Survival of the Dead (2009)

Survival of the DeadReviewed by Matt Blazi

Starring Devon Bostick, Alan Van Sprang, Kathleen Munroe, Kenneth Welsh

Directed by George A. Romero

George A. Romero returned to zombies in 2005 with Land of the Dead, and it was his biggest budget film to date. It was to be his magnum zombie opus. Two years later he branches out and delivers Diary of the Dead. The first-person perspective and rebooting of the franchise were received with lukewarm fanfare. It seems that no matter what George A. Romero does movie-wise this decade, fans are going to be split 50/50. Since LOTD Romero has been under a microscope; there are those who say Romero hasn’t missed a step, and then there are those that say he should give up making movies.

This year Romero delivers his sixth entry into his Dead series with Survival of the Dead. The film follows a small band of National Guard soldiers looking for a safe haven to ride out the storm of the undead. Their travels take them to Plum Island, where they walk right into the middle of an old fashioned family feud. On one side you have the Muldoons, who believe the dead should be saved in hopes of being “cured.” The other side has the O’Flynn family, who think that once you’re dead, you’re dead. They are embroiled in a long-standing feud of who is right and who is wrong with neither willing to budge, and the Guardsmen find themselves right in the middle.

Survival of the DeadAlan Van Sprang plays “Sarge” Crockett, the leader of the band of soldiers trying to survive the zombie uprising. This is a continuation of Sprang’s Diary of the Dead character, something we’ve seen Romero utilize only once before when Tom Savini’s Machete Zombie from Dawn appeared briefly in Land.

Hard on the outside, soft on the inside, Sarge becomes more then just a one-dimensional character as the film progresses. Kenneth Welsh plays patriarch Patrick O’Flynn, hellbent on cleansing Plum Island of the undead … and Muldoons if necessary. Richard Fitzpatrick portrays Seamus Muldoon, who thinks that death is not the end, but just another stage in life to honor family. Kathleen Munroe rounds out the main cast as Janet O’Flynn, seemingly the only person on Plum Island that is stopping both families from destroying themselves.

From start to finish Survival is a 92-minute thrill ride. Romero has given us a nice balance of zombies, action, black comedy, and scares. It’s Land of the Dead stripped down to the bare necessities – zombies and a compelling story of human survival. There’s no fancy camera work, but the CGI is well integrated and well placed. Romero has gone back to basics with Survival. We have zombies within the first two minutes all the way up to the last scene of the film. Unlike in Diary, the deadheads (as they are referenced here) are consistently present and keep our characters on their toes. One of the aspects missing from Diary that George has brought back is the featured zombie. We have Kathleen Munroe playing a dual role as Jan and Janet O’Flynn, twin sisters, one of whom has succumbed to the zombie plague.

Survival of the DeadGeorge also hasn’t forgotten that zombies can be killed by not just weapons but also everyday objects. It seems in every film there is at least one zombie kill that stands out above the rest. In Day we had the shovel splitting a zombie head in half. Land had the zombie priest’s head being shot through his chest while hanging by a tendon. And who could forget the sickle through Samuel’s forehead in Diary as well as the defibrillator to the head gag? Survival also has its fair share of unique kills. Everything from fire extinguishers to pitchforks add to the dark humor portion of the film.

The “in your face” commentary of Diary has been a point of contention for many fans, but rest assured Survival’s message is there but presented in a way that does not hinder the story. Tribalism is the main theme of this film, and it is presented such that the viewer does not get pulled out of the experience and can remain engaged. Who and what started this feud is alluded to, but at this juncture it’s a moot point as it has already gone to the next level. Should the dead be put down permanently, or should they be “saved” in hopes of a cure or to honor them by letting them “live?” But in this new world do old differences matter? The world we know has ended, and now it is time to adapt or die, and some people just can’t seem to let go of old ideals. Is O’Flynn right about putting down every resurrected body? Or does Muldoon have it right about respecting our recently dead and now undead family members and letting them survive? Do we “teach” them to eat things other then humans or how to perform everyday mundane activities? Does any of this really matter when resources and supplies start dwindling and the zombies still want to eat us? George raises these questions without asking them directly to the audience, showing he has regained a balance of story vs. message in Survival.

