Diary of the Dead (DVD)

Diary of the Dead DVD review (click for larger image)Reviewed by Uncle Creepy

Starring Joshua Close, Michelle Morgan, Shawn Roberts, Amy Ciupak Lalonde, Scott Wentworth

Directed by George A. Romero

Distributed by Dimension Extreme

Because of the obvious threat to untold numbers of citizens due to the crisis that is even now developing, this radio station will remain on the air day and night. This station and hundreds of other radio and TV stations throughout this part of the country are pooling their resources through an emergency network hook-up to keep you informed of all developments. At this hour, we repeat, these are the facts as we know them. There is an epidemic of mass murder being committed by a virtual army of unidentified assassins. The murders are taking place in villages and cities, in rural homes and suburbs with no apparent pattern nor reason for the slayings. It seems to be a sudden general explosion of mass homicide. We have some descriptions of the assassins. Eyewitnesses say they are ordinary-looking people. Some say they appear to be in a kind of trance. Others describe them as being misshapen monsters. At this point, there’s no really authentic way for us to say who or what to look for and guard yourself against. Reaction of law enforcement officials is one of complete bewilderment at this hour. Police and sheriff’s deputies and emergency ambulances are literally deluded with calls for help. The scene can be best described as mayhem. The mayors of Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, and Miami, along with the governments of several Eastern and Midwestern states, indicated that the National Guard may be mobilized at any moment, but that has not happened as yet. The main advice news reporters have been able to get from official sources is to tell private citizens to stay inside their homes behind locked doors. Do not venture outside for any reason until the nature of this crisis has been determined and until we can advise what course of action to take. Keep listening to radio and TV for special instructions as this crisis develops further.

Those words when I first heard them through my TV when I was three years old changed my entire life. I thought the situation to be real. In fact, they lead to my very first spanking. (Thanks, George!) Terrifying is the only word that I can think of to sum up the notion that the dead were returning to life and devouring the living. These weren’t monsters; they didn’t have fangs or anything like that. The people committing these atrocities were your friends. Your neighbors. Your family. Could you put them down if push came to shove?

Diary of the Dead DVD review (click for larger image)What developed from the 1968 classic Night of the Living Dead (review here) was a series of films that have become some of the most important in not only our genre, but any genre. After Dawn, Day, and Land director George A. Romero has decided to flip the switch on the mythos that he created. To hit reset and start back at square one. The result — Diary of the Dead, a film like no other in the series because the story is told cinéma-vérité style through the cameras of the characters. In this world of bloggers and YouTube, privacy as we know it has ceased to exist. The time couldn’t be more right to head the series in such a bold new direction.

Jason Creed (Close) and his friends were busy shooting his student film The Death of Death when the news of the dead beginning to rise started coming over the radio. People were panicking. Dying. The shaken students could only think of one thing: to collect themselves and head home. At least most of them felt that way. Jason thought the right thing to do was to stay out in the thick of it and shoot everything he sees, hoping that whoever survives this anarchy could find his film and use it as a tool of survival. This was an important happening that needed to be documented. Of course his crew, and more importantly his girlfriend, Debra (Morgan), felt differently, but in the end Jason’s passion, his obsession, had consumed them as well.

Essentially Diary of the Dead is Jason’s movie, edited together with music by his friends to tell his tale. This isn’t your usual cinéma-vérité type telling riddled with stomach churning shakey-cam theatrics. Everything is very cinematic, and that makes for a bit of an odd experience. As raw as the footage is, it’s presented with a clear narrative. In fact, dare I say it, this is Romero’s most polarizing film amidst his fanbase. Some people love it, and some hate it. Some call it heavy-handed, and some call it satirical. Me? Upon first viewing I thought it was good but not great. I fell somewhere in the middle. But after watching it twice more, I must admit the experience now floors me.

Diary of the Dead DVD review (click for larger image)Romero has crafted a film that perfectly captures what’s going on in this decade while at the same time mirroring the type of unrest that was rife within our country in the Sixties. The message presented here reminds us that no matter how much things change technologically, no matter how far we think that we’ve come, our societal bullshit stays very much the same. We’re still our own worst enemy and probably will be until the whole planet goes up in flames. To further blur the Dead timeline, there’s even a point in the film in which we hear a bit the old Night broadcast quoted above playing through a TV in the background in one of Diary‘s best scenes. This touch really brings things full circle as we can easily imagine Ben and Cooper arguing about going down into the cellar a few towns away while Jason and his crew bicker about whether or not they should stop filming. It’s always about us.

