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DVD Review: Diary of the Dead

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Written by El Fangorio

More of a remake than a sequel, Diary of the Dead starts off the same way Night of the Living Dead did 40 years ago: for no apparent reason, the dead have started to rise and are attacking and eating the living. A small group of kids from the University of Pittsburgh are out making a student horror film when this phenomenon occurs. All of them stereotypes, from the self-absorbed director to the big-breasted blonde that wants to be taken seriously, to the tech geek with thick horn-rimmed glasses, to the tough-as-nails heroine (always a brunette with long hair). All of them assholes. Not a likeable character in the bunch. Did I mention the Olde English buzzkill of a professor that they run around with? He quotes Dickens (I kid you not) and when choosing weapons, prefers a bow and arrow to a gun. He’s also quite adept with a broadsword. It’s not long before they are on the road, trying to figure out what’s happening, all the while filming it for the Internet. Because when your dead grandma is out in the backyard, trying to eat the dog, the first place you run to for answers is Myspace. It’s this caliber of WTF ineptness that runs rampant throughout the course of the film. Beware. The groaning you hear is probably your own.

Shooting an entire film in first-person POV only works when it’s plausible that somebody would actually be filming the footage. Nobody would ever hold on to a camera, up to their eye no less, all the while there are zombies attacking. It’s one thing to choose to film the things coming after you but to sit back and capture the footage of it eating your friends and loved ones instead of friggin’ helping them is not only cruel but just plain improbable. Even the makers of Cloverfield knew to acknowledge a camera strap that would hold the camera at your side (albeit changing the angle drastically) so that you can flee in terror like a normal person These assholes just keep on filming and then justify it by saying that “it’s addictive. You can’t put the camera down.” Let me see that camera please.

I understand the reason the cast is young is because they are all amateur filmmakers and what other way are you going to explain a large group of people (read: douchebags) with camera equipment, but come on. I would have gladly let it slide had it been a bunch of geriatrics at an in-home “how to film your grandkids” session when it hits the fan, or hell, just a bunch of people who just happen to own video cameras. It could happen. Watching these young, attractive idiots only makes me realize why so many of the generation above me hated slasher films. On that note, had this film been done without pretension, it would have just been a “zombie vs. teenagers” thing, which would have been just fine in my book of low standards.

According to the supplements, this film was made in the “Blair Witch style” so that it could be looser. This way, Romero wouldn’t have to be locked down with any one idea. Well nothing could be more obvious since most of the characters change from scene to scene. One has an accent that goes in and out, one thinks it’s all a hoax, then doesn’t, then does. One couple is so in love that they actually tell the camera, “we’re in love,” but when one of them dies, the other never mentions them again. She never even cries about it. For that matter, nobody acts scared.

Another poorly realized couple is our leads, a Rita Rudner-looking thing (okay, maybe they’re not all attractive) and her prick of a boyfriend who’s also the genius behind wanting to film all this. They obviously hate each other and you have to laugh when they drop her off at her folks to see who’s been munched on, and she says, “So I guess I’ll just get a hold of you?” as if it wasn’t the end of the world and there were still phones that worked. He almost drives off when his buddy mentions that someone should probably stay with her just to be on the safe side. Good call.

Nobody is making amateur mummy movies. Not above the age of eight anyways and certainly not the type pious enough to deem himself “The Messenger of Truth.” So when we open up with this scenario, we can already tell what’s going to happen later on, especially when the character playing the mummy is still wearing the damn bandages back in the safety of his own home (and days later). Gee I wonder, will we see a zombie mummy shambling about later on? Yeah it’s a great visual (and my favorite idea) but again, totally improbable and telegraphed far too early to enjoy.

That mummy character. One minute he’s totally fine. The next minute he’s been chomped. And though I realize we are supposed to be surprised by this, it still seems to come on too strong and out of nowhere. Plus the actor is abysmal. His zombie motivation being (and I quote from the supplementary) “doing a funny walk and hoping nobody laughs.” Where are these chumps coming from? Oh yeah, Pittsburgh.

Can you seriously hack into a surveillance camera? Okay, how about when the only person who knows how to is killed? Can you still? Because they somehow do.

More bad judgement: Romero thought it wouldn’t play as dramatically without a score, so the film has background music. Think of Cloverfield or The Blair Witch Project having a score. Not only does it totally distract from the cinema verite but it’s hard enough believing that during the stress of a full-on zombie attack, one would find the time for all the editing, dissolves, and fade-outs that occur, let alone composing and laying down a soundtrack.

I could seriously go on and on as I’m quite passionate about how much I hated this film. It’s not even that I was hoping for something great. Far from it. These are zombie films. I’m only here for the dead and the red. And for those out there that just want to know the quality and quantity of each of those? I shall quote Romero himself: “There aren’t as many zombies in this one.” And there isn’t. Just a lot of despicable actors doing a really bad job. As for the gore, it’s definitely there and I’d be lying if I said it was lackluster. As one should hope, Romero still knows how to make a scary zombie and he’s still sick enough to think of some incredibly creative kills. I’m purposely leaving out some of the good parts (both of them), since I hardly expect a Dead fan to sit this one out. But these highlights only prove further how much he failed in the other departments, to completely render this film the mess that it is.

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Formerly known as The Masked Movie Snobs, the gang has unmasked, reformed as Cinema Sentries, and added to their ranks as they continue to deliver quality movie and entertainment coverage on the Internet.
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