George A. Romero's Survival of the Dead: A Personal Reassessment

George A. Romero’s Survival of the Dead: A Personal Reassessment

Survival of the Dead (2009) was George A. Romero’s final film in his seminal Dead series and is often overlooked and underrated. Made on a smaller budget than previous Dead films, Survival of the Dead failed to garner much attention upon release. Yet it deserves a second look as Romero’s swan song and a worthy conclusion to his groundbreaking zombie oeuvre. Though more restrained in scope, Survival of the Dead features Romero’s signature social commentary and genre subversion, as well as his knack for imaginative zombie carnage. For fans of Romero and independent horror, Survival of the Dead is a hidden gem waiting to be rediscovered.

“Survival of the Dead” is a sequel?

Survival of the Dead is an underrated gem that provides a fitting conclusion to Romero’s Dead series. While lower budgeted than its predecessors, the film contains Romero’s signature blend of social satire and genre innovation. Survival of the Dead builds on Diary of the Dead by continuing the story of two National Guardsmen, Crockett and Maxwell, struggling to survive the apocalypse. They become embroiled in a family feud between the Muldoons and DiSimones on Plum Island.

Survival of the Dead returning faces from the film Diary of the Dead making the film a sequel.

Yet Romero suggests their rivalry need not end in total warfare and destruction. The DiSimone clan has actually domesticated and coexisted with zombies through passive control techniques, highlighting how we might live in harmony with “the other” if we overcome our initial violent instincts. Though the Muldoons initially seek to eliminate the zombies, they eventually adopt the DiSimone model of coexistence, recognizing that pluralism is the only path forward in a post-apocalyptic world.

Rather than humankind’s worst traits like tribalism leading to our downfall, Romero proposes that empathy, compromise and inclusion of outgroups may be our salvation. The film’s resolution hints that humanity can choose a more optimistic path, even when faced with crisis that could easily divide us. Viewed in this light, Survival of the Dead is a relevant and hopeful vision of unity amid shared catastrophe. Though often overlooked due to its small scale, this coda deserves recognition as a fitting finale to Romero’s career-long meditation on society’s future in the face of the unfamiliar and undead.

But is it a true sequel?

While Survival of the Dead continues the story of Crockett, Maxwell and other characters from Diary of the Dead, it features an entirely different plot and style. Diary of the Dead was filmed as a hybrid “found footage” film, combining first-person and traditional cinematography. In contrast, Survival of the Dead employs a straightforward third-person style with no found footage elements. The story also shifts focus to Plum Island, centering on the Muldoon-DiSimone conflict rather than the students and militia from the previous film. Despite returning characters, Survival of the Dead stands alone as its own self-contained tale in Romero’s Dead universe. It explores new themes around tribalism and coexistence while delivering a unique chapter in the franchise, separate from the mockumentary style and character arcs of Diary of the Dead.

Survival is actually very relevant in the film

The title Survival of the Dead proves apt, as the film depicts humanity in a primitive struggle for survival that strips away the trappings of civilization. Set on a remote island, Survival lacks the urban environments of Romero’s earlier Dead films like Dawn of the Dead. Instead of satirizing consumer culture in a shopping mall, Survival explores how people revert to tribalism and violence to endure in a world without modern comforts or infrastructure. 

Swarm of Zombies in Survival of the Dead

The island setting may have surprised audiences expecting another cityscape, but it allowed Romero to show humanity’s baser instincts emerging when reduced to a survival scenario. Bereft of any authority or technology to depend on, the characters become savage in their quest for power and territory. They form rival clans, use zombies as weapons to gain control of resources and land, and protect their own at the expense of outsiders. The film suggests that our superficial modern ideals would soon collapse if society did—and our primitive urges would come to the fore when fighting to subsist without the luxuries we enjoy. 

The isolating island backdrop highlights how far civilization could crumble if stripped of its advancements and conveniences. Survival of the Dead reminds audiences that humanity’s progress stands on fragile foundations that could give way to barbarism when resources become scarce and life is on the line. This change of setting and scenario may have caught longtime Romero fans off guard but allowed him to explore a grim new frontier of existential dread.