Diary escapes the Hollywood polish that ironically tarnished Land of the Dead and takes viewers back to the gritty indie feel of his original trilogy, and Romero seems to be having a blast doing so. There are scenes in which you could tell George was just having some fun. He addresses the whole running zombie vs. shambling zombie debate flawlessly and offers up a couple of humorous bits that are as brilliant and zany as the out-of-nowhere Dawn pie fight. In the end though, despite their messages, scares, and fun, these movies have to give the audience more than its fair share of undead mayhem, and Diary delivers in that area tenfold. Even after forty years Romero still has some gags up his sleeve that are fresh and insanely violent. Think you’ve seen every way to dispatch a zombie? Think again! As for the dead themselves? Holy shit, do they look dead. As a fan I couldn’t have been more pleased.

Speaking of pleased, after you watch the movie, there’s another full-length feature just waiting for you to sink your teeth into: the eighty-minute documentary For the Record: The Making-of Diary of the Dead by Michael Felsher’s Red Shirt Pictures. Felsher and company have set the bar in terms of supplemental excellence, and this is yet another sterling example of his passion for the material and quality end result. Broken down into five parts that can be watched separately, For the Record does an amazing job of covering every aspect of making Diary. Fans looking to get right into the meat of the film should thoroughly enjoy watching the near half hour devoted to the incredible blending of physical and visual effects, while others looking for more traditional making-of stuff like cast and crew interviews will also have some truly choice cuts to sift through. Bottom line? There’s something for everyone here, but the fun doesn’t stop there as there’s lots more gore-soaked goodness to sift through.

Diary of the Dead DVD review (click for larger image)First and foremost there’s the Character Confessionals featurette(s). Clocking in at about twenty minutes combined, we get to spend time with four of the film’s actors who remain in character while sharing their private feelings with the camera as per Jason’s request. Some break down, some explode, and some speak to their loved ones while wrestling with whether or not to just say goodbye. All are nothing short of riveting. This, my friends, is really, really good stuff. You can then check out the MySpace short film contest entries (watch them here), and from there dig on two more MySpace related brief featurettes — The First Week and The Roots. Rather than me telling you about these goodies, you can head on over to the Official Diary of the Dead MySpace page and watch them yourself along with some other cool stuff.

Next up we have another short featurette called Familiar Voices. Here we have five minutes of unedited voiceovers that were used in Diary as newscasts by some well known genre celebs. Included are Simon Pegg, Guillermo del Toro, and Stephen King. There were others, too, and if you’re looking to find out who else was involved, this is the perfect time to watch the movie again with the commentary on! Romero, director of photography Adam Swica, and editor Michael Doherty are all on hand to share stories, give away secrets, and of course just plain shoot the shit while the movie plays in the background. The results are pretty damned entertaining. There’s never a moment of dead air, and everyone seems thrilled to be doing this despite recording it in two different countries at the same time. Technology, I tell ya! See, man? This is the kind of stuff George is talking about!

Diary of the Dead is a movie that gets better with repeated viewings, and believe me, you’re going to need them, too, as there’s a hell of lot to take in all at once. Romero is still on top of his game, and if you need proof, look no further than the final shot in this film. I don’t think I’ve ever been as haunted by one single image in my entire life. True, George may be as subtle as a brick to the face at times, but that’s why we love him, no? I’ve no clue what direction the master is set to take us in next, but I’m really looking forward to that trip, man. Bravo.

Special Features

  • Audio commentary by George A Romero, director of photography Adam Swica, and editor Michael Doherty
  • For the Record: The Making of Diary of the Dead feature-length documentary
  • Character Confessionals featurettes
  • The First Week featurette
  • The Roots featurette
  • Familiar Voices featurette
  • MySpace short film winners


    4 1/2 out of 5

    Special Features:

    5 out of 5

    Discuss Diary of the Dead in our Dread Central forums!

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    Steve Barton

    You're such an inspiration for the ways that I will never, ever choose to be.

    • GODFLESH69

      While not a masterpiece , it’s a helluva lot better than the awful Survival Romero has lost it with that one.

    • G.D.