If Land of the Dead is Thanksgiving dinner with all the fixings, trimmings, and variety and Diary of the Dead is that recipe your mom surprises you with that you loved but your sibling hated, then Survival of the Dead should be your favorite recipe jazzed up with some new parts that still keeps that same flavor and leaves your palette wanting more.


4 out of 5

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Steve Barton

You're such an inspiration for the ways that I will never, ever choose to be.

  • Cinemascribe

    I agree with Terminal there.. I really enjoyed Survival of the Dead,which I watched via VOD last Thursday night(no cinema bookings in my area at all). I don’t consider it Romero’s best work (I actually enjoyed Diary a bit more) , but I’d still take Survival over pretty much any of the non-Romero zombie films out there.

    There are some flaws: I did think the pacing was off a bit in the climactic confrontation between the two clans and the CGI effects ranged from creative (the disturbing manner in which a group of rednecks is discovered to have dispatched a pack of zombies) to outright cheesy (flare gun zombie kill just didn’t do it for me, man). Aside from that, I had no real complaints.

    If Romero follows through on his plan to make two more films – each telling the story of a surviving character from Diary- I’d love to see him fit Crockett in there somehow. I thought Alan Van Sprang owned in this flick. As a protagonist, he ranks right up there with Ben in NOTLD or Peter in Dawn. He has what is, in my opinion, the coolest non-zombie kill moment ever afforded one Romero’s characters when, following a particularly intense verbal standoff between patriarchs Muldoon and O’Flynn, , he stares at the latter and quietly deadpans “Okay, I would have played that differently.”

    Finally, I think the film really scored with the tone: This FELT like a Romero Dead film. It’s his best looking film too: that 2:35 aspect he employed really made the outdoor shots much more vivid..I was genuinely surprised at how legitimately sweeping some of the cinematography in Survival was, considering it’s a low budget, ninety minute zombie sequel.

    I’d give it a well earned eight of ten. Not perfect, but still representative of a master doing what he loves and doing it well. My guess is that Survival of the Dead will follow the Day of the Dead pattern and earn a more devoted fan base as the years go by. In the meantime, I’ll be anticipating his next installment.
    “I’m saying that I’m an insect who dreamt he was a man…and loved it. But now the dream is over..and the insect is awake.” – Seth Brundle

    • Terminal

      CinemaScribe that was very well said and I agree with nearly all of what you said there. Crocket’s transformation to a total psychotic douche (Diary) into a conflicted man torn between two sides of this dead world (Survival) was fantastic and Van Sprang handled this character very very well.

      I loved Tomboy and I thought she was entertaining in spite of that cheap plot device where Fransisco inexplicably runs away to either… turn or… kill himself, I was never sure of it.

      Either way, this movie was very good. I agree it’s not mind blowing like Dawn, nor is it as bleak as Diary, but it’s a lot of fun and I was uneasy for most of the movie, especially when they were in the bowels of the ship where the zombies would not stop coming at them.

      I LOVED the war between these families, and I thought it was a great metaphor for the whole pro-life pro-choice debacle where one is a religious man preaching the sanctity of life yet never afraid to take it, while the other is a self important atheistic entity.

      Like Night, Dawn, Day, and the rest, Romero shows that if these people would stop arguing long enough, they could rebuild the world and do some good.

      I enjoyed the hell out of this.
      “We are bad guys. That means we’ve got more to do other than bullying companies. It’s fun to lead a bad man’s life.”

      • Uncle Creepy

        My favorite character was O’Flynn. He ranks up there with the best and most likable characters George has ever created. George really isn’t interested in changing the genre or defining it. He’ll be the first one to tell you that if has happened at all it was by accident. He just wants to tell his stories the way that he wants to tell them.

        We chatted on set during Survival and he said to me that people have been having fun with zombies for decades now and that this was his turn to have a bit more fun.

        Lots of people bitch about the humor in the film, but they forget that this is the same guy directed who interrupted the original Dawn for an impromptu pie fight. George is as unpredictable as they come and that’s why I love him and his movies.

