Dimension Films // 2007 // 96 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Franck Tabouring (Retired) // October 21st, 2008
Shoot the dead!
The master of zombie flicks returns with a vibrant experience that will have his fans cheering. George A. Romero's Diary of the Dead is a wildly entertaining horror film that boasts plenty of fast-paced action and a strong message, proving that it doesn't always take sadistic kills and seas of blood to deliver a darn good horror show.
The story of Diary of the Dead is pretty simple. As the dead suddenly start coming back to life to feed off human flesh, we follow a group of college filmmakers battling for survival. Carrying their own camera equipment everywhere they go, they make sure to capture everything on tape so future generations are able to see what really went down.
With Diary of the Dead, Romero returns to what he does best: create memorable zombie films that don't just offer brainless entertainment but are also equipped with a clear social commentary. He did this fabulously in Night of the Living Dead and all its sequels, and he does it again right here. This time, he attacks the media and its coverage of disastrous events that affect thousands, if not millions of people. I won't reveal too much because I don't want to spoil all the fun, but the film criticizes how governments use the media to spread lies and look good during tragic times, while ordinary citizens try everything to be the first to post footage of what is really happening online. Additionally, Romero comments on people's strong, everyday reliance on technology, their irresponsible desire to record what they experience, and their obsession with scoring millions of hits online via sites such as MySpace and YouTube. The saying "if it bleeds it leads" gets a whole new meaning in this film. Sure, the message Romero delivers is obvious enough for everyone to pick up, but the great thing is that he never really shoves it into his viewers' faces. In the end, it's a real pleasure to watch how he subtly stuffs his social commentaries into his characters' behaviors during their ultimate fight for survival.
The novelty for Romero is that the flick is shot in first person, just like Cloverfield and The Blair Witch Project. The film is basically edited together as a documentary, filled with footage shot by the main characters on their quest to find shelter, as well as clips from news footage or personal videos people posted online. The whole package comes with an excellent narration by one of the survivors. The sound of her voice couldn't be more appropriate, and it gives viewers a lot more information on how this film came together and what really went on when the zombie invasion broke out.
One interesting thing I like to point out is that Diary of the Dead is not necessarily as scary as previous Romero movies. The film is dark and we are certainly in for a bunch of solid shock effects, but the overall suspense is not as high and captivating as usual. It's just not as frightening as you may expect. But that doesn't mean it's a weaker film. On the contrary, the plot is fast-paced and totally entertaining, the global atmosphere of the movie remains intense throughout, and the characters and their numerous encounters with zombies and other people along the road deliver enough variety. Plus, there are plenty of awesome zombie kills, enough humorous dialogue, and a solid dose of gore to enjoy as well. Fans won't be disappointed.
Although I haven't seen the film in standard DVD format, the Blu-ray version is definitely worth the investment. You won't find any new extras on this disc, but the quality of the picture and sound are among the best I've seen so far in high-definition home entertainment. The image looks gorgeous; even the darker night shots work splendidly sharp and clean. The same goes for the amazing 5.1 TrueHD audio transfer, which turns the screams and groans of the aggressive zombies and all other sound effects into a very realistic watching experience.
To reward Romero fans for being so loyal to their director, this DVD comes loaded with mostly awesome content about the creation and development of the movie. "First Week" is a four-minute clip in which filmmaker Michael Felsher gives viewers a quick behind-the-scenes look at the first week of shooting Diary of the Dead. In "The Roots," a brief but interesting interview, Romero explains how the film goes back to the roots of his earlier work and how the story is closer to that of Night of the Living Dead versus the other films in the series. A couple of words from the master himself are always worth watching. "MySpace Contest Winners" includes five short films from people who took part and won in a MySpace contest presented by Diary of the Dead.
Besides a few clips in which the film's characters sit in a booth and talk to the camera about how they feel about everything they are going through during the film, the bonus section also includes "For the Record," a five-part documentary about the making of the movie. The whole thing runs for 80 minutes and is definitely worth the watch if you enjoyed the film and would like to know everything about Romero's attitude on set, the cast, makeup, and visual effects, and photography and production design. With plenty of interviews with cast and crew members and lots of behind-the-scenes footage, this is a great extra you shouldn't miss. To wrap it up, the disc also includes an informative audio commentary with Romero, director of photography Adam Swica, and editor Michael Doherty. It's exactly what a solid commentary should be like, with all three filmmakers giving viewers plenty of detailed info about the film's story, shooting, structure, and message.
If there is one thing I didn't absolutely love about this flick, it's the overuse of digital work on the zombies. Computer blood and splatter action just look fake and are by far not as cool or shocking as good old traditional makeup. Darkness prevails in the film and not all the blood we see is animated, but it's too easy a distinction to make and it ends up being a little annoying to watch at times. That said, other effects work just fine.
Diary of the Dead is a blast, and diehard Romero fans should enjoy this flick without any difficulties. Bite on that!
Review content copyright © 2008 Franck Tabouring; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2013 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: Dimension Films
* 1.85:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p Widescreen)
* TrueHD 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (French)
Running Time: 96 Minutes
Release Year: 2007
MPAA Rating: Rated R
* Feature Commentary
* For the Record: Behind-the-Scenes Documentary
* The Roots: Interview with George A. Romero
* A Visit to the Set
* Cameo Outtakes
* Character Confessionals
* MySpace Contest Films
* Official MySpace Page