Diary Of The Dead
"Youthful, energetic and lively as ever - George A Romero's cinematic resurrection is a cheerful and thoughtful horror delight."

Diary Of The Dead exists as a film within a film, admittedly a hackneyed story device these days - but diaries as horror devices are greatly effective. Who hasn't read fiction on which the monster reaches the writer just as the final words are written? Romero stamps his treatment with multiple authors and several key viewpoints, folding into a collaborative effort entitled The Death of Death, which also means the author's possible human death is not the end of the telling.

The overarching story returns to the first night of a zombie outbreak and begins with movie-brat Jason Creed (Joshua Close) shooting a student mummy movie. He is with his college friends and perpetually plummy and drunken English professor (Scott Wentworth), who just so happens to be an archery ace. The scene being shot is a woman being chased into the woods, and like the deathly dull Scream with all its tiresome irony, knows the conventions of the obligatory tit-shot, the slow-moving monster ("Wouldn't their ankles just snap off if they ran?") and the ridiculousness of the setup. Pockets of radio news report an outbreak of the dead returning to life, and the freaked out students decide to leg it to their loved ones in a large caravan.

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Diary Of The Dead feels most potently like an allegory of recent events such Iraq and Hurricane Katrina. The media's feeble handling of telling the stories and the government's ineffective dealing with the human catastrophes hits hard. Romero himself even takes a starring role as the Pittsburgh chief of police, telling the story that authorities want people to know. One immediately recalls the brief spate of internet bloggers as the Iraq invasion started after Shock And Awe, and the small rivers of human stories bleeding out of New Orleans as the central news networks neatly edited their output for mass consumption and telethons.

Romero keeps making these zombie flicks which blend the carnage with social satire, and oodles of intertextual storytelling. In Diary, he shows a delightfully precocious (yes, I know this is a misnomer in terms, given he's 68) fascination with the technology behind the instant delivery of human stories. The filmmakers in his story are inexperienced amateurs who can use prosumer camcorders, laptop editing suites and the internet to show (even only partially completed, yet self-feeding and evolving) work the mainstream media will never show.

Also, he satirises their inexperience by dressing it with cheerfully cheesy dissolves and overtly ostentatious voice-overs. The film does not linger on the social responsibilities of these youngsters, by leaking their stories, but provokes questions that have no easy answers. Although the camera's seduction emerges, as the opening mummy chase is recreated to chilling and hilarious life-or-death effect.

Does the film deliver elsewhere? You bet! The opening scene of unedited footage, uploaded to the internet by a news cameraman - is Romero's single most terrifying scene since the graveyard scene in Night Of The Living Dead. Horror buffs are well catered for, with oodles of offscreen cameos from established celebrity Romero fans, immensely creative and foul zombies and death scenes which shock and delight. A great sequence in a hospital, full of ravenous nasties waiting to be zapped with the defibrillator, is a standout.

Further additions to the look-like-zombies or sound-like-zombies roster is a delightful mute Amish chap who brings the house down in his scene, and an elderly couple in a sickening downloaded movie spliced into the tale seamlessly. There's even a moment reminiscent of M Night Shyamalan's magnificent Signs (itself a great emulator of Night Of The Living Dead in it's unrelenting final act) with a video of a birthday party gone horrifyingly wrong.

Romero knits these videos into his narrative expertly, making it a part of the movie we're watching, and cutting to his characters watching it on their laptop - this movie within movie integration is clever, tight and well orchestrated. Although again, and perhaps the greatest acheievement of his movie, Romero makes The Death of Death betray its core idea - documenting the unvarnished truth - with cheap music, complete with musical "stings" and manipulative editing. Are these independent, supposed truth-tellers to be trusted either? Sure, this might antagonise viewers, but it's easily defended as satire.

The only real story flaw - and it's a biggie - is that his characters do not accept the dead are returning to life until it's far too late. For such a collection of ragtag horror moviemakers, I find it hard to believe that they do not know the rules of a zombie flick, and don't grasp it for a sizable portion of the runtime. Then again, they're rather well cast as the YouTube era misfits.

Youthful, energetic and lively as ever - George A Romero's cinematic resurrection is a cheerful and thoughtful horror delight. Stuffed full of ideas, low-budget, with a tight shooting schedule - unlike his slickly, overblown and underwritten Land Of The Dead - he returns with a reboot of his magnificent political zombie dynasty. The candyfloss horror Cloverfield may use the same brief tricks, but Diary Of The Dead in another league. It is startlingly delivered and shows the old hand can still teach the newbies a couple of tricks all the while delivering a fine entertainment and gives its genre audience plenty of fresh meat to chew on.

Reviewed on: 02 Mar 2008
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Film students try to record the end of civilisation as they know it when the dead begin to walk. Plus read our with George A Romero.
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Read more Diary Of The Dead reviews:

Tony Sullivan ****
Keith Hennessey Brown ***1/2
Chris **

Director: George A Romero

Writer: George A Romero

Starring: Michelle Morgan, Joshua Close, Shawn Roberts, Amy Ciupak Lalonde, Joe Dinicol, Scott Wentworth, Philip Riccio, Chris Violette, Tatiana Maslany, Nick Alachiotis, Matt Birman

Year: 2007

Runtime: 95 minutes

BBFC: 18 - Age Restricted

Country: US

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