        Just about every one of his movies have been maligned upon release especially Day which is now widely regarded as a classic. Who knows, in ten years people may feel that way about Survival.

        For me? I dug it and think it’s easily his best zombie film since Day.

        • Terminal

          Creepy, I wouldn’t go that far, but I’d say it’s a great movie nevertheless. And I enjoyed the flare gun kill. The fire extinguisher kill was kind of over the top, though. Yeah, aside from Night, there’s always dark humor in Romero’s zombie pictures, I honestly don’t see what the bitching is about. I was very uneasy for most of the time, especially when they were on the ship. Fucking zombies are like cockroaches.

          At the end of the day Diary was a little better, but Survival is great still. Unlike Craven, and most directors in Hollywood, Romero is still making movies for himself and standing by his approach to film and storytelling. Good for him.

          So again here’s my ranking:
          1. Dawn
          2. Night
          3. Day
          4. Diary
          5. Survival
          6. Land
          “We are bad guys. That means we’ve got more to do other than bullying companies. It’s fun to lead a bad man’s life.”

          • FireRam

            I’m going to watch “Survival of” shortly here on this end. Finally watched “Jennifers Body” last night. Why I don’t know I have so many other movies I want to see but I got that out of the way for whatever reason. How fucking anti-climatic! I just thought of something. I don’t really remember ANYTHING from “Diary of”. Not even one single death.Hmmm. I think I need to revisit that. OR,I zoned out (which obviously I did) while watching the movie,and there is probably a reason for that. Well…..gonna watch “Survival of” shortly so…..see ya soon Creepy? LOL

            Abashed the Devil stood and felt how awful goodness is.

  • Terminal

    “Survival of the Dead” was a great movie. It won’t change the genre like “Dawn” or “Night” but I had a lot of fun and I appreciated its message as I have with all of Romero’s films. I’ll take “Survival” over that piece of crap “Dawn” remake any day of the week. At least here the comedy is intentional.

    Keep churning out the Zombie flicks, Romero. I’ll keep watching and smiling.
    “We are bad guys. That means we’ve got more to do other than bullying companies. It’s fun to lead a bad man’s life.”

  • DjfunkmasterG

    Great review, but a little biased since the reviewer did play a zombie in the movie.

    Nice read and I hope it is a good flick, although early trailers made it seem really awful.

    I, who hated Land, actually enjoyed Diary because it seemed more back to basics for Romero. Diary has some flaws, but overall came across as eerie as Night (68)

    George is without a doubt the zombie master, but I hope Survival is better than some of the earlier trailers and clips I have watched. The zombie fishing scene was a little hokie especially when the zombie emerges from the water with a big shit eating grin on his face.

    Writer/Director of Deadlands 2: Trapped

    • Terminal

      “Great review, but a little biased since the reviewer did play a zombie in the movie.”

      I tend to agree. Not even The Arrow in AITH reviewed “Alone in the Dark” on the basis that he was in it.

      Hey, I’m just being honest.

    • Emy

      I can’t find Matt Blazi’s name anywhere on the IMDB page.

      Did they omit it?

      I know Uncle Creepy played one though.

      • The Woman In Black

        A lot of the zombies are uncredited.

        • Emy

          So he’s in it too?


          If I wasn’t so allergic to so many makeup things, I would totally want to play a zombie in something.

  • Sifu Scott

    I truly enjoyed the film. UC being in it notwithstanding, I thought it was well done and worked well from every point of view. Of course, I also liked Diary, and have liked just about every Romero flick I’ve seen.

    • Terminal

      I liked Land and thought Diary was excellent. I look forward to Survival.

  • NVK

    “Captain Carnage” can rant all he wants, but at least this site hasn’t degenerated into the level that Bloody-Disgusting had sunk into.

  • capkronos

    I’m really looking forward to this. I thought Diary was great.

  • Cinemascribe

    Great review!! I’m actually encouraged by the fact that you’re in the film. Screw disclosure..yadayadayada…I want to hear what a life long fan like myself thinks. I want to get the perspective of someone who recognizes what Romero brings to the table and who gets a thrill when they hear the name “George A.Romero” and the word “dead” in the same sentence. Because that person approaches the movie the way I’m going to and that’s the opinion I trust.

