Liv­ing dead re­born

Romero’s latest is a provoca­tive re­tool­ing of his orig­i­nal zom­bie clas­sic, writes Don­ald Clarke

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - Film Reviews -

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

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