Starting All Over Again 

The fifth installment of George Romero's landmark zombie series is a self-reflexive relaunch.

A full 40 years after changing modern horror movies with his landmark Night of the Living Dead, George Romero has gone back to the beginning with his fifth installment, Diary of the Dead.

Night of the Living Dead was followed by Dawn of the Dead (1978), Day of the Dead (1985), and Land of the Dead (2005), each volume pushing the apocalyptic story of cannibalistic zombies that Romero began in the Pennsylvania hills and forwarded into grander, more paranoiac areas.

Diary of the Dead, by contrast, is a restart. It's another origin story and one that returns to the zombie ground zero of the Pittsburgh outskirts. The film opens, after an introductory bit of found news-camera footage of an initial zombie sighting, with a University of Pittsburgh student film crew deep in the woods making a mummy movie called The Death of Death. When the dead really do come back, this student fiction morphs into an on-the-fly documentary, and the conceit of Diary of the Dead is that we're watching this documentary.

Shown entirely through the subjective lens of this student film crew (Romero again uses a crew of unknown actors), Diary of the Dead is an oh-so-modern update of the DIY spirit of Romero's original Night of the Living Dead. But the other horror classic it evokes isn't from the Romero canon: A decade after The Blair Witch Project tapped into the homemade horror aesthetic of Night of the Living Dead, Romero finally reciprocates.

Of course, The Blair Witch Project made a strategy of resisting visceral content. Zombie movies are, in part, about gore and coming up with new ways to off the walking dead. Diary of the Dead is no different from Romero's other zombie classics in this regard.

Romero's real interest here isn't in the bloody particulars of man-on-zombie warfare but on the paradoxically active passivity of an intensely mediated age. In this vein, Romero not only presents Diary of the Dead through the lens of a film crew that chooses to wield its cameras rather than drop them when the boogeyman emerges, but engages in a full range of modern communication modes. The radio and TV reports through which earlier Romero protagonists got info on the zombie plague are here supplemented by websites, cell phones, text messages, viral videos, home movies, camera phones, surveillance footage, etc.

But, as astutely as Romero deploys all this new technology, he doesn't celebrate it. Diary of the Dead wonders what happens when the juice is lost — when you run out of gas or battery power or electricity — before concluding, ruefully, that "It's all just noise." Even more than that, Diary of the Dead wonders whether more and more strains of media increase a need to see, show, and comment along with a reluctance to act. This idea is as close as the film comes to commenting on recent disasters from Katrina to Iraq, but here the critique ("Are we even worth saving?" one character wonders toward the end) is about more than how easily mankind slips into violence and mayhem. Rather, it's Romero's most self-reflexive film ever. With abundant riffs on camera-as-gun metaphors ("keep shooting," "this thing is too easy to use"), Diary of the Dead might be the most unsparing cinematic connection of voyeurism to violence since the 1960 classic Peeping Tom.

Diary of the Dead

Opening Friday, March 7th

Studio on the Square and Malco Cordova

Keep the Flyer Free!

Always independent, always free (never a paywall),
the Memphis Flyer is your source for the best in local news and information.

Now we want to expand and enhance our work.
That's why we're asking you to join us as a Frequent Flyer member.

You'll get membership perks (find out more about those here) and help us continue to deliver the independent journalism you've come to expect.



Subscribe to this thread:

Add a comment

    • Wildlife

      Carey Mulligan and Jake Gyllenhaal are a couple in crisis in Paul Dano’s directorial debut.
    • Bohemian Rhapsody

      The Glossy Biopic Can’t Live Up To Freddy Mercury’s Legend
    • First Man

      Ryan Gosling plays Neil Armstrong in this flawed biopic


Hungry Memphis

The Nine Now Open

Fly On The Wall Blog

What’s Kids in the Hall Co-Founder Kevin McDonald Doing in Memphis?

Hungry Memphis

Gordon Ramsay's in Memphis to Save a Restaurant!

News Blog

TVA CEO Set to Retire in April

News Blog

Leaders Work to Revamp Public Art Guidelines

Tiger Blue

Three Thoughts on Tiger Football

Tiger Blue

#22 LSU 85, Tigers 76

Film/TV/Etc. Blog

This Week At The Cinema: Indie Memphis Winners and BTS

Beyond the Arc

Grizzlies Lose First Home Game to Utah Jazz 96 - 88


More by Chris Herrington

  • Last Words

    In "Enough Said," James Gandolfini makes his last lead film role his best.
    • Sep 26, 2013
  • Masters of Sound

    New albums from two of Memphis’ most distinctive stylists.
    • Sep 19, 2013
  • Hayes Carll at the Hi-Tone

    • Sep 19, 2013
  • More »

Readers also liked…

  • Fifty Shades Freed

    Feature length commercial for luxury goods or chilling glimpse into the post-human future?
    • Feb 16, 2018
  • Death Grip

    Memphis filmmaker Sam Bahre talks about his 11-year struggle to create I Filmed Your Death.
    • Apr 19, 2018
  • The Lost City of Z

    A mesmerizing story of obsession in the Amazon jungle
    • May 1, 2017
© 1996-2018

Contemporary Media
460 Tennessee Street, 2nd Floor | Memphis, TN 38103
Visit our other sites: Memphis Magazine | Memphis Parent | Inside Memphis Business
Powered by Foundation