THE BLACK SHEEP is an ongoing column featuring different takes on films that either the writer HATED, but that the majority of film fans LOVED, or that the writer LOVED, but that most others LOATH. We’re hoping this column will promote constructive and geek fueled discussion. Dig in!
Diary of the Dead (2007)
Directed by George A. Romero
“There’s a lot of good in here waiting to bite those who called it pure garbage.”
I think everyone can agree that George A. Romero remains an icon. However, when icons continue to work, well, they usually don’t remain on top of their game forever. That’s why I skip a new Francis Ford Coppola movie or don’t give a shit that Barry Manilow still tours (never was a fan, but you get the idea).
Anyway, with zombies remaining as hot as ever with PRIDE AND PREJUDICE AND ZOMBIES opening this week and THE WALKING DEAD to slowly stalk viewers soon again, it seems like a good time to revisit one of Romero’s…lesser films. No, not KNIGHTRIDERS (which is a great movie), but more when he decided to return to the genre that he defined. It started with a decent return to form in LAND OF THE DEAD in 2005, but as for the sequels that followed, they’ve mostly been…forgotten. Which brings us to DIARY OF THE DEAD.
Now I’m not completely nuts, so I wouldn’t make a claim that DIARY OF THE DEAD is Romero’s overlooked masterpiece. Shit no. This movie has issues and a lot of them. But even still, it’s a Romero zombie movie, which means there’s some good lurking beneath it. But first, let’s discuss the lackluster elements, which can’t be avoided. Like most Romero movies, the acting isn’t always…spectacular. I don’t know if that’s the quality of the actual actors or Romero himself, but things always seem not quite as realistic as they could be. Not that the fine folks here aren’t trying. They’re trying to sell a shit sandwich with an exaggerated smile. There’s no standout performance, though the mummy actor just about ruined the entire third act.
Now the one element of DIARY OF THE DEAD that just straight sucks is the narration, which still doesn’t make any sense (and she’s annoying, being way to dramatic). The first person POV found footage angle had already run its course back in 2007, but it’s more that Romero didn’t offer anything new or unique. It’s just there. I understand why he was drawn to the idea, but in retrospect, that element falls flat. It’s dull, unoriginal, and doesn’t make sense way too often (like what’s with the slow-mo, bad music, multiple angles). Either they should have went full BLAIR WITCH with no music (actually, I could be wrong…did it have music?) and realistic panic shots or maybe only use security footage like in some scenes. I would have much rather seen a follow up to LAND OF THE DEAD. Sure, Romero never officially sequelized one of his zombie movies, but I would have liked to have seen more of that world, and how f*cked up things had really gotten.
What DIARY OF THE DEAD got right is exactly what a fan would expect from him. He still can capture the human condition well, pulling in relationships and characters that we shouldn’t give a shit about (several characters I didn’t…like at all) and still make them feel relevant. He does a good job of showing us the selfishness of man as the main cameraman refuses to stop filming even when he and his friends are a chomp away from being dead. He can’t help himself, feeling the need to film. Just as society does today.
At the same time, Romero does the thing we love most about him, zombies, still better than most. Of course, almost 10 years later this movie (and most zombie flicks) have been thoroughly outdone by the success and effectiveness of THE WALKING DEAD, but these are still Romero zombies; they're difficult not to dig. The moments Romero does give us with the zombies remain the highlights of the movie. Out of all the movies that had another director’s cut or take, this is one I would like to see re-cut. There’s a lot of good in here waiting to bite those who called it pure garbage.