The Cult Class Collection

Diary of the Dead (2007)

Starring: Joshua Close, Scott Wentworth, Michelle Morgan, Joe Dinicol, Shawn Roberts, Amy Lalonde, Philip Riccio

Directed by: George A Romero

Rating: 1 2 3 and a half

Life through a lens: Joshua Close as Jason Creed in Diary of the Dead

Oh, zombies, they're so 2003. It's all about vampires now, isn't it?

Well, if it is, no-one's told hoary old horror director George A Romero, still flogging that undead horse after all these years. And this time, in his fifth zombie movie since Night of the Living Dead changed the face of horror back in 1968, he's only gorn and gone all Cloverfield on us, stitching together a postmodern patchwork of YouTube offcuts to create a zombie movie for the internet age.

Well, I say postmodern, but as usual, nobody's allowed to mention the z-word, or to know (by having watched a hundred z-word movies) that the only way to kill the living dead is to shoot them through the head – surprise surprise, they have to work that one out for themselves. But otherwise, this film pulls out all the Blair Witch stops in an attempt to convince us that the zombie invasion is really happening, a mass, global, undead 9/11 viewed through the wobbly lenses of YouTube bloggers.

The film crew of George A Romero's Diary of the Dead

Diary of the Dead is presented as the work of film student Jason Creed, who (ironically) is interrupted filming a rubbish mummy movie by horror on a much bigger scale. Soon he and his crew – a bunch of squabbling students accompanied by a hammy cod-Shakespearean alcoholic lecturer who, bizarrely, went to Eton and was in 'the war' (huh?) – are on the road in a Winnebago (my new must-have zombie escape mechanism), surrounded by hoardes of shambling ghouls. (On this Romero is quite adamant: the dead can't run. Their ankles would break.)

If you're lucky, you won't have seen painfully low budget Brit flick The Zombie Diaries (with good reason – it looks as if it actually was made by an ill-assorted, squabbling bunch of film students, who destroy a handful of good ideas by drowning them in atrocious bad dialogue and even worse acting), but if you have, you'll find many of the scenes in Diary of the Dead familiar.

A zombie is despatched in George A Romero's Diary of the Dead

In fact, you'll probably find many of the scenes familiar anyway (zombies pushing shopping trolleys, tooled up survivors toting big guns, our heroes looting grocery stores and having to kill their zombified parents – you know the kind of thing) but then there have to be some perks to creating a genre all of your own, and if Romero can't grave rob his own back catalogue, who can? (Simon Pegg.) And there are some pretty special moments that have never been seen before in z-vision – I won't spoil it for you, but watch out for the hydrochloric acid…

And then there's the social commentary – you knew it had to happen. Yes, it's a little ham-fisted, rubbed in by a dreary voiceover from Jason's girlfriend Debra (Michelle Morgan) that's almost as annoying as Heather's in Blair Witch, but it's pertinent all the same. As the mainstream modes of communication crumble, only the bloggers and film students are left (although one has to wonder who's maintaining the servers…), a multiplicity of overwrought voices fighting to make themselves heard above the chaos, to stamp their version of the truth onto history.

'Nothing happens for you unless it happens in front of the camera,' Debra screams at Jason as he documents the carnage around him without lifting a finger to help, but by the end of the film she is left holding the camera, seemingly unable to resist the lure of becoming a history maker, despite realising that chances are, there'll be no-one left to see it.

Is this a metaphor for the digital age, as we turn on, tune in and drop out of reality in favour of a Second Life lived out by fictional avatars? A world in which we refuse to believe anything unless it's caught on camera, yet gape as CGI wizards create impossible images that seem utterly real. No wonder, as the dead begin to rise and all hell breaks loose, our cast are unsure whether what they're seeing is genuine, or just an enormous internet hoax.

Or is Diary of the Dead a satirical poke at the rank amateurs (ahem) who think they can usurp the professionals simply by being in the right place at the right time with the right recording equipment? Well, you only have to compare this film with The Zombie Diaries to see that the Master of Horror, Romero, still has a trick or two to teach the kids about making movies.

But having said that, Diary of the Dead, while interesting, is not a great horror movie, mainly because it simply isn't scary. The staggering dead don't pose much of a threat, being easily despatched by our worryingly crack-shot students and their seemingly endless supply of ammo, their usual weapon, mass numbers, reduced by budgetary restraints to a select gathering. And even if the dead were terrifying, our 'heroes' are simply too faceless and wooden to elicit much sympathy, driven by plot device not character – showing that perhaps Simon Pegg and Edgar Wright have a trick or two to teach Romero.

Neither, despite some nice gory moments and some morose meditations on man's inhumanity to man, is Diary of the Dead particularly shocking. Perhaps, after witnessing the real life shaky-cam footage of 9/11, the fuzzy photos of US soldiers abusing Iraqi prisoners, the amateur shots of the devastation caused by the Boxing Day tsunami, the bandaged victims of 7/7, nothing fictional really can be that shocking any more.

Sorry, George, you may have shocked us forty years ago in 1968, but in 2008, the competition's streets ahead. Running, not shambling.

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