent, but I always said to myself, if only ole George would be let loose again in his zombie playground he would deliver a knock-out. Sadly, it was not meant to be.

    • That says it best Dave …. “Sadly, it was not meant to be.” I was one of those kids scouring the news looking for any tidbits I could on Twilight of the Dead. Man I would have killed for the internet when I was like 10-12!!! Survival of the Dead is far from his original trilogy, but its definitely a step in the right direction back to the right path after Land and Diary of the Dead!!! I’m holding out that his next one is yet another step closer.

      I enjoyed The Dark Half a lot, actually. But Bruiser …. fhew that one sucked!!

  4. Dave Farbing says:

    Good review, but I think you’re off the mark saying that Survival’s zombie violence is better than the last two Romero films. If you have yet to see Land Unrated, check it out. Big Daddy is admittedly gay and nearly ruins the whole effort, but it’s easily the goriest entry aside from Day. IMO, Survival needed MORE splatter. It’s got more than Diary, but that’s not saying much.

    • I agree to a point. I’m trying to compare apples to apples, so if you compare the “theater versions” of Land & Survival I think they are pretty even. Survival definitely needed more gore!!

      I did see the unrated Land version & I still hated it. I love Romero but that movie is such a misfire!!! As you said, Big Daddy was a truly retarded idea. But I also thought the entire cast was “meh”. Dennis Hopper was wasted in his role and Asia Argento was just pretty “blah.”

      I’m hoping we get an unrated version of Survival so we can make a fair comparison to the unrated Land!!

      Which is your fav Romero zombie flick?

      • Dave Farbing says:

        @ “Which is your fav Romero zombie flick?”

        Like Savini and Romero, I gotta side with “Day”. Showed it to a friend recently and I was surprised that it had lost none of its impact. Just a bleak clasutrophic freakout of a movie.

      • I’ll always consider Romero’s Dawn as the best of the trilogy (I refuse to include anything after Day as part of his masterpieces). But I think I love Dawn so much because it’s THE film that turned me into a horror hound. It changed my world!! But I agree with ya; Day of the Dead is an absolutely amazing film. And being completely objective and putting aside my nostalgia for Dawn, Day is easily the best in the trilogy. I watched it about 3 weeks ago and like you said; it hasn’t lost any of its impact. Its a tremendous horror movie!!

  5. l3pr3chaun says:

    YEAH! I was so hopeful and just respect the hell out of Romero. I’m glad he made a good effort with this one.

    • Me too Bill!!! I think we both know how we feel about Romero. I saw a lot of horror movies before seeing His Dawn of the Dead, but it’s Dawn that really changed my life and made me fall in love with the horror genre for life!!

      I met Romero at the Texas Frightmare Weekend & he’s as nice as can be. He didn’t just shuffle ya through the line. He talked to each fan, shook their hand like we were all long lost friends, signed whatever you put in front if him (for a price of course), & took pics with everyone!! Class helling act!!! I’m so glad I met him!!!

  6. autumnforest says:

    Wow, now that’s the review I was waiting for. I’ve been so worried about this film. It sounded like a well thought out premise on paper and I was thrilled to see a story instead of just a scenario. It wasn’t just zombies in a mall, it was actual characters, drives, motivations, and zombies being the defining factor. I do wish we could put a group together to get rid of CGI! But, alas, at least it wasn’t used overly much, so I’m thankful for that. Had Will Smith done the movie, all the zombies would have been CGI and you would have laughed your ass off. I am anxious to see this one–thanks for the great review.

    • Its definitely not as good as the Old-School Romero, but its a fun movie. Hopefully his next one is better and they keep getting better. I KNOW Romero has at least one more masterpiece up his sleeve; we just gotta be patient!!