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Diary of the Dead lies squarely within the tradition of The Blair Witch Project, Cloverfield, and Brian DePalma's Redacted. It's a movie within a movie of sorts, or more precisely, it's a pseudo-documentary about the making of a film that goes wrong. Filmed entirely from the perspective of the DV-cam-wielding student filmmakers who make up the core cast, Diary is a product of our media-saturated age. A group of college kids is making a horror movie out in the Pennsylvania woods when they hear over the news that the dead are coming back to life. They abandon their project and pile into an RV to try to find out what's going on. Director Jason Creed (Joshua Close) decides to film everything that is happening, to capture "history," as he puts it. Although his girlfriend, Debra (Michelle Morgan), is initially resistant to the idea, she slowly warms up to it, continuing the filming after Jason is inevitably killed, and it's from her perspective that the film is narrated.
The commentary of Diary centers on our obsession with and distrust of the media, and the positive and negative qualities of a medium where news and entertainment are often indistinguishable. Jason can't put his camera down, even when his friends are being attacked, and when he passes it off to someone who is initially opposed to filming, given the circumstances, they, too, soon can't resist the urge to capture the proceedings. As the world descends into chaos and the mainstream media falls off the map, it's the YouTube and blogger generation who carries on, updating on what's really going on via websites and camera phones.
Romero intersperses footage of real-world chaos into his setups, using, among other things, what looks like Hurricane Katrina aftermath photography. It is effective and eerie to see how easily this b-roll news footage can be seamlessly applied to a zombie movie. The shaky, first-person camerawork will certainly not appeal to those who are made nauseous by a Lars Von Trier film, but it works in this context, largely due to the clever editing and Adam Swica's adept photography. Bonus features of the DVD release include a commentary from Romero, Swica, and editor Michael Doherty, a "making of" featurette, "character confessionals" that were supposedly deleted from the film, and a featurette on the inspiration behind the film.
As Romero himself says in one of bonus featurettes on the DVD, Diary of the Dead is most similar to Night of the Living Dead, in that it's an origin story, a story of people just beginning to deal with the zombie plague, rather than a story of people surviving in a zombie-dominated world. So it makes perfect sense that the classic should be released in a re-mastered edition on the same day as Diary.
In 1968 Night of the Living Dead was a movie way beyond its time, in both the way it advanced the horror genre and in how it utilized the genre as a medium capable of delivering a powerful message. We all know the story - a group of people is trapped in a country house, attempting to survive the onslaught of reanimated corpses. This is the great-granddaddy of the genre, and it still holds up amazingly 40 years later. Yes, this classic is now almost half a century old - pretty hard to believe. Judith O'Dea as Barbra is the hysterical, impotent blonde, who only makes it as far as she does thanks to the sensible Ben, played by African American actor Duane Jones. Much has been made of Romero's casting of a black man in the role during the Civil Rights era, a time in which such a thing was fairly uncommon. The director, in past interviews, has claimed ignorance on the matter, saying that he simply cast the best actor for the role, regardless of race. Maybe so, but whatever his intentions were, it's hard to argue with the symbolism and importance of the decision, even now. For those who haven't seen the film, avert your eyes: when Ben is killed by a group of trigger-happy rednecks at the film's end, the irony is sad and poignant, especially over the documentary-style photo montage of the end credits.
This "director-authorized" edition of Night of the Living Dead is full of bonus features, including: two commentaries with Romero and members of the cast, a feature-length documentary, a Q&A with Romero, and an interview with actor Duane Jones. Politics and social significance aside, Night of the Living Dead was truly an innovation of horror and is rightfully considered a landmark film of any genre, and should be required viewing for any student of film.
TRAILER: Diary Of the Dead.
TRAILER: Night of the Living Dead.
FULL FILM: Night of the Living Dead. SEE ALSO: www.homepageofthedead.com
SEE ALSO: www.diaryofthedead.co.uk
SEE ALSO: www.dimensionextreme.com
Jonah Flicker writes, lives, drinks, eats, and consumes music in New York, via Los Angeles. He once received a fortune in a fortune cookie that stated the following: "Soon, a visitor shall delight you." He's still waiting.
See other articles by Jonah Flicker.
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