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Searching for Brains: George Romero’s “Survival of the Dead”

Searching for Brains: George Romero's "Survival of the Dead"

So much allegorical baggage has been heaped upon George A. Romero’s army of walking corpses over the last four decades, it’s little wonder their decaying legs haven’t collapsed under the weight. The hollow dream of domestic consumerism; the ambivalences of scientific experimentation; the challenges of multiculturalism; the dehumanizing effects of the class-stratified state—Romero’s franchise has left few zeitgeist stones unturned. It is worth noting upfront that this is a real achievement. Though the films have taken some precipitous dips in quality over the years— fans more die-hard than I can argue about when the sell-by date came and went—Romero has consistently used his zombie-ravaged world as a stage upon which to tackle hot-button issues with an honest, if not always subtle, sense of inquiry. The undead themselves have proven fertile ground for exploring human identity and value, often circling back to that inevitable moment when a character is forced to bash in the skull of some dead-eyed monster who, in physical appearance and perhaps in mental capacity, remains a family member or friend. One of Romero’s more intriguing moves in the later Dead films was the way he began to frame the zombies not just as loose packs of flesh-eaters but as quasi-victims of the topsy-turvy world their presence created. Day of the Dead (1985) found them the subject of domesticating mental testing, while Land of the Dead (2005) featured dystopian pleasure dens where humans threw the undead into barb-wire pits and bet on which could consume their human prey first. We may fear these id-driven creatures, but as Romero insists, don’t be fooled: he has seen the enemy, and it is inevitably ourselves. Read all of Matt Connolly’s review of Survival of the Dead.

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