Amy Ciupak Lalonde
Trivia Simon Pegg, Wes Craven and Stephen King all do voice-overs as newsreaders.
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Diary of the Dead (2008)
12th Nov 07
Some young film makers have their horror movie making antics interrupted by the dead coming back to life.
One thing that everyone who loves the horror film industry always gets excited about is a new George Romero zombie movie. In fact, exciting is probably not strong enough a word - I'm thinking maybe 'goes nuts for' or 'has kittens over' is probably more accurate. And the reasons are simple - firstly Romero zombie movies are consistently a step above the rest of the zombie genre in the sense that they focus strongly on the characters rather than the threat, and secondly they always come with that much talked about 'social commentary', which is a term that's used often but rarely accurately, and one that you think George should move to copyright sooner rather than later.
Now though, Romero zombie flicks are like busses - wait ages for one and then two come along in quick succession. I could literally have lit a cigarette and it wouldn't have made Romero turn around Diary of the Dead any quicker!
And the plot is simple enough. Jason is a young film maker at Pittsburgh University and he and his friends are shooting a really crappy looking mummy movie as part of the course. It's a night shoot, the guy in bad mummy make up is getting shouted at by Jason for shuffling a long too quickly "You're supposed to be dead!", while the dressed-in-white busty damsel character complains about the age old horror tradition of monsters ripping the tops off nubile young maidens before they kill them, when they suddenly they hear a terrible announcement on the radio. The dead, it seems, are coming back to life. And they're hungry.
It's at this point that Jason takes the decision that it's his duty as a film maker to record this, and the rest of the film is a compilation of his footage and some other stuff they shoot on their journey to safety with other cameras they find along the way, with the surviving characters editing the footage together after the events shown. This post-editing gives the film a bit more freedom than the usual shoot-as-you-go trend like in The Zombie Diaries or The Blair Witch Project say, which may go some way to explain why Diary of the Dead has a much slicker presentation than those two. It also gives Debra, who is for the most part the main character of the piece because, as Jason's girlfriend, she spends the most amount of time in front of the camera, the chance to do a Gumshoe style voice-over (a bit like that old cut of Blade Runner). And at times it's dark stuff - the camera rolls right from the start and Jason manages to piss his whole group off right from the word go with his obsessive got-to-film-everything attitude which immediately causes a rift between him, Debra and the rest of the group, that consists of a few other college kids and a scene stealing drunken grumpy professor who turns out to be pretty handy with the bow. How dare he? How dare he put his camera before them? Doesn’t he realize what’s going on, what they’re up against? Of course, Jason does realize what’s happening only too well, which is why he’d argue it would be irresponsible for him to do anything else, and in a world where the international news networks are controlled by only a handful of men, you have to admit he does have a point.
What follows is the usual Romero survivors-on-the-run sort of story, albeit with this very modern multimedia twist. That rich, tragic, character driven plot sadly missing in Land of the Dead is back, along with the impending madness and heart breaking sacrifice that littered Romero’s earlier zombie works when the apocalypse was just beginning. Despite this movie’s limited budget there’s no skimping on the gore, with the defibrillator-to-the-ears scene and the reaching zombie on the hospital bed whose guts spill all over the floor scene – just like in Day of the Dead - both being standouts. Similarly there are the usual side-swipes at society and how, for one that’s supposedly so information rich, it’s still very hard to judge how legitimate our information sources are. Better yet is the familiar demonisation of our news industry and the general indifference of man’s attitude towards fellow man, exemplified in the opening scene really well; first off a news reporter actually asks the paramedic if he could move the ambulance a bit further out away from the victims so that it’s not blocking his establishing shot, and then when it’s moved the medic happily sits in the cab and eats a hamburger while undead carnage erupts all around him. And I’d especially recommend that you keep your eyes open for the Romero cameo two-thirds of the way through the film. He’s actually presenting footage from the beginning of the film which has been re-edited to make the events look not quite so shocking and as you’d expect the crowd are having none of it.
It’s not all doom, gloom and biting satire though. There’s a hilarious encounter with an extremely resourceful deaf Amish called Samuel, a run in with what look like a black militant group that in the aftermath have got really organized (they now think they are ‘the man’) and a final encounter with the guy who plays the mummy at the beginning of the movie that you’ll see coming a mile away but the movie suffers none for it. Suffice is to say that the woods near the mummies house look just like those from the beginning of the movie, the busty blonde gets to properly run this time and the mummy, well, let’s just say his undead shuffling is a lot more convincing than it was earlier. Other than that though, the ending works really well with each character either showing their true colours or getting their comeuppance, with the morning after shots bringing on that ‘wow’ sensation that makes you very pleased indeed to be watching a Romero movie again. Let’s just say the next team to do a horror film using the video diary format seriously has their work cut out for them.
Versions This hits the cinemas in America in February. No news on a European release date yet.