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There's not a whole lot you can do with the whole 'documentary style' horror film these days. "The Blair Witch Project" pretty much perfected the entire sub-genre and recent films like "Cloverfield" have just gone to show that there's not a whole lot to add to that, unless you count special effects as 'something'. So, that's the first fundamental flaw with George A. Romero's new zombie opus, "Diary of the Dead'. His intentions and ideas were very noble - he wanted to make a film like he used to make a film - low budget, with unknowns in the leads, and with his traditional brand of zombie, the slow-walking corpses most remember. But how do you do something like that in this day and age and make it both entertaining and frightening? He decided to use the handheld camera approach, with the actors documenting pretty much everything going on in the picture. It doesn't always work, but it's a noble idea. It's always interesting to see an established filmmaker like Romero try something new. They say you can't teach an old dog new tricks, and this film proves that that saying is just plain ridiculous. "Diary of the Dead" doesn't fit in with the rest of the 'dead' franchise, but I don't think it is supposed to be part of that franchise - it's the beginning of a new 'dead' franchise, a youth oriented one that amps up that trademark Romero humor. "Diary of the Dead" falls flat on a couple of occasions, and the idea is not something totally original that will blow you away, but the film is very entertaining and Romero still has a steady hand for this kind of material. Just like the zombies in his film, he isn't going anywhere.
The picture opens with a group of students from the University of Pittsburgh filming a mummy movie in the woods, complete with bad make-up and stock horror movie lighting. The director of the project, Jason (Josh Close) explains to the actor playing the mummy that dead bodies don't walk fast because their ankles would break - a nice jab to films like "28 Days Later" and the new "Dawn of the Dead" film. They overhear a radio report that dead bodies have begun re-animating. At first, they don't all believe what they're hearing, but after a while they realize something serious is going on. The rest of the film follows the students' attempts to get home, especially that of Debra (Michelle Morgan), who wants to find her family before it's too late. Along for the ride are your usual assortment of attractive college students representing different social ladders. You've got the hot Southern girl who works on cars (Amy Ciupak Lalonde), the geeky guy who knows everything there is to know about everything (Joe Dinicol), the tough guy (Shawn Roberts) and even the British talking film professor with a substance abuse problem (Scott Wentworth). The students explore various locations during this quest, including a hospital which is now abandoned, a suburban townhouse and even a large mansion that turns out to be more than they bargained for. Jason seems desperate to film everything, even when it means risking the lives of others. The rest just float along, serving as so many background extras.
The most frightening aspects of "Diary of the Dead" are how Romero creates this portrait of a country that has shut down, essentially, and running on lies. No one knows what to believe. The bloggers have taken over the world, so to speak, and are the only ones putting out accurate information. The opening sequence of the lost newscast footage is quite effective and is a perfect reminder of how Romero knows how to create a sequence that lingers with the viewer. It's very simple and very well done. What always make a Romero zombie picture so intense and so suspenseful is that, just because his zombies move slowly and can be easily out-thought,doesn't mean they aren't lurking in the shadows. You don't know one is there until it's right up behind you. My favorite sequence takes place at an Amish farmer's barn about halfway through the film. This is one of the sequences that really highlights Romero's trademark sense of campy humor. It's also a nice homage to the original 'dead' film. The special effects are well done, when they are used, and they help keep the film up with the times. They were also probably cheaper that doing the effects practically. As for the cast, everyone does what they're supposed to do. I wouldn't say there are any specific standouts, but no one really ruins the film either. Romero has always had difficulty finding universally talented casts, and he doesn't quite impress us with these actors, but they don't disappoint us either. I think he was going for more realism.
That said, very much of "Diary of the Dead" feels staged and very calculated. Actors make deliberate choices because their director told them to make those choices. The realism in the film is lost because you have all of these choices, and these larger than life characters like the British professor and the film student who won't do anything but film, because that is all that's important. These characters also make the same stupid horror movie mistakes as fictional characters do. My biggest problem with the film was that it was trying to be this new and exciting take on an old formula, but they used the same damned pieces of the formula to make it happen and didn't try anything new other than the whole handheld camera approach. But, Romero is a master at horror and knows how to make it work, for the most part. When it does fail, it isn't because he didn't try, it's just that he didn't try hard enough I guess. My second biggest problem with the film was the narration from the lead female character. It seemed unnecessary. I would have enjoyed it far more without that commentary, or at least give me a narrator with a better voice. It kind of bogged the film down in this political aura that didn't need to be there and distracted from the pace and the action in the film.
