And here’s the whopper… our exclusive one-on-one video interview with horror legend George A. Romero, who will see his fifth zombie film, Diary of the Dead (review), arrive in theaters everywhere tomorrow. Head over to BDTV to watch the six-minute interview and get ready for more zombies!! In addition, you’ll find a second opinion inside by David Harley (don’t forget you can write your own reviews here once the film hits theaters). Also, don’t forget to click here for our list of top 10 non-zombies in a zombie movie!
More than 40 years ago, George A. Romero unleashed Night of the Living Dead on an unsuspecting world, becoming a horror classic and influencing countless filmmakers. After Dawn and Day, two of the best horror sequels ever made, all was quiet on the zombie front for Romero. Almost 20 years later, he finally returned to his definitive universe with Land, to mixed results. Granted, it’s not the worst film and surely, Romero could have done worse (Season of the Witch anyone?) but budgetary issues and studio interference kept it from really being the follow-up to Day that we all expected. It didn’t feel like classic Romero, it felt like a big-budgeted studio horror-romp.
Dissatisfied with working for the man, Romero has gone back to the grassroots production that gave him notoriety with DIARY OF THE DEAD. Now, Diary doesn’t exist in the same world that the other films in Romero’s Dead series. It’s a retelling of Night, only in modern times. Instead of starting at a farmhouse in 1968, it starts with a handful of students (and a drunkard professor) shooting a mummy film in the middle of a forest (What a mummy is doing in the middle of a forest, though, is beyond me). After seeing reports of the dead coming to life, the group hits the road in their RV to find their loved ones and find refuge from the impending zombie invasion.
Two things instantly come to mind that both Land and Diary have in common besides zombies. First, there’s the RV. Well, in Land, it was a large armored vehicle that was basically a military issued RV. Here, it’s just a normal one. An interesting tidbit of gossip about the similarity is that when planning a sequel to Land, Romero originally wanted to continue the adventures of Riley and Co. with the Dead Reckoning. Unfortunately, with Land’s underwhelming box office performance and Romero no longer desiring to work with a studio, that idea was scrapped. Diary, though, features a ragtag assortment of survivors driving through the country in an RV, evading zombies and looking for survivors. Looks like George did get to make his follow-up after all.
The second similarity, unfortunately, is not as positive. In the original trilogy, the characters are confined in a small(-ish) area, each successive film having the dramatic arena grow larger. When Land came out, it half followed the precedent set and is partially why I didn’t enjoy it as much. The canvas was too large. A farmhouse, a mall and a military compound are confined. But a whole city? Of course, one could say that the city was walled in and the high-rise condos were regulated but I just don’t see that same level of claustrophobia (and to a certain extent, isolation) that was apparent in the other films. The canvas was far too large and that’s where this film fails as well. Here, it’s the whole United States.
Another thing that irked me was the cinematography. It’s too good. An amateur filmmaker manages to capture every death scene, perfectly framed? I don’t buy it. Now, from the beginning, you know that Debra (Michelle Morgan) is narrating the footage back to you, after she has edited and uploaded it to the Internet. So, the good editing I can at least buy. But, everything else is too good to be an impromptu documentary filmed by a bunch of kids who don’t necessarily know what they are doing (which is apparent by the state of the mummy film they were shooting). As far as I’m concerned, Blair Witch and [REC] covered this area very well, while Cloverfield and Diary haven’t been as proficient.
Now, we all know that every zombie film isn’t really about zombies. One thing Romero has always been great at is injecting social commentary into his films. Diary, being about the distribution and censorship of information, is essentially his take on 9/11 and its conspiracies. However, it’s not delivered in the great way I’m used to. It’s actually pretty ham-fisted. Much like Untraceable, which was released just a few weeks ago, Diary takes its message and crams it down your throat at every possible moment. Maybe with the under-performance of Land, Romero doesn’t think we’re smart enough to get his subtext anymore. Maybe, he thinks that because the film featured a main cast of teenager characters (a first for a Romero film) that he has to only cater to the younger crowd, who might not get it. Whatever the reason, die hard fans will have a problem with it.
Now, although I’ve been negative up until this point, I will say that this isn’t a bad film. It certainly has its share of positive merits. There’s some good death scenes (one in particular at a hospital that should make fans squeal with delight), great side-characters that end up being more interesting than some of the main characters (one being an Amish guy that I foresee having a long line at whatever convention he shows up at) and intentional humor that works to great effect.
While DIARY OF THE DEAD does have its fair share of problems, I think that, overall, it’s a decent and entertaining watch. I don’t think it’s the return to form that we were all hoping for but, as much as I like Romero’s zombie universe, I think that those three original films were made at a certain time and in a certain place that just can’t be replicated. It’s certainly better than Land and that is a step in the right direction in my book.