George A. Romero’s Diary of the Dead (review)

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I hate to say this — partly because I don’t want it to be true and partly because it’s such a terrible pun — but could the zombie movie finally be dead? I mean, if the master, George Romero (Land of the Dead) himself, can’t find a truly fresh angle on it, maybe it’s time to give it a rest…? Nah, we’ll just call this a momentary downward blip on the chart. A gang of film students is in the woods shooting a low-budget horror flick when, wouldn’t ya know it, the dead start to come back to life with a hunger for brains. And thanks to our media-savvy Web 2.0 Scooby gang (played by a fresh-faced band of game unknowns), we get to see civilization fall apart as they do: first via the mainstream television news, and later, as the zombie-pocalypse hits hard, via the only ways left to get the word out: YouTube and bloggers. Oh, and the students are also filming themselves trying to survive the end of the world. The Amish interlude is pretty gonzo — obviously the plain folk will do just fine come the undead holocaust — but the rest of the flick is a tad too self-conscious about the “importance” of its “message.” (The students’ film teacher actually makes reference to an “underlying thread of social satire,” striking a particularly awkward note.) You can’t really complain that this is too Cloverfield-y without adding anything new to the science-fiction verite genre — or even coming close to matching that film’s power — because this was already showing at festivals before that other flick was even completed. But it’s actually a bit too Blair Witch-y, which was long enough in the past that we’d moved well beyond it years ago. Still, the phrase “shoot me” takes on a whole new meaning here, and, oh yeah, Romero got Stephen King and Wes Craven and Simon “Shaun of the Dead” Pegg and other horrormeisters to do voiceovers as newscasters. Hee hee.

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Sat, Mar 08, 2008 1:22pm

I know some people will think this borders on heresy, and I mean no disrespect, but I don’t think any of Romero’s zombie movies have been good since the first ‘Night of the Living Dead.’ He’s one of the few well-respected, famous horror directors who seems like he’s afraid of his own chosen genre or even his own ideas. My impression is that he ends up somehow diluting his own films with campiness or with clunky messages that don’t work, or with both. Sorry, George.

Wed, Mar 19, 2008 12:41am

As someone that grew up with Romero as an idol, I don’t think you’re talking heresy… it just is what it is.

Between the subtext in Night and Dawn, the guy got a rep for being the voice of The Social Satire of Horror, and he took it to heart (sort of like how George Lucas and the whole Campbell “Hero’s Journey” buggered up everything on that side of the fence).

Ultimately, that led to the the hamfisted Land (I haven’t seen Diary, but it sounds like more of the same… especially that “underlying thread of social satire” line).

I’d like him to go back to keeping the subtext being just that, and leave the yahoos to draw whatever yahoo thing they’re gonna get out of it.

Sat, Apr 19, 2008 7:50pm

It what happens when camp no longer is camp.

Mon, May 12, 2008 12:01pm

Kate, I’ll do you one better:

I think the original NotLD is in fact a horrible film.

One frustration of being a film fan is that other buffs want you to take everything in its historical context. So because Romero’s glorified student film was the first of its kind, I’m supposed to ignore the leaden pacing, the endless hammering of boards (in some ways it’s like the worst episode ever of “This Old House”), the lead actress’ wooden portrayal, and the bizarre choice on Romero’s of having the angry bald white guy infuse every single line with BLINDING. HOT. FURY! (I can imagine this character ordering take out: “DON’T! FORGET! THE! SOY SAUCE! DAMMIT!)

Remove the “place in history” stuff and it’s Mystery Science Theater 3000 fodder.

I loved Dawn of the Dead–I saw it in the ideal circumstance; a drive-in, beers, and buddies. But I didn’t assign anymore social context to it then than I do now. Day of the Dead however was about as entertaining as an all-zombie panel of the McLaughlin Group and made NotLD’s pacing & editing seem like Baz Luhrman by comparison.

Land of the Dead is even more a headscratcher–after a career spent decapitating these things, Romero suddenly wants us to sympathize, even identify with the zombies? My eyes were rolling so involuntarily I thought I was infected myself.

Iain Swan
Iain Swan
Sun, Jan 18, 2009 4:42am

I blame the internet for the fact that I just read review by a JOURNALIST who doesn’t know what a pun is. Maybe get a job in a call centre.

Sun, Jan 18, 2009 10:48am

I have scheduled Diary to record on my DVR. I admit, I am a sucker for zombie movies. Not the super cheesy ones on SciFi channel, but the Romero dead movies are must see. The remake of Night Of The Living Dead wasn’t too bad, the original is classic and started the genre so it is still important (for zombithusiasts). The original Dawn was funny, the remake was awesome. Day Of The Dead was okay, it had an appropriate intestine count. I didn’t hate Land Of The Dead. Even Return Of The Living dead, the non-Romero zombedy flick had entertainment value. 28 Days and Weeks Later just set the bar higher on the speed zombie genre, completely awesome movies that I have watched many times on DVD. Shaun Of The dead rocked. Much to the chagrin of my wife, I just can’t get enough zombie flicks.

Sun, Jan 18, 2009 3:40pm

Iain, you’re treading dangerously close to trollishness. Either explain your comment or it gets deleted.

Sun, Jan 18, 2009 3:53pm

A pun or paronomasia is a phrase that deliberately exploits confusion between similar-sounding words for humorous or rhetorical effect.

For example, in the sentence “Atheism is a non-prophet institution,” the pun lies in the substitution of “prophet” for the similar-sounding word “profit” in the common phrase “non-profit institution”.

Puns work through exploiting the confusion between two senses of the same written or spoken word, due to homophony, homography, homonymy, polysemy, or metaphorical usage. According to Walter Redfern, “To pun is to treat homonyms as synonyms”

MaryAnn was punning on the metaphorical sense: dead(genre) vs. dead(people in the genre)

soooo, technically you are wrong Iain. Sorry.