There are no shopping malls in Survival of the Dead

There are no shopping malls in Survival of the Dead

By 2009, post-apocalyptic and zombie fiction frequently employed rural or isolated settings and removed technology to highlight survivalism. Romero tapped into this trend in his final Dead film, transporting audiences to a place utterly divorced from the modern world where only the human capacity for ingenuity and violence remain. The film’s microcosm suggests our species would not hesitate to turn on itself when forced into competition for scarce resources without the veneer of ethics or progress to mask its selfish drives.

Survival of the Dead may lack the urban commentary of Romero’s earlier films, but it unleashes something more primal in its vision of humanity stripped to the bone. In giving his saga this unexpected final chapter, Romero reminds us that chaos lies waiting beneath the ordered surface of things—and it will take more than zombies to tear it free.

Taking a deep look into Survival of the Dead

Survival of the Dead exhibits Romero’s signature strengths in social satire and insight into human nature, exploring themes of tribalism, prejudice and selfishness through complex characters like the Muldoons and DiSimones. Romero also demonstrates his knack for over-the-top gore on a small budget, with memorable zombie kills and effects. However, the film’s low budget also results in some cheesy acting and visuals, with a pervasive cheap quality that undermines its good intentions. 

The story itself seems to lack momentum or purpose, meandering from one character or scenario to the next without a clear arc. And there are no real protagonists to root for, as nearly all the characters prove stubbornly unreasonable and self-serving. The isolated island setting also lacks the broader societal stakes and scope of other Dead films. These structural and tonal issues make Survival of the Dead a mixed bag, unlikely to satisfy horror fans seeking real scares or suspense like myself.  

a zombie in the barn in the movie Survival of the dead

The annoying shaky-cam cinematography and lack of resolution or closure further hamper the film’s potential for me. At its best, Survival of the Dead taps into Romero’s gift for social commentary and black humor in the horror genre, which I appreciate as a fan of his previous work. But overall it fails to combine these strengths in a truly compelling or cohesive manner, in my view. The small-scale story and flawed execution mark it as a lesser entry in Romero’s influential filmography, falling short of its ambitions and the standards set by his previous Dead installments that I hold in higher esteem.

Still, as a devoted Romero fan willing to overlook obvious budgetary and technical limitations, Survival of the Dead offers a glimpse of the director’s unfiltered vision and talent for subversion. Though not a return to form in my eyes, the film stands as a final rebuke of human nature from a master willing to bite the hands that fed him. On that front at least, Survival of the Dead finds its purpose for me and leaves a lasting impression, despite its shortcomings. I can’t help but admire Romero’s stubborn refusal to pander or pull his philosophical punches even at the end of his career.

The film may be an imperfect closing chapter, but its grim outlook and fatalistic themes stay with you. And that seems a perfectly fitting final word from George A. Romero, reigning cynic and prophet of the zombie genre. He emerged as a revolutionary filmmaker and never stopped swinging at the bleak truths as he saw them, budgets and popularity be damned. That rebellious spark gives Survival of the Dead a bitter poignancy and power for me that transcends its flaws. In the end, it leaves me mourning Romero’s passing all over again.

My Personal Thoughts on Survival of the Dead

George A. Romero’s swan song Survival of the Dead prowls as a gnarled and snarling beast, imperfect yet enduring—much like the master’s revolution that gave rise to the modern zombie mythos and shaped my love of horror. Though the film lurches with a budgetary limp and technical crudeness that hampers more than helps in my view, beneath its leathery hide beats a heart of cynical insight and subversion that devoted fans like myself know and love. 

Set on a secluded isle where humanity decays into tribes warring over the bones of the old world, Survival serves up Romero’s familiar allegory in microcosm: a bleak chassis for the director’s musings on human nature, jacked up on the gore and black humor that define his oeuvre and sparked my fandom. The film may fail to capture past glories haunted by hardcore acolytes in my eyes, yet it remains doggedly true to the spirit that moved Romero to first unleash the Dead and captured my imagination.  

With grizzled islanders circumnavigating one another in an endless dance of suspicion and spite, Survival reminds me of Romero’s long talent for crafting complex characters and gleefully unpicking society’s stitches to expose what rots beneath the flesh. Though technical limitations abound, in my view the movie mines the same vein of rebellion against complacency and desire to provoke that inspired a young Romero to make horror history and turned me into an lifelong devotee. His final film refuses to pander or pull philosophical punches, offering a last lecture on humanity’s worst instincts from a master committed to casting light where we fear to tread and showing me the world through a glass darkly.