So, on the whole, I thoroughly enjoyed "Diary of the Dead". If you go in expecting another addition to the 'dead' franchise, you're going to be sorely disappointed. It's keeping the tradition alive, but it's taking it down a new path that may or may not work. We'll see. One thing is for sure - George Romero still knows how to craft a zombie flick and he's not falling behind on the times, he's keeping right up with them. "Diary of the Dead" does not pack as many genuine thrills and chills as the other films and it has a lot more of Romero's humor in it than the others, but those aspects didn't bother me. It's nice to laugh sometimes in a horror film. It's also a rare compliment to find a horror film that keeps you entertained without scaring you so much. Romero doesn't resort to cheap bumps or anything like that - he lets the zombies speak for themselves, so to speak. "Diary of the Dead" will either make you very happy or disappoint the hell out of you. It disappointed the person I saw the film with. It made me smile, kept me entertained, and made me appreciate Romero a whole hell of a lot more. Check this one out at a theatre near you. But don't watch them all in sequence.
- added 03/04/2008, 10:20 PM
If only this movie didn't have a limited release
I would have seen it by now. Do you know if it
plans to be a wide release? Because my hometown
didn't play it, and the city I'm in now is not
- added 03/05/2008, 12:24 AM
it's the beginning of a new 'dead'
Actually, this one does
fit in with the franchise. This storyline takes
place at the same time as Night of the Living
Dead, just in another part of the country - same
franchise, same universe, same rules, but it's
simply another perspective on the initial zombie
Oh, and before anyone comes
back with the obvious "but they were made forty
years apart!" reply - remember, Romero has always
stated that the viewer should not attach a
real-world year / decade / time to any of the
Anywho, if it was playing in
this state - or even in the next one over - I'd
have seen it by now as well. Sadly, looks like
I'm waiting for the DVD.
- added 03/05/2008, 01:20 AM
Damn, I totally figured you had loaded up the car
and was all set for a cross country roadtrip to
where ever you had to go.
- added 03/05/2008, 07:29 AM
Unless a good torrent hits, I'm in the same boat.
- added 03/05/2008, 11:23 AM
Romero himself has stated that it was not
originally meant to be part of the current 'dead'
franchise. It was an attempt to take it in a new
direction. Yeah, it will expand to more theatres
eventually, but the sad thing was I saw it in a
theatre with 4 other people.
- added 03/05/2008, 11:25 AM
Luckily, for me, this film was playing in
Atlanta, which is only a 90 minute drive for me.
grain of sand
- added 03/06/2008, 09:52 PM
I am the "sorely dissapointed Romero fan who
expected another addition to the 'dead'
I was really impressed with the
gore and some really cool imagery.. the idea is
great.. but really not much else.. the constant
explaination as to what the 'Filmmaker' was trying
to say was really annoying to me.. It just didn't
feel like a Romero film to me.
- added 03/07/2008, 02:06 PM
this movie was fucking terrible, actually, and
thats why youre an idiot.
- added 03/07/2008, 02:17 PM
Romero + terrible... the two words just don't
mix. I'll even say that without having seen this
- added 03/07/2008, 02:21 PM
The Blair Witch did it, and I loved it. Then
Cloverfield did it, and it still sort of worked.
When I found out Diary was going to do it, I was a
bit letdown. I imagine he had the idea before
Cloverfield, but still. Two shaky-cam movies in
one 4 month period is a bit much. Until I see
this, which will hopefully be in 99 days, 99 hours
and 99 minutes, I'll keep an open mind.
- added 03/07/2008, 02:23 PM
Fuck Blair with, even if this is "terrible" it
will be better than that over hyped piece of shit.
(except for the tent part)
- added 03/07/2008, 03:44 PM
"Fucking terrible". What side of the stupid bed
did you wake up on?
