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Web Stalker – Does George Romero’s Survival of the Dead Resurrect the Genre?

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Web Stalker remembers a time, not so very long ago, when a decent, law-abiding horror fan could go months without being pawed by a rotting cannibal zombie. These days, they’re everywhere, shambling or sprinting, moaning or chowing down on the vastly outnumbered living. It’s only fair that George Romero, whose Night of the Living Dead single-handedly transformed the zombie from folk figure to go-to metaphor, should keep his hand in the game. If Romero’s polarizing Day of the Dead was a radical attempt to reimagine Night of the Living Dead for a 24/7, plugged-in generation, its sequel, Survival of the Dead, has the zombie-lovin’ world in a lather: is it a step forward or sad evidence that the 70-year-old filmmaker should leave the creatures to younger filmmakers, like Danny Boyle (28 Days Later) and Ruben Fleischer (Zombieland)?

True to the times, Day of the Dead was made entirely of “found footage”: TV-news outtakes, amateur video, and film shot by students whose efforts to make a mummy pic are rudely interrupted by the return of the dead. It opened to mixed responses from fans and critics, but there were rumors of a sequel. The ensuing online debate became a referendum on Romero’s legacy and zombie-movie conventions: shambling versus sprinting, mindlessness versus intelligence, comedy versus nightmare.

In 2009, it became clear that the follow-up, first referred to as …of the Dead, had a real title: Survival of the Dead. That kicked the debate into high gear: “It seems that this great master has lost his way,” complained ZombieFan44, on IMDb. “Instead of continuing the saga, he has diluted it.”

Details leaked out: Survival of the Dead is shot from a third-person perspective and brings back minor characters from Diary of the Dead, namely the rogue military group led by Nicotine Crocket (Alan Van Sprang). In the new pic, Crocket and company get word that there’s a zombie-free-oasis, on Plum Island. (Conspiracy-inclined readers will recognize the name: since 1954, Plum Island has housed government-run facilities for researching lethal bio-contaminants.) Unfortunately, two warring families make Plum Island as dangerous as any zombie-infested metropolis.

Survival of the Dead stepped into the spotlight at 2009’s Toronto Film Festival. The responses were mixed, but the faithful took heart from reports like this: “Romero’s one of those directors who, tragically, can never get out from under the shadow of that one iconic masterpiece,” mused Phantasmic Blog. “The good news is [that] Survival is quite possibly better than any Dead movie since Dawn…for the first 2/3rds or so.”

It took several months for Survival of the Dead to get distribution, but it was picked up by Magnet Film, which announced that the movie would premiere in the U.S. on video on demand, Amazon.com, and Xbox Live, on Friday, April 30, then hit theaters on Friday, May 28. Brits have it even better: esplatter.com revealed that Survival of the Dead would be available on DVD in the U.K. on Monday, March 15.

Horror fans on both sides of the pond remain doubtful. “Antiquated is only the first word that pops into my mind about some of Mr. Romero’s views,” said one TwitchFilm reader. “It’s like an aging hippie who still thinks Abbie Hoffman is relevant.” Pajiba.com agreed: “It’s ironic to me that the subgenre of film that seems to have the most energy, creativity, and originality today is the one essentially created by George Romero, and yet, Romero’s new zombie films are the only ones that I don’t care to see any more.”

The fact that the movie’s trailer vanished from the Web, shortly after being posted, didn’t help matters, especially in light of remarks like this one, from a screenjunkies.com reader: “Survival is gonna suck. Land of the Dead was bad, but at least it wasn’t some slapstick comedy with zombies.”

Romero is Romero. As one bloodydisgusting.com reader points out, “There seems to be a lot of undeserved hate towards Romero of late. It just boggles my mind that so many horror fans like to bitch and moan about how his last two zombie films aren’t as good as his previous three; and I’ll even admit to that, but come on, it’s not like they were really bad films. So what if they weren’t as classic as Night, Dawn, and Day? At least they had some quality to them.”

How do you feel?

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