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DIARY OF THE DEAD

Review by Michael Jacobson

Stars:  Michelle Morgan, Josh Close, Shawn Roberts, Amy LaLonde, Joe Dinicol, Scott Wentworth, Philip Riccio, Chris Violette
Director:  George Romero
Audio:  Dolby Digital 5.1
Video:  Anamorphic Widescreen 1.85:1
Studio:  Dimension
Features:  See Review
Length:  96 Minutes
Release Date:  May 20, 2008

“If it’s not on film, it never happened.”

Film **

George Romero has been a leader in the horror genre for forty years, and now he’s in a most uncomfortable position…he’s a follower.

When he unleashed Night of the Living Dead, he introduced a small film that would become a cult classic and an instant landmark in the fright film lexicon.  His follow-up, Dawn of the Dead, was an unqualified masterpiece of terror and remains my favorite scary movie of all time.

Now, he has released his fifth zombie installment, and has more or less gone back to the beginning.  No longer are we in a continuance, but in a re-imagined world where the threat is brand new again.  And he has chosen as his medium of delivery the idea of students filming the horror with their video cameras.  We’ve seen it before and better in The Blair Witch Project and Cloverfield, and so Romero, once an innovator, has sadly become an imitator.

It’s another one of those movies where characters with cameras shoot and shoot and shoot as the world goes to hell around them, but given the apocalyptic nature of Romero’s vision, one has to wonder…who are they making the movie for?  Romero might have asked the same question of himself, and in both cases, the answer seems the same…a mere stroking of artistic ego.

A group of University of Pittsburgh film students are making a horror movie when the real horror begins; namely, of course, the dead coming back to life to feast on the living.  For Jason Creed (Close), it’s an opportunity to create the ultimate documentary, even against the better wishes of his friends and girlfriend Debra (Morgan).  It’s the end of the world as we know it, and he feels fine.

I think Romero was trying to make a statement about the abundance of internet media and how too much information can be a bad thing.  After all, the ‘new media’ with talk radio and blogs, many consumers can get their news without undue bias, or just the kind of bias they want, meaning no longer is the flow of information in the hands of a few.  But he only haphazardly stabs at his message here and there.  He has very little focus on his message or on his story, which we’ve seen before.  From him.  And done much better. 

There is the required amounts of gore necessary to please his fans, but consider the ending of Night of the Living Dead and compare it with the absurdly misanthropic ending to this film.  One gets the feeling we’re no longer watching a master in his prime, but the bitter, paranoid shell of an old man still trying to matter.

Romero plus zombies is enough for me to make any film worth at least a sit-through, and this film might attract younger audiences who aren’t familiar with his body of work.  But for a true fan, like myself, it was just a pale imitation of better and more effective horror movies…films that scared, inspired thought, and made you feel like you experienced something truly special and terrifying.

And the worst part is, some of those films were made by Romero.  He may have to decide whether he’s a social commentator or a master of fright; more and more it’s obvious he lacks the focus to do both at the same time.

Video **1/2

Given the hodgepodge nature of the picture, the hand held cameras, the videotaped footage, there’s not a lot can be said about the video quality that can be constructive.  It looks like it was meant to look; grainy, sometimes out of focus, sometimes too dark to make out anything.  I guess I can give Romero credit for one thing, at least…out of all the ‘home video’ horror films of late, at least he has the awareness to know that camera batteries do run out.

Audio ***

The 5.1 audio is well done…fairly dynamic, and with good surround uses to bring the action and scares to life.  Dialogue is well rendered throughout.  I’m not sure why there’s a score given the nature of what we’re supposed to be watching, but there it is.

Features ***1/2

There is a commentary with Romero and members of his crew, along with a full length documentary on the cast and creation of the film.  Shorter features include a look at the roots of the film, a listen to three celebrity cameos who provided voices for the film (sorry, wouldn’t dream of giving it away), a visit to the set, character confessionals ,and 5 MySpace winners who each made their own zombie film.

Summary:

Whatever ingredients George Romero was trying to put into Diary of the Dead, he skimped way too much on all of them.  It neither works as a message movie or as a horror film, and the only impression it will leave on you is that you’ve seen it all before.

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