My list of movie tropes for which a moratorium should be declared continues to grow. To the already overworked 3D, comic-book movies, remakes, sequels and films about a scrappy band of underdogs, let's add: zombie movies.
Really, George Romero - give it a rest. You invented the modern zombie film - the modern horror film, for that matter - in 1968 with Night of the Living Dead. These days, barely a month goes by without at least one horror movie sprung from the mold you created.
Indeed, zombies would probably overtake vampires as the horror-movie monster of choice, if they were just a little sexier. It's hard to imagine all those teen-age girl choosing sides between Team Jacob and Team Edward and mooning over Robert Pattinson and Taylor Lautner if they were playing zombies - gnawing flesh, slowly rotting - instead of a vampire or a werewolf.
But the thing that makes zombie movies so easy to crank out - the limited need for special effects - is also what defines their limitations. Zombies only seem to have one speed - slow - and one mode (gnawing hunger). In a zombie movie, after you've been scared by one popping up out of nowhere (repeated endlessly) and confronted the dilemma of suddenly facing a swarm of them when you're low on ammunition, you've pretty much used up the zombie-movie bag of tricks. Oh wait - there's also the suspense surrounding a good guy who's been bitten and just when he/she will flip to the dark side.
Everything else is filigree - and Romero's latest, Survival of the Dead, has plenty of that. But plot is never the point in one of these affairs, a fact that Romero tries vainly to overcome.
Survival features an extremely tangential character - Sgt. Crocket, the leader of a group of soldiers turned rogue commando unit - from Diary of the Dead, Romero's last opus. Played by Alan Van Sprang, he's ruggedly one-dimensional, a barely written place-filler meant to stand-in for all human beings.
They're among the last surviving humans on the East Coast, when they manage to escape from the mainland to an island of the coast of North Carolina - or maybe it's Delaware. Geography isn't a major concern.
The island has been mostly cleared of zombies - but has become a battleground for two competing land barons. Patrick O'Flynn (Kenneth Welsh) is the loser, banished to the mainland by his arch-rival Seamus Muldoon (Richard Fitzpatrick), scheming to get back to take over the island for himself. O'Flynn teams up with Crocket and his group to take on Muldoon and his men - and to reunite with his daughter (Kathleen Munroe).
Muldoon, meanwhile, is keeping the last few zombies alive - but chained up - as he searches for a way to socialize them. In other words, he wants them to learn to stop killing humans and start eating animals instead. This may qualify as the strangest, most subversive pitch for vegetarianism ever attempted in horror films.
But given the context, Romero seems awfully captivated by his feuding-humans plot. The zombies exist to mostly be splattered and wilder, more graphic ways - and to occasionally turn an unfortunate human into a zombie buffet.
Too much of this is beating - or perhaps, eating - a dead horse. Survival of the Dead ought to be this series' last gasp.