Compared to most recent low-budget horror fare, George A. Romero’s Survival Of The Dead isn’t half-bad. The movie’s “how to train your zombie” plot is cleverly constructed, and peppered with exciting sequences where arrogance and short-sightedness leave humans open to the onslaught of the undead. But as a Romero project, Survival Of The Dead is a frustrating disappointment, nowhere close to the director’s classic ’70s films—though it is better than Romero’s last “reboot” zombie effort, Diary Of The Dead. Survival follows one of Diary’s minor characters, rogue soldier Alan Van Sprang, as he leads a band of scavengers toward an island rumored to be a safe haven. There, he and his crew discover two long-feuding families with conflicting ideas about how to handle the coming plague. One group wants to kill all zombies on sight; the other says that since the zombies on their isolated properties are mostly family, the monsters should be caged and preserved until a cure for zombie-ism is found. So while the humans square off on opposite sides of the island, the real threats rattle around in their pens, ready to render the conflict moot.
Unlike the largely witless and strained Diary, Survival Of The Dead is an honest-to-goodness movie, shot in decent-looking locations with actual actors, and with a script that’s classically Romero-ian in its emphasis on how people solve their problems in stages. (“Go there to get that so we can do this,” etc.) But while it’s a more likeable movie overall, Survival lacks the kind of grand theme that gives the best Romero zombie movies their oomph. There’s a little here about family values and religious indoctrination, but not enough to generate any satirical heat. The Romero of old would tease his audience with graphic violence so he could comment on social ills, but lately, he’s been shoehorning in the commentary around scenes that play to that core base of fans who dress up as zombies and cheer on every clever kill. Survival has lots of those clever kills; Romero just doesn’t provide enough reason for them to be.