In 1968, George A. Romero directed a little independently produced film about the dead coming back to life and eating the flesh of the living. Little did anyone realize that his film, Night of the Living Dead, was going to change the world of zombies forever. Flash forward 40 years and 4 sequels later and the living dead are still going strong.
I have always been a fan of Romero’s zombie films. From Dawn of the Dead (1978) to Land of the Dead (2005), I was on board with the directions Romero’s films were going. Diary of the Dead (2007) however left me feeling that Romero’s zombie storyline had run it’s course and should possibly be given the headshot that would put it to final rest. Survival of the Dead made me re-think that option.
Survival picks up as a continuation of the storyline and action of Diary. Sergeant Crockett (Alan Van Sprang) leads a small group of National Guardsmen through the every growing wasteland of the East coast of the United States. His group, Kenny(Eric Woolfe), Francisco (Stefano Colacitti) and Tomboy (Athena Karkanis) were introduced in Diary of the Dead, and are now on the run from their post and trying to survive.
We are also introduced to Patrick O’Flynn, an Irishman living on Plum Island off the coast of Delaware. His family has been feuding with Seamus Muldoon (Richard Fitzpatrick) and his family for many years. The plague of the undead has done nothing to bring them together. O’Flynn’s posse is ready to shoot down all the zombies on the island while Muldoon wants to keep them “alive” until a cure is found. After a standoff, O’Flynn and most of this posse are exiled from the island.
Crockett and his group discover O’Flynn through a rare internet connection. O’Flynn is advertising Plum Island as a safe “utopia” and is instructing anyone that is watching to come down to the docks and make their way to the island. Crockett and his group head that way only to be greeted by gunfire. It turns out O’Flynn is sending people to the island but at a steep price. After a zombie attack O’Flynn and Crockett’s group make it to Plum Island on a ferry. Here they discover that Muldoon has been killing off the strangers O’Flynn has been sending over. O’Flynn gathers up his own posse of friends that had stayed on the island.
It is soon revealed that O’Flynn’s daughter Janet is a zombie. She spends her time riding a horse around the island much like she did while she was alive. Crockett’s group starts to dwindle down. Kenny is shot in a fire fight with Muldoon’s men. Francisco has been infected and is starting to feel the effects of the zombie plague. He is put down by Tomboy who is then captured by Muldoon’s men. As a nice twist we find out that Janet is a twin and her sister Jane is the zombie on horseback.
O’Flynn’s group and Crockett are soon captured and taken to Muldoon’s compound. Muldoon wants to prove O’Flynn wrong about the zombies. He believes the zombies can be conditioned to eat something other than human flesh. Muldoon uses Jane as an example by trying to get her to eat a horse. Muldoon has been keeping a livestock barn full of the living dead in order to experiment. A gunfight starts after Janet helps to arm Crockett and the men. Soon the zombies breech their confines and in true Romero fashion we are treated to lots of headshots and gut munching. In the melee Janet is bitten by her sister Jane. Muldoon and O’Flynn shoot each other Muldoon dies while O’Flynn is seriously wounded. Janet sees her sister actually bite the horse and takes off to find the fleeing Crockett and the rest of his group but as she is about to tell them what happened, O’Flynn arrives to shoot his daughter, saving her from becoming a zombie. Crockett and his group leave the island to find refuge somewhere else.
On the island the zombies are seen attacking the horse that Jane had bitten, proving that Muldoon must have been on to something. The zombiefied Muldoon and O’Flynn are seen on a hill together, silhouetted by the moon. The both draw their guns and pull the triggers but their guns are empty but their feud continues even in death.
Whew! That’s a lot going on and that is why Survival of the Dead stands out as one of Romero’s best zombie films since possibly Dawn of the Dead. I was not prepared for such a storyline and character development that was jammed packed into this film. Romero created a great blend of action, drama, gore and human social commentary that kept my attention throughout the film’s running time. There are no idle moments. There is always something going on to keep your attention. There are also a few jump scares that work effectively as well. Romero made great use of his locations. Lots of green rolling farm land to give you that open range feel and plenty of creepy wood land to make you feel secluded and trapped, not know what may pop out from behind a tree or brush.
Romero has proved to be the undisputed king of zombie mayhem. Survival of the Dead ensures that he can dish out the dead and give you a zombie film that actually makes you think.