Shiny Shelf

Diary of the Dead DVD

By Mark Clapham on 03 July 2008

Forty years on from ‘Night of the Living Dead’, writer/director George A Romero has still got it. With ‘Diary of the Dead’ the creator of the modern zombie movie, begins a whole new night of the living dead while also showing younger talents how it’s done by successfully adopting the lo-fi, in-camera stylings of upstarts such as ‘Cloverfield’ and ‘The Blair Witch Project’.

Romero thankfully cuts himself some slack compared to the creators of those movies – rather than representing a rough ‘found’ account of events, ‘Diary’ establishes itself early on as an edited account, one which combines sources from different cameras, and has been edited with music and voiceover for effect. This is a step away from the pseudo-Dogme principles of other films in the subgenre, but the fact that the material is manipulated even in the middle of an apocalypse is part of the point – this is a movie about the youtube culture of home movie making, citizen journalism and the chaos of untamed, uncensored digital information. Ease of access to shiny editing toys and crisp images is part of the story, and part of the aesthetic.

One issue the film definitely shares with ‘Cloverfield’ and ‘Blair Witch’ is a slightly annoying cast of youngish characters, in this case a bunch of snotty film students and their alcoholic professor searching for safety on the night the dead rise. While the studenty pretensions of the characters are, again, part of the point – our main cameraman and ‘director’, Jason Creed, is quickly entranced by the power to record the horrors as they unfold, much to the disgust of his companions – it does grate the nerves at times. Thankfully as the main group are slimmed down they get less irritating, and there are some great minor characters in a classic Romero mould that they meet on the road.

While it breaks with the continuity started in ‘Night of the Living Dead’ in favour of starting again with a new zombie apocalypse, ‘Diary of the Dead’ is very much a companion piece to those earlier films, combining genuine shocks and unsettling atmospherics with an underlying humanitarianism and social concern.

While there are some neat post-modern touches – the characters are making a low budget horror movie at the start of the film, and the feeble chase scene they’re making is echoed later on – and there’s a satirical, cynical view of the mainstream media, like all of Romero’s zombie films there’s a deeper sincerity and concern at work. Underlying the fantastic shocks – and there are some really good ones – are genuine worries about real life atrocities becoming part of a voyeuristic cycle of unaccountable, easily accessible images.

‘Diary of the Dead’ may be cheaply made, but the production has no rough edges and the effects are uniformly excellent. It’s an interesting movie with some great scares, and a worthy successor to ‘Night of the Living Dead’ and it’s sequels. The DVD presentation is also excellent, with crisp picture and sound, and menus that echo the media-overload themes of the movie to great effect. If possible, go for the two-disc edition in the limited edition steelbook – beautiful packaging, and a second disc that includes not just a series of behind-the-scenes extras for ‘Diary’, but also an extensive retrospective on ‘Night’ and other Romero related goodies. This is a really well put together package, and well worth getting.

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By Mark Clapham

Mark Clapham is a Devon-based writer and editor. You can find out more about him at the egotistically named

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