Apparently, George A. Romero really wanted to make a western.

How else to explain the presence of men in cowboy hats and long coats, cocking their rifles and striding out to the stables to check on the . . . on the zombies?

In Survival of the Dead, the latest in an estimable line of low-budget bloodspurters from the pioneer Night of the Living Dead director, the typical horde of soulless cretins, glazed-eyed and gut-gushing, have been corralled into horse stalls and haylofts on a ranch where an old coot who looks eerily like Rod Steiger is trying to get his zombies to change their diets.

"What if we could teach the dead to eat something that wasn't us?" he wonders.

There's an idea.

Like the literary monster mash-ups that have invaded the best-seller lists, Survival of the Dead mixes genres and milieus with absurdist glee. Romero's latest begins with a rogue band of National Guard members stumbling on a group of sadistic rednecks on the outskirts of Philadelphia, then commandeering an armored truck with $1 million in its safe and heading for a ferryboat to take them to . . . to Ireland?

Well, not really, but it sure sounds that way. On Plum Island, somewhere "off the coast of Delaware," two warring clans - the O'Flynns and the Muldoons - are headed by stubborn patriarchs who speak in the lilting brogues of the Emerald Isle. Patrick O'Flynn (Kenneth Welsh) and Seamus Muldoon (Steiger doppleganger Richard Fitzpatrick) were at each other's throats long before the zombie plague spread across the land, but now they've got something new to fight about. Muldoon's the man who wants to try to wean the lumbering, mumbling dead off of human flesh and see if they can all get along in relative peace. And maybe even find a cure.

Meanwhile, O'Flynn and his posse are scouring the isle, putting bullet holes in the foreheads of every zombie man, woman, and child.

There's a beautiful O'Flynn daughter (Kathleen Munroe) who gallops o'er the fields on her trusty stallion, and there are a bunch of goons who have sided with the O'Flynns and the Muldoons in equal measure.

And into this Celtic cowboy saga come Sarge "Nicotine" Crocket (Alan Van Sprang) and his motley troop of guardsmen (and woman - a perky lesbian named Tomboy, played by Athena Karkanis). Tromping around Plum Island with their automatic weapons and grenades, Crocket and company find themselves in cross fires and at cross-purposes.

Everyone's behaving badly - shooting and looting, chomping limbs, slurping entrails. It's a mess out there.

"Lousy times make lousy people," someone opines, and maybe that's the point Romero's trying to drive home.EndText