Diary of the Dead, Dir George Romero (2007)


George Romero has been very lucky for the past 30-odd years. He’s managed to surf a wave of cultural change, improvements in special effects, and his own lauded reputation in both. As a result, we (zombie-movie-junkies) all looked forward to Land of the Dead like the other people anticipate the Superbowl or whatever. In 2004, Land of the Dead was well-made – at least visually. But even hardened Romero fans had to wonder – why were the zombies suddenly becoming the good guys? Why is everyone so upset about having a big safe tower to live in? And the political subtext was hardly hidden at all – ie. Not in the slightest.

I suppose we were just about able to accept all this, as we were happy that there was another Romero zombie movie and, heck, there was a LOT of great gore to keep us invested and IN the mood.

Images like this are actually fairly nice in Diary, but much too rare

Imagine how a fan like me felt, then, when they saw much-cherished Dead franchise become a flaccid mess with neither the wit nor the production values – or the bra(aaaaaaii)ns of your average ZoneHorror Channel production?

In 2007, George Romero presents a very down-to-earth version of the zombie story. The intention appeared to be to take it back to its cheap-as-hell roots and to integrate modern technology into the zombie myth. They’d be using the technology that we all take for granted today, feeding us the horror via the t’internet and on 24 hour news feeds.

Keepin’ it realish. Utlising footage from Hurricane Katrina or something similar.

Basically, a bunch of film students and their creepy professor (a creepy no-name English actor) are filming a terrible Mummy movie in the woods. Word comes over the radio of weird events, and the dead returning to life across America. What follows is their attempts to return home whilst some berk is recording it all on his video camera. And who wouldn’t concentrate on filming their irritating friends instead of, say, keeping lookout when there are, most definitely, some undead folks that like to eat people swarming around?

Yay! Zombie clown!

So far, so Cloverfield – and Blair Witch – and…Cannibal Holocaust….all in the first person, all designed to terrify you with the sense that this could be happening HERE and NOW to regular people like you, and not just a bunch of actors sweating under heavy makeup.

What those films had in spades, however, is a sense of pacing, editing, and a genuine sense of menace. Well, perhaps not Cannibal Holocaust. But they certainly had pacing and a bunch of decent actors who pulled you in to the wobbly, scary-ass world of the video-reporter. Yes, EVEN Cannibal Holocaust. It is this crucial element that keeps the limitations of hand-held ‘authenticity’ above the smoother, higher quality video stock of most other flicks. The chills are already waiting in the medium, you just have to know how to use it. It’s damn hard to screw it up. Isn’t it?

Final Girl’s zombie brother is stapled to the wall by English-bloke’s arrow. So, useful but sad. Sniff.

I’d say so. Unfortunately, George Romero doesn’t appear to have even hired any frickin’ ACTORS for Diary of the Dead. Let’s get this straight from right now – the people we’re supposed to care about, at least a little, are NOT ‘real’ people. Not in the regular movie-sense of the word. They’re terrible – flat, lifeless, delivering every dumb line of dialogue with less conviction than a Rottweiler nibbling a green salad.

Nummy. Final Girl’s Mummy likes a nibble…

Which leads us to the awful, awful script. It shouts that not only is Capitalism deeply evil, it seems like we’ve just discovered blogging, and the internet! This means we can share the MESSAGE that – the GOVERNMENTS lie to us! Only the internet can produce the truth! Trust the internet-and-blogs-and-uploads-an’-shit! YOU MUST TRUST THE INTERNET!!!!!!!

The hapless ‘can’t-act-for-toffee-cheesecake’ schmucks repeat this – the whole time. I’m not kidding – it gets brought up more than every five minutes. The heroine – such as she is – repeats this even more, muttering her oft-repeated thoughts on the matter with all the earnestness of Sarah Connor voice-overing either of the good Terminator movies. Except, she ultimately doesn’t think we’re worth saving. By the end she’s developed Stockholm syndrome and thinks we’re no better than the zombies. Which is not the ‘message’ or the ‘subtext’ of any previous Romero flicks (until Land, anyway).

Final Girl looks earnest and pensive and ready to wreck her boyfriend’s video footage for our benefit.

All right, we get it; now can we have some goddamn mother-lovin’ ACTION? PURPOSE? Maybe something to hang this bloody great MESSAGE onto so’s folk’ll care a jot?

Samuel, the Amish guy. We like him cos he doesn’t speak crap (or at all), and kills zombies with dynamite.

