Survival of the Dead

Zombie Western? Sounds awesome! But isn't.

Released in 2009, certified UK-18. Reviewed on 18 Aug 2011 by Scott Morris
Survival of the Dead image

Stop! Romero Time! One of the longest running series in film returns with yet more zombies shuffling around chowing down on people. Mainly taking place on a small island off the coast of America, which given the names of all concerned might as well be Ireland, a generations-old rivalry extends into the Zombie Era as Patrick O'Flynn (Kenneth Welsh) and Seamus Muldoon (Richard Fitzpatrick) clash over how to treat the living dead.

Muldoon wants to keep friends and family contained and pacified, in the hopes that there will one day be a cure, or a miracle, or something that returns the deadheads to normality. O'Flynn has a more conventional approach to the zombie menace - shoot them in head. This disagreement in philosophy soon becomes a disagreement in arms, and O'Flynn's clan turns out to be on the loosing side of that. O'Flynn is exiled to the mainland.

It's not long before he runs into 'Nicotine' Crocket (Alan Van Sprang) and his small group of... well, not mercenaries, exactly. A band of ex-soldiers who figured they'd be better off on their own would fit better. While remaining sceptical, they decide that they have a decent shot for survival by heading out to the island, helping O'Flynn gain dominance over the Muldoons.

How does that work out for them? Well, it's a zombie film. Expect eatings.

It's not exactly a traditional zombie film, though. I suppose Romero has tired of the usual man-the-barricades setups that zombie outings often devolve to. It's also no work of social commentary or satire, although I've always been slightly puzzled by that line of praise for Romero. Much as I like Dawn of the Dead, holding it up as an arch, Swiftian satire of commercialism seems to be pushing things a bit. More realistically, I'd imagine the idea for Dawn came about by saying, "You know what would be cool? Zombies in a mall".

Similarly, I'd imagine the idea for Survival came about by saying, "You know what would be cool? Zombies in a Western". That's as close to a genre pigeonhole that Survival fits into (well, outside of Zombie Horror, obviously). It's practically a remake of A Fistful Of Dollars, but with zombies. Although given that Fistful is practically a remake of Yojimbo, we also open up the possibility of a Samurai film with zombies, which would obviously be super-awesome.

If this is sounding like waffling here, it's because there's not an awful lot to latch on to with Survival of the Dead. It does it's job well enough, it's reasonably entertaining, there's a few funny lines and a couple of amusingly arcane methods to kill a zombie on display.

I don't even have too many bones to pick about the parts of it that are not, perhaps, top drawer stuff. The effects work is endearingly rather than distractingly shonky, and the overblown acting and storyline isn't exactly out of place in a world where the dead have risen to walk the dead and eat the living.

It's tough to hate any film that was MPAA-rated R for "strong zombie violence/gore", and I don't hate Survival of the Dead. It's just that it's a very forgettable film, and in a world with no shortage of zombie films it doesn't shamble out from the crowd.

While I'm not going to proclaim myself as the world's biggest Romero fan, I've no grudge against the man or his work. While Survival of the Dead was a perfectly agreeable way to while away ninety zombie-filled minutes, it's not a damn thing more than that.

George Romero
Cast list:
Alan van Sprang (Sarge "Nicotine" Crockett)
Devon Bostick (Boy)
Richard Fitzpatrick (Seamus Muldoon)