The final film from Romero

The Living Dead birthed a legacy forever guiding what was to come in horror, their massive cultural wake propelling zombies into mainstream monsterdom. But Romero never sought to terrify or showcase spectacle for me—he aimed to enrage and unsettle by channeling era-defining anxieties onto celluloid, which is why I have always been an ardent fan.  With Survival, the godfather of gutmunchers reminds why I will forever mourn his passing: a spirit of dissent and determination to excavate hard truths with gnarled hands, expectations be damned.  

This gnashing creature feature stands as monument to a filmmaking legend who transformed genre and never lost his way in my eyes—one last snarling ode to individuality from a radical chewing at the fringes of the system that fed. Survival of the Dead may not stand tall beside the myth for me, but it distills Romero’s punk ethos and refusal to go gently down that good night. With its passing I toast a pioneer who reshaped modern horror, going out swinging like the visionaries and mavericks of old. The revolution lives on, as I hope the spirit of Romero’s vision will endure for generations. His works have come to mean so much, and I feel as though I have lost a teacher and kindred cynic. But the teachings remain for me, in Survival of the Dead and beyond.

Where you can watch Survival of the Dead

Survival of the Dead can currently be found streaming on a variety of platforms, though availability is subject to change. Some options with the movie in their library at the time of this writing are listed below:

You can watch Survival of the Dead streaming for free, with commercials, on services like Crackle, Pluto TV and Redbox On Demand. These platforms offer the movie on demand as part of their selection of horror films and are available on most streaming devices, though content rotates frequently. For a rental fee of around $2.99, the movie can also be streamed on demand from major retailers like Google Play, iTunes, Vudu and Redbox On Demand.

If you prefer to own a digital copy of Survival of the Dead, you can purchase the movie for between $6.99 to $9.99 from services like Google Play, iTunes, Vudu, Microsoft Store and Redbox On Demand. Once purchased, you can stream the movie on demand in up to HD quality on compatible smart TVs, streaming media players, gaming consoles, Blu-ray players and mobile devices. However, the movie does not appear to currently be available for Prime members to stream for free with their subscription. Some services may offer discounts or price matching if you find a lower price from another participating retailer.

Availability and pricing of Survival of the Dead on digital streaming platforms is subject to change without notice. The above options reflect services where the movie was available for streaming, rental or purchase at the time of publication. Its availability on any individual service should be verified before subscribing or purchasing. Not all services are available in all areas. Internet connectivity and compatible streaming devices required.

You can also purchase the film on Blu-ray or DVD at a reasonable price on Amazon. I purchased my Blu-ray copy of the movie there.

Pluto TV – The free internet TV service features a dedicated horror channel which airs Survival of the Dead from time to time on demand with commercials. Pluto TV is available on most major streaming devices. 

Prime Video – Amazon’s streaming service currently does not have Survival of the Dead available for Prime subscribers. You can purchase the movie to stream for $2.99 if you wish. Prime Video is included with an Amazon Prime membership or available for $8.99/month.

Peacock – NBCUniversal’s Peacock streaming service which offers free movies and shows launched in 2020 but does not appear to have Survival of the Dead in its library as of yet. Peacock has a free tier with ads as well as a $4.99 option.

Google Play – You can purchase Survival of the Dead to stream in HD for $9.99 or rent for $2.99 on demand. Google Play is available on Android devices, Android TV, PlayStation and Xbox. Your purchase can also be streamed on YouTube. 

iTunes – Apple’s iTunes storefront follows the same pricing – you can buy the movie for $9.99 to stream in HD or rent for $2.99. iTunes purchases and rentals can be streamed on iOS devices, Apple TV, and other compatible smart TVs.

Vudu – Walmart’s Vudu allows you to rent Survival of the Dead for $2.99 or buy for $9.99 to stream in HDX on Vudu’s site and apps which are available on most major streaming devices.

Redbox – Redbox On Demand includes Survival of the Dead to rent for $1.99 or purchase to stream for $6.99. Redbox On Demand is available via the company’s Blu-ray rental kiosks as well as on most streaming devices like Roku, Fire TV, Android and iOS.

Crackle – Sony’s Crackle offers Survival of the Dead streaming for free with commercials on demand as part of its rotating selection of movies. Crackle is available on all major streaming platforms but content availability is subject to frequent change.

I appreciate you taking the time to consider my viewpoint on the film Survival of the Dead, check back often for more perspectives!