I’m as surprised as anyone to say that I actually enjoyed this. Modern Romero films have to be seen through rose-tinted glasses, to be sure. It’s tough not to grit my teeth at his bizarre usage of film noir dialogue mixed with heavy handed pontification on the nature of, like, what zombies “mean”, man. “We’re them, they’re us. It’s Pittsburgh, Jake. We ain’t never gonna figure out what makes ’em tick. . . any more than we can figure out dames.” Much like George Lucas’s early films, George Romero’s first two “Dead” films, “Night” and “Dawn”, seemed to be the work of an obsessive-compulsive artist vomiting his personal demons onto celluloid, to great effect. And, again like Lucas, his modern attempts at going back to the well feel like the works of someone who used to be tightly wound, but has decided to play fast and loose in his old age, letting his imagination and instincts take him wherever they want to go. This, for the most part, is a mistake. Romero is a great idea guy, and every one of his “Dead” films adds something to the genre that I haven’t seen before. However, he seems to be only interested in entertaining himself, and has forgotten about his audience altogether.
Romero is so out of touch with modern audiences, he neither satisfies the desires of the mainstream (“Why do these zombies move so slow? Why aren’t they scary?”) or his die-hard fans (“CGI squibs?! WTF?!!!”). But being out of touch also has it’s advantages. I don’t think that anyone but Romero would come up with the idea of a modern day western/family drama/zombie rancher film set on an island. Granted, there was a similar story about a farmer keeping the dead “alive” in The Walking Dead comic book, but this goes completely gonzo with that concept. By not tailoring this for the opening weekend audience, he allows the story to become completely silly, which is exactly where it needs to go. You get zombies on horseback, crazy irishmen, and dynamite gags straight out of a Bugs Bunny cartoon.
Where would I rank this in the series? Well, my all time favorite is the original Dawn Of The Dead. I think that Romero was temporarily possessed by his inner genius during the making of that film, and that’s the best work that we can ever hope to see from him. Following closely behind, I would place the terrifying, claustrophobic, apocalyptic insanity that is Night Of The Living Dead. Then the underrated, hilarious and gore-tastic Day Of The Dead (I didn’t like it much at first, but it gets much better upon multiple viewings. Rhodes, Frankenstein and Bub are brilliant characters). From there on out it gets pretty downhill. I think I might put Survival in fourth place. It’s a little soon to say, being fresh in my mind, but compared to the other two latter day Dead films, it “feels” more Romero-like. I enjoyed Land Of The Dead for what it was, but it seemed like a hollow attempt at sexing the series up, with a faster pacing, rock music score, and gore used purely for show instead of catharsis. Diary Of The Dead I was not terribly impressed with, being way over the top with the satire. Romero was just beating the message of that movie into our brains with a sludgehammer. I’m sure I’ll watch it again sometime in the future, since Romero films seem to be worth a rewatch, so it’s possible that it’ll be able to claw its way up from the bottom.
Is it worth a watch? Only for the hardcore. If you can appreciate a slower paced, slightly oddball and cheesy zombie film, certainly give it a watch. I liked the actors in it, particularly Alan Van Sprang as the lead, and Twin Peaks veteran Ken Welsh as the crazy Irishman. Curb your enthusiasm, crack open a beer, and let the elder statesman of the genre speak his mind.