      Yeah, I mean…I guess it’s great if you like overly obvious social commentary that’s been done a trillion times over, and if you like stereotypical, cardboard cutout characters and terrible acting. I wish I could just pretend that this was well written, well directed and not heavy-handed and obvious.

      I mean, ok, I get it if you liked it, but how you can’t understand that someone wouldn’t like it?

      It’s great that Romero wrote the book on zombie movies. Awesome. And that was 40 years ago, and he’s still doing the same old same old. Good for him. Hey, if there are people who enjoy this crap, that’s terrific. I think it’s awful.

      My loss? No, not really, because I won’t be spending any more money on it and I never have to watch it again. My loss was the 95 minutes I lost sitting in the theatre suffering through this.

      I’d rather watch something like Cloverfield that understands the form. They were confident enough to forego conventions like a score and over-editing and just trust the form. The narration at the beginning showed that Romero didn’t trust his own filmmaking. Why did it need a score? And why did they need the narrator to explain WHY there was a score. That’s like having Freddy show up for the first kill and say to Tina “Hear that music? That’s the ratchet up the tension and scare the audience.” GOD, I hate being spoonfed pablum like that.

    • NMEwithin

      I just finished watching this film and all I have to say is that Romero has once again proven why he is a master of horror. I felt his societal parallels were dead on still extremely relevant. This is not just another zombie movie. I have to laugh at some of the criticisms here to the effect that Romero has no clue on how to make a “modern” movie. What the fuck is that? Need I remind you that Romero wrote the book on Zombie movies and as evident by this film he still is. Honestly, for people expecting to see a “Cloverfield” movie here, they don’t understand Romero’s filmaking style or even the real of point of this Dead installment as a whole. Oh well, their loss. I loved it.

    • Uncle Creepy

      No one is more surprised than I am pertaining to how much better I felt about this flick the more I watched it. Though I can totally dig why some folks hate it. Like I said it’s polarizing. And I still can’t get that last shot out of my head. “Are we worth saving?” fucking brilliant.

    • Morgan Elektra

      Maybe it’s because I went into watching this expecting to totally hate it’s guts (ha ha, no pun intended)… but I quite liked it. I can understand how people wouldn’t though.

    • ki11raven

      well I just finished the movie myself….and Im at a loss for words. The movie it’s self was good, but it failed to pull me in like other POV movies like Zombie Cronicles, and [REC]. I guess my biggest problem with the movie was it didn’t seem real. No matter what camera they were using the quality all seemed to be the same. Now Im not saying this movie was a bad movie, it was good, but I just didn’t feel it.

    • conundrum

      I will pick this movie up despite my utter “bleh” reaction. I do this for two reasons.

      1) I might like it more after more viewings. It could happen.
      2) I now have control over the mute button and fast forward. If the narration remains as inane as I remember, at least I will not be forced to sit through it.

    • vorodex999

      I love Land also, it was a fun film. It made me see Simon Baker as a cool actor, I mean if it wasnt for Land I wouldnt have seen that movie SOmething New with him in it……Maybe thats not something I should admit. ..BUt anyway Land is cool, I’m not a fan of CGI blood but you have to admit it has some of the best Gore gags ever. The hand split, the zombie pulling out stuff from some victims mouth. PLus I think in honesty George directs a movie full of gore better than anyone else. I am extremely excited to see what he does next.

    • thedudeabides

      I did not like this, but I’ll be honest with you – it was half due to the movie itself, and half due to the voracious reactions of the film’s supporters towards the film’s detracters.

      I totally agree with Franco that a lot of people will change their minds about this after repeated viewings. Maybe mine will change also. I want to see this again when I’m less “not interested” in watching it again just to see if I softened in my reaction to it and will give it a better chance.

      I think I would have liked the film a lot more without that narration, but that would be besides the whole point of the cameraman’s girlfriend carrying on and presenting the final cut of his work.

      I think a great idea would have been to carry on with more of the news footage showing the dead rising like the one in the beginning of the movie cut together with the main story, as opposed to the “media is lying” angle that it took.

      Which once again has me projecting what I would have liked to see against what I actually saw.

    • Uncle Creepy

      Sometimes no matter how much you read something you just never notice an error! LOL

    • Uncle Creepy

      Holy crap! Damn “R” key. Thanks for pointing that out, SS. It’s been fixed.

