I have to admit that I was a little bit hesitant about watching the 2007 film, Diary of the Dead.
It wasn’t that I don’t like zombie movies. In fact, it was the complete opposite. I love zombie films and Night of the Living Dead is one of my favorites. George Romero, of course, went on to make several sequels to Night of the Living Dead. Dawn of the Dead, Day of the Dead, and Land of the Dead are certifiable horror classics. However, I had heard mixed things about the two zombie films that Romero directed after Land of the Dead. Seeing as how Diary of the Dead was Romero’s second-to-last film before he passed away in 2017, I was worried that I would watch the film and discover that I hated it. I didn’t want experience anything that would tarnish Romero’s cinematic legacy. It didn’t help my expectations that Diary of the Dead is a found footage film and the conventions of the found footage genre tend to get on my last nerve.
(Seriously, nothing makes me throw a shoe at a screen quicker than the sound of someone in a horror movie saying, “Are you filming this?”)
But you know what?
I did watch Diary of the Dead and it’s actually not bad. It may not reach the heights of Romero’s other zombie films but it’s definitely a worthwhile companion piece. It opens with news reports about the start of the zombie apocalypse, meaning that Diary of the Dead is meant to take place at roughly the same time as Night of the Living Dead. (Never mind that Diary of the Dead is full of references to YouTube and blogs and other things that most people probably couldn’t even imagine when Night of the Living Dead first came out.) A group of film students are in the woods, filming a terrible mummy movie when they first hear reports of the dead coming back to life. Some say that there’s no way it could be true. Others say that something must be happening but surely the dead aren’t actually coming back to life. They soon discover that the dead have indeed returned.
We follow the students as they travel across Pennsylvania, trying to find a place that’s safe from the Dead and discovering that there’s literally no such place left in America. Along the way, they also discover that the government has no intention of telling the people the truth about what’s happening. In fact, a group of national guardsmen turn out to be just as dangerous as the zombies. In their efforts to survive, the students are forced to rely on an underground network of bloggers and video makers.
Diary of the Dead has all of the usual zombie mayhem that you would expect from a film like this but, at the same time, it’s got a lot more on its mind than just the dead returning to life. Much as he did with Land Of The Dead, Romero uses Diary of the Dead to comment on the state of America under the Patriot Act. With the government using the zombie apocalypse as an excuse to suspend civil liberties and increase their own power, the film’s characters are forced to depend on new and independent information sources. It’s not hard to see the parallel that Romero is making between the War on the Living Dead and the War on Terror. As well, making all of the characters film students allows for some discussion about whether or not horror films should simply concentrate on being scary or whether they should also attempt to deal with real-world issues. The film leaves little doubt where Romero came down on that issue.
On the negative side, Diary of the Dead struggles a bit to overcome the limitations of its low budget and none of the characters are as compelling as Ben in Night of the Living Dead or Fran in Dawn of the Dead. At times, you find yourself wishing that Diary of the Dead featured just one actor who was as into their role as Duane C. Jones or Ken Foree were in Night of the Living Dead and Dawn of the Dead, respectively. But Diary of the Dead still features enough zombies and enough of Romero’s trademark political subtext to be an acceptable addition to Romero’s vision of the apocalypse.