Homer Simpson once recorded a one-hit wonder novelty song that received so much airplay, he eventually declared, "I'm starting to hate my own creation. Now I know how God feels."
Director George A. Romero sometimes seems to share those sentiments. Romero created the modern-day zombie genre as we know it with his disturbing 1968 classic Night of the Living Dead, in which ambulatory corpses feed on the living. Romero's vision of a zombie apocalypse has received so many sequels, remakes and satires, it's like an open-source fictional world anyone can play in. The filmmaker used to branch out with intriguing psychological horror stories such as Martin and Monkey Shines, but now merely cashes in on the zombie vogue with possibly the worst "living dead" films currently being made.
Compared to the shlocky joys of Ruben Fleischer's Zombieland, Romero's Diary of the Dead (2007) and this year's George A. Romero's Survival of the Dead prove to be preachy, hackish and ultimately just sad. It's as if Romero treats the zombie concept as a hoop he has to jump through to bankroll his numskull explorations of social issues, such as Diary's dreary ideas about digital media. Survival seems inspired by long-standing tribal feuds like those that characterize the Balkans or the Middle East. The film primarily takes place on Delaware's Plum Island, where bad blood between two inexplicably Irish clans erupts with violence when the dead rise.
The character names alone leave you rolling your eyes so much, you can barely focus on the screen. A band of soldiers-turned-scavengers led by "Sarge" Crocket (Alan Van Sprang) seeks a zombie-free refuge on Plum Island, where the two factions clash over different philosophies for the ghoulish "deadheads." Paddy O'Flynn (Kenneth Welsh) advocates killing any zombie he encounters, but his powerful rival Seamus Muldoon (Richard Fitzpatrick) attempts to domesticate the dead with hopes of eventually curing their condition. Survival's most memorable scenes have zombies chained in place, repeatedly doing chores as if caught in a time loop.
Sarge played a supporting role in Diary which, like Survival, offered a confusing notion of civilization in mid-collapse. Civil rule has effectively disappeared, but late-night comedians crack zombie jokes, YouTube hits "matter," and characters still value paper money. But that's a minor point compared to the film's posturing, amateurish acting and laughable dialogue.
Romero doesn't shortchange audiences eager to see scenes of (literally) stomach-churning gore, and the island's rural community permits some low-tech, Western-style action scenes to break the monotony of the exploding heads. Fans can salute Romero's pioneer work with the horror film, but these days the best thing he could do for the zombie genre is let it rest in peace.