    Half of the unfavorable reviews I’ve read seem to be written by post-Romero Snyder remake disciples who think that Rob Zombie is the end all be all of horror cinema. One guy mentioned his disappointment over the fact that SURVIVAL didn’t illuminate how the virus causing the dead to rise was introduced and spread. This despite the fact that in forty years filming the walking dead Romero has never suggested a virus is responsible. Now, does that sound like an opinion a Romero fan needs to seek out or regard as important? No. I want to hear what someone who catches all of the little references, homages and inside jokes thinks..and that’s U.C. (Of course,, the guy at AICN hated it..so that’s a check in the plus column for SOTD). Honestly, I’ve enjoyed every clip I’ve seen from the film, I like the premise and I’m of the opinion that LAND and DIARY comprise some of Romero’s better work. Definitely checking this one out.

    Additional: Bad press about a Romero DEAD film is nothing new. Retrospectively it’s easy to make the assessment that the original DEAD trilogy are classics..but at the time of each film’s release, they all had their share of detractors. One of the reasons Roger Ebert’s oft quoted review of the 1978 DAWN stands out is that he broke from many of his peers in praising the film..much of the “elite” critical community of the time thought it was sleazy exploitation trash. Today it’s heralded as a landmark film. NIGHT was banned in certain states and now it’s regarded as a watershed moment in horror cinema. DAY..well DAY was actually the first Romero ghoul flick to split even the hardcore fans down the center. I was fourteen when DAY hit and full on into my horror groove. I had already seen the uncut versions of the first two thanks to that wonderful little invention called a VCR and can remember being shocked while reading published letters in Fango from fans who felt they had waited too long for too little. Even the esteemed Mr.Ebert had little positive to say about DAY. But,again, in retrospect you’d be hard pressed to find many zombie fans today who don’t love that film. I know several who consider it the best one (I favor DAWN, followed closely by DIARY).

    I think the same will apply to this present continuation of the DEAD saga. Fans will be divided (people are divided over everything today. Someone somewhere will always find something to bitch about ) but ultimately history will prove to be kind. Unless this new film is devastatingly awful (and so far neither Uncle Creepy nor the good folks at Fangoria have steered me wrong) , the same will probably hold true. Truth be told, I’m just really glad George is still making them, because his zombie films are always going to exist in a class of their own.

    • Uncle Creepy

      Amen. Very well put.

    • Terminal

      Great rant Cinemascribe, I agree. I’m with you on the Romero love. Much of Romero’s detractors are indeed fans of Dawn 04. My aunt loved Dawn 04 and when she saw Dawn 78 admitted that Dawn 04 was better and Dawn 78 was boring and corny. And she’s older than I am! As many have said before I’ll always give Romero the benefit of the doubt. I’m easier on LAND because I’m well aware of the problems that went with it and really see the potential epic story that was held back because of the studio’s difficulty. I absolutely loved DIARY because it made a statement about how we’re abusing our access to unfiltered information and using it for shit. I loved everything that movie gave us and I’m confident Survival will deliver.

  • Floydian Trip

    I’ll stick with Shaun of the Dead and watch this one for free as well. I can handle wasting some time and generally it doesn’t take me long to shut something off the second it starts to suck. I have absolutely no faith in Romero as a filmmaker anymore but I’d buy furniture from him.

  • G.D.

    Wow, 4 knives? This was worse than Diary!

    To extend the reviewer’s food analogy, I would say that Survival is the dogshit sandwich that the school bully tries to make you eat.

    • The Woman In Black

      More proof how split down the middle this should leave the viewers. Reviews are all over the place, but I did see that Fangoria ranked it even higher than we did!

  • PelusaMG

    Is that our dearly beloved Uncle Creepy about gorge himself, in the second picture above?

    • Uncle Creepy

      Yep. Indeed it is.

  • nonserviam03

    Good to hear. I’m one of the few who actually liked Diary, but that one definitely could have been better, so it’s good to know that the newest one steps up a bit.

    • papatg

      I love all the series, and watch them everytime they are on! Looking forward to it.