    • Styling Shatner

      I won’t get into the argument over the quality of this film, as it was done already by me (my opinion seemed to be the same as Creepy’s), but while the link to Red Shirt Pictures was correct, I presume that the Uncle didn’t mean to have “Red Shit Pictures” in the review! What an error to make.

    • G.D.

      Terminal, my point wasn’t that *HE* sees it as a failure but that *I* do. Maybe I expressed myself porly, what I possibly should have said was “his plan to abandon what I think was the complete failure”.

      I couldn’t care less what the guy thinks. He’s lost it. Completely.

      And yes, that is my opinion, not my projecting what he thinks.

    • The Buz

      I really, truly hope I enjoy it the second time around, but I just hated this movie so much. It does not appeal to me in any way shape or form and I find it hard to imagine enjoying it.

    • Didn’t See It Coming

      I can’t imagine watching this movie again…I absolutely hated even watching it the first time…I might try to suffer through it again since I have seen movies that I hated the first time but now love…Maybe this is one of them…

    • Terminal

      It’s become the new “Day.” I personally think “Land” is a lot of fun. It’s just Big Daddy I hate.

    • Uncle Creepy

      I don’t really get all the hatred for Land. Yes, it was a little too Hollywood, but I found it to be a blast! Seems like everywhere I look lately folks are just hating it.

    • vorodex999

      I think this is by far the best of Romero’s Dead films. I loved it. Its a really smart well made film and a better use of the whole reality themed movies. Its a great look at what people in todays time act like. All his films are good even Land of The Dead, which is a film that I think that has gotten better with time, but its not way better than Day or Dawn. But this one made my #1 Horror film this year. and from the look of things its going to remain. Is it just me or Hollywood not making quality horror films. Heres to hoping The Strangers is good.

    • Terminal

      “How many of the quick to complain fans who wrote off DIARY as being such a travesty upon its initial release will quietly change their insta-opinions after they watch the DVD a few more times and then conveniently “forget” that they ever had a problem with it to begin with? Revisionist film criticism, or short term memory loss?”

      I say the same thing about “Juwanna Man” retractors.

    • Terminal

      G.D., what makes you think it was because he assumes the effort fails. Why would anyone do an entire series with first person hand held format? It’d make no sense. I think he aced the found footage experiment with sheer brilliance, personally.

    • G.D.

      Jesus Christ, really? This was an ok mvie the first time, but it has done nothing but gotten worse with even the small amount of time that passed between my first and second viewings. Romero has absolutely no understanding of the “first person” style of movie making. He had no idea how to adapt his style to the naturalistic style that this kind of moviemaking demands. The characters are completely cliche, the dialogue is awful. The use of the voiceover is the most hamfisted, poorly executed thing I can remember seeing in a movie. The use of music and the explanation of the its use were moronic. He has absolutely no clue how to make a modern movie and this is a feature-length running-time FULL of proof.

      It amazes me that he sees Dawn as being too obvious but can’t see how sadly obvious and out of touch he really is. The best news I have read recently on the George Romero front is his plan to abandon the complete failure that was his attempt at first person filmmaking. Diary of the Dead makes Land of the Dead look like Night of the Living Dead ’68.

      God, this was an awful movie. It pains me to remember that I spent $20+ to see this pile of shit at TIFF.

    • Ultimo Franco

      I said that time would be kind to this film. I said that repeated viewings would change a lot of opinions on this one. I said that the disappointed fan reaction to DIARY reminded me of the initial disappointed fan reaction to DAY. I saw DAY theatrically the first day it opened, and disappointed fans made their voices loud and clear. It was widely seen as a major let down after the original DAWN. I didn’t know what the fuck the disappointed fans were thinking back then, and I don’t know what they’re thinking today regarding DIARY. Just a lot of kneejerk insta-reactions, it seems to me. People are way too quick to declare things pieces of shit without giving them enough thought first. It’s a new Romero film, give it time, let it percolate, I said. Here’s something I’m wondering. How many of the quick to complain fans who wrote off DIARY as being such a travesty upon its initial release will quietly change their insta-opinions after they watch the DVD a few more times and then conveniently “forget” that they ever had a problem with it to begin with? Revisionist film criticism, or short term memory loss? Hmmmm… I’m predicting a long list!

    • Terminal

      Fuck this movie rocked. I love the DVD.