George Romero is rightly feted as one of the greatest horror directors of all time. Not for intelligent, underrated fare like Martin, The Crazies or Monkey Shines, but for the Holy Trilogy of Horror Movies – Night of the Living Dead, Dawn of the Dead and Day of the Dead.
To say Romero’s zombie trilogy changed horror is an understatement on a grand scale. The man’s ideas launched careers from their imitators and continue to do so to this day. They upped the ante for gore, for scale and sheer nihilism (particularly the black-as-pitch Day). But most importantly, they reminded everyone that horror could be the most potent vehicle for social commentary.
Dawn of the Dead rose to popularity on a wave of grue and the glory of shooting hundreds of zombies, but beneath it all was a vicious swipe at a consumer society. Its heroes hole up in a mall, that icon of consumerism, where they find they have all the luxuries of modern society – fancy clothes, video games, junk food and jewellery. Yet, in the end, it all counts for nothing, an empty Grail, and their sanctuary comes crashing down in a pointless war with another group for control of its useless store of gold watches and non-functioning televisions.
When Romero finally got a studio break in the wake of the success of the Dawn of the Dead remake, the result was the weak Land of the Dead. Whilst still bristling with zombie set-pieces and great effects, the subtext had become text. The commentary against the Bush administration in the US was heavy-handed and got in the way of producing an entertaining movie.
And so to Diary of the Dead. Hopes were high that this would show Land as being a mere glitch, that Romero could still hit one out of the park, even more than two decades after Day of the Dead. He was returning to his roots in more than one way, too – a cheap indie production using prosumer digital cameras and a return to the very start of the zombie outbreak.
But the results only showed that Land of the Dead was not the nadir.
The set-up for Diary of the Dead is that it has been edited together by a film student from footage shot by another film student – her boyfriend – during the first days of a zombie outbreak. We see first-hand as the students first hear of the disaster and then try to connect up with loved ones on a desperate road trip. Along the way they run into an infested hospital, wayward National Guard soldiers and a dynamite-toting deaf-mute Amish zombie slayer.
The commentary this time out had the potential to be interesting. The ‘point of view’ gimmick is used to ask questions about the nature of observation, especially through a camera. Do we care about anything, now, if it is not captured on video? Why do we upload every image, every experience, every opinion to the Internet? Does being behind a camera somehow remove us from the morality of the situation? Unfortunately, these questions – and possible answers – are not so much implied as stated. Literally, in a voiceover by one of the characters.
The result is a preachy lecture of a movie where the plot itself is nothing we haven’t seen in dozens of other zombie efforts and the characters are dull at best, cardboard at worst. It all culminates in a scene virtually identical to the denouement of Night of the Living Dead as the voiceover reaches a conclusion about the zombies that was already drawn by Doctor Logan in Day of the Dead, 20 plus years ago.
- “Master of the Dead” – interview with George A. Romero with foreword by producers
- “Speak of the Dead” – George A. Romero looks back on his career and his influences
- “Into The Camera” – meet the cast in the film
- “You Look Dead!” – a documentary on the make-up FX
- “A New Spin on Death” – a look into the visual FX of the film
- “A World Gone Mad” – delve into the cinematography and design of the film
- “Character Confessionals” – never-before-seen footage from the characters in the film
- “Familiar Voices” – discover the famous voices that were used in the background of the film
- “The Roots” – interview with George A. Romero
- “The First Week” – a filmmaker takes us through the first week of DIARY production
- Original Trailer
- Stills gallery