"Diary of the Dead" DVD Review
May 19, 2008 by Zach Demeter
What could be better than a re-imagining from Romero of what it’d be like to have a zombie outbreak in modern day times? Fans asked that question and were undoubtedly pleased with the results when Diary of the Dead arrived in limited release in February of this year. Despite opening in fewer than fifty theaters, the film grossed near a million stateside and almost two million overseas. Not a colossal blockbuster by any means, but given the independent nature of the film’s production (at least in looks), the film was almost made for the home video format and it certainly shines on the DVD format.
Romero returns to the director’s seat to bring us a modern-day take on the “Dead” series that he started way back in 1968. Rather than pick up where the last film left off, Diary of the Dead instead rewrites the Dead universe a bit with a new tale of zombie infestation and their gradual takeover of United States. Young film students are caught in the crossfire and document the entire process on their handheld cameras, uploading their footage for the world to see online for everyone to see.
Immediately upon watching the movie I thought to myself, “Hey this is Cloverfield with zombies!” Not a bad reaction, I loved Cloverfield and after just watching Romero’s Night of the Living Dead I had an strong interest in seeing what he did with modern day technology, so from the start I was really into the movie. While I never really became disinterested with the film, there are things about that I can’t ignore that are baffling and a bit confusing to me…and those things are all connected with the acting.
At times the actors in the film are perfectly believable but at other times they feel completely unreal. When faced with the threat of having their flesh bitten and munched on by moaning, disfigured human beings, they honestly don’t ever seem that scared. Sure there’s screaming and the usual panic, but I never really felt scared while watching the film and that is in large part because I don’t think the characters in the film accurately portrayed their fear well enough. They seemed more intent on documenting it (and yelling at the guy for documenting it) than anything.
Also curious was the governments apparent attempts to cover it up, in stark contrast to the Night of the Living Dead which I’d watched just minutes before where they were dolling out information on how to kill the creatures. I know times have changed but have they changed that much that the government would try to cover up any kind of existence of the shambling flesh eaters? That has more to do with the political climate than anything, but I just found it odd that forty years created such a varying view of government involvement.
Of course if the government wasn’t trying to cover it up, we wouldn’t have had much to root for. Our cast makes frequent uploads of their footage to the internet where millions view it to learn the truth about what’s going on. It’s this element that makes us root for the heroes of the film, but by the end of the film everyone’s either dead (I’d have prefaced that with a spoiler, but honestly—it’s a horror movie, what did you expect?) or in the process of turning. The outcome of the film isn’t altogether surprising and it’s certainly an entertaining ride, but it is admittedly reeking of straight-to-video acting that is completely unbelievable in far too many scenes. I realize its low budget, but if the actors were able to carry the weight a bit more believably, this would have been one of the best horror films of the past decade.
So I’ve talked about the acting and plot a bit, but what about the gore? Those hoping for plenty of splatter won’t be disappointed, as there’s blood almost within the opening scene and it only continues from there. While there’s nothing really disturbing or shocking in the film, there is some good ol‘fashioned gushers and sprays that’ll may gross you out at times if you’re squeamish over that type of stuff. There are a few nice head shots to be found in the film as well as some dismemberment and intestines falling out of people, so those hoping for zombie carnage won’t be disappointed.
Honestly the film was enjoyable to watch, but only for the zombies, really. I could liken this to the plot of the Alien vs. Predator movies where we see more of the humans than we’d like, but that’d be a slap in the face to Diary of the Dead to compare it to that travesty of a series. Still, the line can be drawn and considering our filmmaking cast was so unbelievable at times, I could have done with a little less of them. Still, they did get us to meet up with the Amish guy who took out some zombies in quite possibly the coolest way I’ve ever seen. Keep an eye out for that barn scene—you’ll know what I’m talking about when it pops up.
Overall Diary of the Dead comes Recommended for the Romero fans, but if you’ve only a passing interest in zombie flicks a Rental may be more in tune. I realize a lot of horror movies have bad acting, but I just didn’t really believe any of the characters actions or motivations in this film and because of that I was taken out of the mood of the film on more than one occasion.
You want extras? Well, this Dimension Extreme release of Diary of the Dead will give them to you—in spades. Before we dig into the extras, however, we can take a look at what makes up the physical appearance of the film first. The single disc amaray case comes with a reflective foil slipcover and an insert inside advertising both this release and the 40th anniversary edition of Night of the Living Dead. Disc art is unique in that it has art not repeated anywhere else on the packaging and menus are done in a neat laptop style layout with a Apple OSX type interface. Video and audio is strong, with the video showing no signs of compression or overabundance of grain; it’s a really nice transfer and the surround sound 5.1 mix pops a scare in the rears on more than one occasion. A very solid transfer all around.
Moving onto the extras we first run into a commentary with writer/director George A. Romero, director of photography Adam Swica and Editor Michael Doherty. As can be predicted it’s a bit on the technical side, but it’s a very solid track with plenty of interesting tidbits in the movie and throwbacks to other Romero works that were worked into it. The commentary is interesting throughout and well worth a listen if you enjoyed the film or are a fan of Romero’s works. It’s nice to know that even forty years after first releasing his first movie of this genre that Romero still enjoys working with the dead heads so much.
“Character Professionals” (20:28) are confessions of the characters that were not used in the film. We saw our main characters confession in the movie, but these are of the supporting cast and reveal more about their characters. A neat addition, since we really didn’t learn much about them otherwise. “The First Week” (4:20) and “The Roots” (2:06) are short behind-the-scenes extras that show the films inspiration and a visit to the set. “Familiar Voices” (5:05) are voice recordings of the news bits we heard in the backgrounds. I didn’t realize it while watching the film, but those news pieces are recorded by Guillermo Del Toro, Simon Pegg and Stephen King—very cool!
“For the Record: The Making of Diary of the Dead” is a multi-part documentary that goes in-depth into the production of Diary of the Dead. I am continually floored by how much effort Genius Productions puts into their DVD releases—they’re honestly the most generous production company when it comes with the DVD extras and more than anyone they’ve really embraced the DVD format. Our five part documentary starts off with “Master of the Dead” (13:18), a look at Romero’s past works and the man himself and then moves onto “Into the Camera: The Cast” (17:05). From there we go into “You Look Dead!: Make-Up Effects” (10:56), “A New "Spin" on Death: Visual Effects” (19:00) and finally “A World Gone Mad: Photography and Design” (20:23).
The final batch of extras here are the MySpace contest winners. “The Final Day” (3:02), “Deader Living Through Chemistry” (3:05), “Opening Night of the Living Dead” (3:16), “&Teller” (3:01) and “Run For Your Life” (1:43) are all here in better quality than you could ever imagine for MySpace videos and all of them are entertaining to watch. As usual with these contests, I wasn’t too impressed by the winner but I really liked the “Opening Night” and “Run For Your Life” shorts. I guess I like the funnier side of zombies…blame Shaun of the Dead.
Overall this DVD release is certainly packed with extras to watch aside from the film and the film itself is worth checking out, even if I do have qualms with the acting. Recommended.
Diary of the Dead arrives on DVD on May 20th.