Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Romero’s Survival of the Dead

They say island residents always stick together. Unfortunately, for decades tiny Plum Island has been divided by two bickering clans, the O’Flynns and the Muldoons. They also have hordes of shuffling zombies to fight off, but that is just the way of the world in George A. Romero’s Living Dead films, the latest of which, Survival of the Dead (trailer here), opens in New York this Friday.

Patrick O’Flynn might have his faults, but he is not hesitant about dealing with the undead. A bullet in the head works every time. By contrast, Shamus Muldoon is determined to protect his infected people in hopes some sort of treatment will eventually be discovered. Since the Muldoons outnumber their rivals, O’Flynn finds himself brusquely escorted off the island. Being a crusty old sod, O’Flynn still finds ways to make trouble in exile, advertising Plum Island on the internet as a haven from zombies. Eventually he hooks up with a group Army deserters to make his less than triumphant return home. Of course, there will be trouble, with the living and the dead.

For those looking for a film with a lot of zombies getting shot in the head, Survival has the goods. While Romero has a reputation for injecting social commentary into his horror opuses, his latest is relatively straight forward and it is just as well. Nothing will ever top the stinging conclusion to his original 1968 Night of the Living Dead, so why try? Indeed, the last thing we need is yet another horror film offering pretentious polemics on the war in Iraq.

Though Romero presents something of conflict of ideologies between the two patriarchs, the intended “take-away” is decidedly murky. O’Flynn kills zombies as fast as he can, rather than live in the hope of a cure. Muldoon kills innocent people looking for a peaceful life on Plum, but keeps flesh-eating zombies chained up in his stables. Take your pick.

If not an elegant film, Survival has a few bright lights in the cast. Recognizable from his stint as the villainous Windom Earle on Twin Peaks, Canadian actor Kenneth Welsh chews the scenery with irascible glee as the cantankerous O’Flynn. Kathleen Munroe also shows some charisma as his daughter, maintaining her dignity amid Romero’s chaos. Hardly anyone going to Survival is likely to recognize her from the recent Hallmark Channel original movie The Wild Girl, but such radically diverse credits deserve acknowledgement.

Frankly, there is something refreshing about Survival’s lack of ambition. It is what it is and nothing more: just blood-splattered, old school meathead fun. A guilty pleasure that many can probably safely wait for DVD, Survival opens Friday (5/28) in New York at the Village East.