I will not argue
that the film is not like the other "Dead" films
-- it's not supposed to be. But do say it's
"terrible". You obviously don't remember anything
about Romero's early work as a director, because
"Diary of the Dead" feels just like his older
grain of sand
- added 03/07/2008, 08:30 PM
I would never use the word terrible to describe
this.. not even bad..
- added 04/21/2008, 10:04 PM
I... kind of agree. As much as I loved the gore
and the zombies... and, hell, just another Romero
movie. The acting was piss-poor from almost every
charecter, I mean, REAL bad. "NotLD" had
passable acting compared to this. When the shit
was cheesy, it got too cheesy to take seriously. I
didn't feel much fear or much of anything else
with this movie. It was solidly entertaining, and
the amishman really made the movie a bit more
I liked it, and it is a romero
movie, so I'll end up buying it. I just REALLY
didn't love it.
I'm talking a 7.3/10 at the
- added 04/26/2008, 02:21 AM
Well, I finally saw it, and to say that I'm
disappointed is an understatement. There were
some neat ideas here (that doesn't include the
Amish guy - that was fucking stupid), but the
overall film was a letdown of colossal
proportions. Horrific acting, stupid decisions,
and while I didn't have a problem with the message
itself, the way that it was shoved down our
throats was just too much to handle. Even though
it pains me as a Romero fan to say this, The
Zombie Diaries did this idea a thousand times
5/10, and remember, Romero is
one of my favorite directors, so even that score
may be a little inflated.
- added 05/06/2008, 02:59 AM
Well, I too finally got to watch it.
"Fucking Terrible" is pretty close to
how I would describe this film. The film started
off pretty good, and I thought to myself 'Hey,
this isn't bad, it's actually good." But
fuck, does it ever go downhill after about 20
minutes. One girl tried to kill herself by
shotting herself in the face, but she decided to
shoot herself in the cheek? What in the fuck!? The
film then started to get back on its feet only to
fail yet again with the last act. I wanted to
murder the camera guy. Some deaths were his fault
as he refused to put the damn thing down.
Realistic my ass. He seemed like a sick fuck to
me. And his constant questions to people with the
camera in their face, and making them redo certain
things just to catch it on camera, what a fucking
If this was a real life
situation, and I was stuck with that guy. I would
smash that fucking camera over his head killing
him in the process....seriously. I cannot tell you
how annoyed I was from that idiot. Everyone was
dumb except for the Professor (even though he
liked the sauce.....how original), the female lead
and the one guy who was forced to hold the camera
near the end.
This movie sucks a mean
one and I was let down. And no offense to Romero
fans, but after this movie, I pray that he retires
and doesn't make a sequel. Unless it's more of
what we loved in the past. Flame me on this, but I
don't give a shit. I have never been so annoyed by
a movie in my life.
- added 05/06/2008, 03:02 AM
P.S. Probably still going to pick the DVD up
- added 05/06/2008, 03:22 PM
Booooooo! I'm not even going to get into why this
movie was awful, as most of the previous comments
sum up all I could say. 5/10, and that's being
generous, due to me being a huge Romero fan.
Oh, and the sequel has already been
- added 11/09/2008, 12:32 AM
Wow. This movie is, for lack of a better word,
fucking terrible. I looked over and over again to
attempt to find what really dicked its eye-socket
and there it is: Those fucking "actors".
Every performence had me ready to carve my skull
open. IT was terrible... they couldn't even make
the scene cuts look realistic. The gore was great,
the assembly was decnet, but every FUCK-MOTHERING
performance brought all the likeable qualities to
a screeching halt.
2.3/10. Fuck this
- added 01/22/2009, 12:11 PM
Sorry, but hated this movie! It was awful!!!!
Like what the hell, man? maybe 3/10
- added 01/23/2009, 06:44 AM
Romero's worst, indeed...
- added 04/28/2010, 01:09 AM
Agreed. This movie lacks any kind of subtlety at
all... and the acting-- uh....no.
it pains me to admit it, as much as I love the
holy trinity and enjoyed Land (sorry, I just
couldn't get past Big Daddy).