Consider this the first in an ongoing attempt to review/recommend/revile B-list movies. I refuse to use an “out of ten” rating system because B films don’t warrant them. So you have to read the whole thing rather than skipping straight to the end. I win.
George A. Romero could be credited as the father of the modern cinematic zombie. He’s created a genre archetype, slow-moving shambling hordes that do their best to comment on social values and political climate while scaring the everliving crap out of people. His work has been imitated in ways both deemed atrocity (the “fast zombie” remake of Dawn of the Dead) and perfect homage (British spoof Shawn of the Dead). So when Romero decides to create another installment of his popular series of films, fans get excited and life seems to be a bit brighter.
Allow me to slip into a slight exposition in the first person. I have been a fan of Romero’s work ever since I first viewed Night of the Living Dead. For me, it was campy when it needed to be campy. It was creepy when creepy was necessary. Most of all, it had something to say about the world while still remaining cool enough that I didn’t have to notice if I didn’t want to. I have had the privilege of meeting Romero, who was actually a decent guy. I also met Tom Savini, who has solidified my love for the genre. So, I’m not going into Diary of the Dead as a regular movie-goer with a general apathy towards brain-eating undead. I’m going into the movie as an avid “Dead head”. That being said; Diary can’t be approached the same way the previous installments of the series have been.
What makes Diary of the Dead different? The answer is printed right on the DVD case; Dimension Extreme, which is Dimension’s straight-to-DVD distribution name. This movie was never in theaters.
Why does this make a difference when judging a film? Straight-to-DVD releases have to be viewed through different standards. They have less of a budget, appeal to less of an audience, and (if they’re part of a series) absolutely can not be better than the theatrical releases. Sending a sequel to the video store rather than to the multiplex is no more than a proclamation that the film isn’t to be taken too seriously in its own right but rather that its going to provide supplementary material for the original. Usually these kind of films don’t even warrant watching, unless you’re an incredibly huge fan of the original.
The straight-to-DVD status of Diary of the Dead is what has it earn its place alongside the “B-list” genre. Henceforth, it shall be judged as a B-list movie and not as something which should have higher standards. That being said…
Diary of the Dead presents some great supplementary material for the franchise. The first person camera work gives the viewer a unique perspective into the zombie apocalypse. The imagination beings to run wild as the audience begins to imagine themselves faced against hordes of the undead, with only a camera between them. Or rather, its easy to imagine yelling at an idiotic friend who has the camera while common sense kicks in and you pick up some weaponry to kill the damn things. It’s also notable to mention that unlike previous point-of-view films, Diary of the Dead isn’t filmed in a way that makes the view nauseous. Of course, it’s less realistic for the characters in the film to have a steady hand but it really does make for a much more pleasant viewing experience.
Zombies as a metaphor for something more important? Not exactly. The social commentary metaphore is actually made more through the way the movie’s filmed. The main idea seems to be something about “truth in the media” and the ability for anyone to be a journalist in the modern age of technology. The themes were put into long voice-overs that force the viewer into zoning out as to avoid getting hit over the head with ideas that shout “obvious”. Nevertheless, the shortcomings of the film’s message delivery are made up for by zombies. Everyone loves zombies. They eat people.
The acting is actually rather well done (remember that B-list standards are being used). The actors that are playing characters who are going crazy seem to be going crazy. The reactions some of the characters have are believable enough that it can be assumed real people would react in the same way. Perhaps most importantly, when the inevitable scene of “beloved character gets bitten but doesn’t die, so we let him stick around for a bit until he turns on us” doesn’t turn out in the way it always does. The film also presents some amusing bits of zombie humor in the forms of zombie swimming and a great scene which shows a bit of old-fashioned horror nudity.
Diary of the Dead also keeps some of the old tenets of Romero’s zombies themselves. The “once one finds you, more will come” scenario, check. Militarist hideouts of survivors that aren’t the best that humanity has to offer, check. Eerie ability for normal people to easily shoot others in the head, definitely check. There’s a lot in the flick that has been done before, and that’s not a bad thing.
It’s not a cinematic masterpiece. It’s a B-list straight-to-DVD expansion on a franchise film. It’s entertaining, enjoyable, and leaves a Romero fan smiling for no real reason at all. People that don’t enjoy “bad” movies, or that aren’t fans of George A. Romero’s previous work; avoid this one. For the people out there like me; just buy it already and watch it with some friends. It’s worth it.
Author’s Note: It’s been brought to my attention that Dimension Extreme is just Dimension’s Horror DVD distribution company, rather than a straight-to-DVD company. Diary of the Dead was in theaters for a short period of time. I’m not going to change my review in and of itself as I still feel this movie should be regarded as a straight-to-DVD release because that’s what it feels like. However, thank you loyal CHUD viewers for catching my error. I was wrong. That sucks, but it happens. I still feel the same way about the film. Next time, I’ll go through a bit more fact checking before publishing. Thanks again.
A TV movie manages to fix all the mistakes made by Maximum Overdrive while making a ton of its own. — By Ryan Covey