Living dead reborn
Romero’s latest is a provocative retooling of his original zombie classic, writes Donald Clarke
DIARY OF THE DEAD Directed by George A Romero. Starring Michelle Morgan, Josh Close, Shawn Roberts 16 cert, Cineworld/UCI Coolock/UCI Tallaght/Vue, Dublin, 95 min
WORD is coming in that the dead are rising from their graves and sinking their teeth into the living. The government tries feebly to contain the information, but, as reports continue to circulate, panic sets in and citizens indulge their worst instincts. Rednecks in lumber shirts shoot the ghouls for sport. Looting becomes rampant. Racial tensions flare.
Sound familiar? Rather than continuing his great zombie saga where 2005’s Land of the Dead left off, George A Romero has, it seems, set to pondering how a contemporary film-maker might have approached the first film in the cycle. Diary of the Dead is not exactly a remake of 1968’s Night of the Living Dead. It’s more of a variation on its themes. Diary is to Night as Cloverfield is to Godzilla.
Ah, yes, Cloverfield. Like that killer-lizard flick, Romero’s latest purports to comprise footage shot on video camera by a victim of the apocalyptic mayhem. The picture begins with a gang of film students making a horror film in which a mummy stalks a scantily clad young woman. Before long, the cast and crew are fleeing Pittsburgh in a large motor home.
On their journey, they encounter a ravaged hospital, have a tense encounter with African-American radicals and rub up against renegade factions of the National Guard. Eventually, they end up in a deserted mansion and – with an ironic circularity that the makers of Scream would appreciate – life begins imitating the mummy movie.
Night of the Living Dead earned its legendary status by cleverly dovetailing hyper-gore with social commentary. Its descendent continues that tradition. Incorporating rudimentary digital effects, this economic picture offers us scalps eaten away by acid, metal rods rammed through abdomens and any number of creative decapitations. But Romero, that old radical, still finds space to slip in footage of Hurricane Katrina’s aftermath and to muse upon the merits and demerits of citizen journalism.
Sometimes the polemic can get a little clumsy. Both guns and cameras are described as being “too easy to use”. Variations on the Godardian phrase “If it doesn’t happen on film, it doesn’t happen” are flung around more often than is desirable. But Diary of the Dead still emerges as a welcome reminder that even the goriest horror film can engage intelligently with issues that matter. Live long and prosper, George.
Dead trooper: One of the many ghouls in Diary of the Dead