Sorry, but nope. There’s next to nothing in this script that makes you want to listen. This is bad on every level. They wrote lines heavily based around the overall MESSAGE and forgot to include things like decent dialogue, bearable characters and the odd interesting situation. It also criminally underused the few situations which it barely manages to contrive. Most of the time, you can’t even see what’s really happening. When you can – when they pull together a piece of gorey zombie head-exploding, or melting, or eyeballs popping, it’s such BAD that CGI it results in a non-plussed ‘hmmm’. Again, the acting is shockingly poor and their reactions to gross-outs are mostly disappointing.

Using a defibrillator to explode zombie eyes. It just seems…unecessary.

And it doesn’t work….

There are zombies everywhere, but the cast casually take the air anyway…

The ‘characters’ wander listlessly from one random location to another, making REALLY stooped decisions and taking baseless actions as they go. For instance, they have to visit a hospital – where there is almost no one, at all, and no blood. Naturally they bump into a couple of the undead – and for no reason at all, the ‘heroine’ decides to try killing it with a defibrillator. Why? So they could have its eyes explode, joylessly, in a distinctly unreal effect.

There just didn’t seem to be any NEED for that scene, or most of the others. I don’t mind gore at all, especially not when it’s done right, with a little conviction and purpose. Dawn of the Dead (original particularly) had crappy special effects from today’s standards but at least their characters seemed to be trying to SURVIVE. They were interesting, had a sense of humour, and weren’t spouting about how they HAD TO GET THE MESSAGE OUT.

The bozos in Diary aren’t really heading for anything at all, they’re just bumbling along slowly in their Scooby Van and ending up back pretty much where they started. By this time, you will be very, VERY bored. It’s sometimes fun to make fun of a bad horror movie, but this was just frickin’ tedious from start to finish.

Ok, killing the zombie with some acid is a cool, but very slow way to get rid of it….

Cloverfield – I hate to bring this up again – was a vastly better example of the everyman-camera style. Diary of the Dead is more than just a wandering, lifeless shell of Romero’s previous movies, but you finish the damn thing feeling that it got released as a favour to Romero instead of on its own merit. He makes an unnecessary snipe at the new breed of fast zombies right at the start – he might now realise that comparing this pile of dreck to the high-quality, teeth-fully-bared remake of Dawn of the Dead was something of a mistake.

Overall, if it looks like a bad Youtube video, and it sounds like a bad Youtube video, and it gets REVIEWS like a bad Youtube video, then guess what?

THIS should be ashamed to show itself on Youtube even IF George Romero wasn’t lurking somewhere behind it! I’m a fan of bad horror films, I really am, but this was criminally BORING.

I think a bullet to the head is in order, and we’ll seek our beloved slow zombies from another source. And I’ll work out my politics myself, too. On another note, f you’re going to insist on using the ‘realism’ angle, on top of using decent actors, perhaps try to make the zombie deaths a little less gleeful? A little less convenient and cartoony! It jars any sense of realism, coming over like a schoolkid who’s just learnt how to explode a carton of tomato juice to look a bit like blood. It thinks it’s far smarter and more daring than it is.

It’s also not very good.

Now I have a few final questions to throw in. These came off the top of my exposed brain just after I subjected myself to this endurance trial of a zombie movie:

Why has nobody in these films ever heard of zombies? And why do the ‘characters’ in Diary all get out of the camper van and sit in a field for twenty minutes when they know there are zombies around? Why couldn’t we see more of the Amish guy, or the organised black militia, or even the creepy National Guard fellas? Why was the Final Girl such a piss-poor film editor? Why did their British film school professor decide that a bow and arrow would be handy against zombies inside the narrow corridors of a HOUSE? Or useful at all? Why did no one carry a weapon longer than two seconds (I’m thinking a hammer or a bat, at least)! Why did no one barricade the gigantic house they end up in? Or even shut the bloody door and windows? Or the gates leading in?

You did lock the front door, right? Right?

Why didn’t the zombies EVER attack the camera guy? Why was no zombie battered symbolically to death with one of the HUGE cameras?

Oh, and opening the film with arch comments about the ‘cliché of the girl running from the slow monster and then tripping over a lot’, and then DOING exactly that right at the end, was only just funny, and done much BETTER, in Scream back in 1997. (Yes I feel ooooold). So, Romero – PAY. ATTENTION.

The girl from Texas bore an uncanny resemblance to Season 1 & 2 Buffy the Vampire Slayer!

Now I’m just hoping and praying that the TRUE hand-held movie version of a zombie plague will come when World War Z gets released in the next year or two. This book was everything else that Diary wasn’t, and it’ll be extremely interesting to see the results of its pleasingly inevitable conversion to film.

Zombies still rock. But Diary of the Dead REALLY did not.

PS: To bring up youtube again, by now somebody MUST have created a cool video combining all the zombie deaths in this movie. Why not seek out that, instead of wasting 2 hours of your life here? Just a suggestion.

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