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Diary of the Dead
Review Written by: Alex Sandell

A bunch of bad actors sit around acting badly.

The first 5 or 10 minutes of George A. Romero's 5th entry in his seemingly un-killable Dead series, Diary of the Dead are the best 5 or 10 minutes in any zombie film since he created and released the original Dawn of the Dead, 2 decades ago. While the rest of the movie never comes close to living up to the promise of its introductory scene, it does have a handful of memorable scares and enough chilling moments to give it the edge over its predecessor, 2005's Land of the Dead. Still, bad acting and surprisingly poor dialog hold it back from the classic status it could have achieved with a little fine-tuning.

There has been social commentary in all 5 George A. Romero Dead films -- usually tackling one "ism" or the other. In the first (Night of the Living Dead) it was racism. In the second (Dawn of the Dead) it was consumerism. In the third (Day of the Dead) we had feminism. The fourth (Land of the Dead) was capitalism. Diary of the Dead takes on media, MySpace and YouTube (bloggism?). Romero's message this time around is as in-your-face as the gore -- passing up sub-text for text and bashing us over the head time and time again with its own self-importance. But despite screaming its message from the rafters it says the least of all 5 of his zombie pictures -- especially the more subtle, but significantly more startling Night of the Living Dead and Dawn of the Dead.

Another trademark of Romero's Dead films are the characters. They are usually memorable, believable and likeable. If not likeable, their reasons for being despicable are at least somewhat comprehensible. Not so with Diary of the Dead (or Land of the Dead, for that matter). The main characters in Diary of the Dead are poorly written contrivances and the only 2 intriguing characters in the film that could possibly stand with the characters introduced in the first 3 Dead movies are relegated to supporting roles. It's disappointing that George Romero took the easy way out by focusing his script on walking, talking cliches rather than daring to put the focus where it belonged with the unique folks met when the film makes brief detours into the realm of challenging characters with interesting motives. Seriously, who couldn't love a deaf Amish zombie hunter fighting off the undead with 18th century technology? This guy should get his own movie.

There is no getting around the fact that Diary of the Dead is a disappointment when it comes to acting, character development and dialog. At the same time, it does deliver a handful of passable scares, a haunting atmosphere and gobs of gore. The gore gags, while not nearly as creative or graphic as what make-up maestro Tom Savini delivered in Dawn or Day, improves greatly over Land and should please any diehard Romero fan. The kill involving an Amish gentleman is one of the best in any Dead flick and gets an amazing reaction from the audience. The kind of reaction not heard in theaters since Savini himself was busy working the blood and guts. Many of the scares score and the overall tone of the film leaves you with a feeling of unease as you quietly exit the theater.

Don't go into this one expecting a horror masterpiece from the master of horror. Go in expecting a noble attempt from a former master and you won't leave disappointed. Sure, lowering expectations to heighten enjoyment isn't how a movie that starts with such a bang should have to be handled, but it is what it is and it is a step up from Land of the Dead and a sufficiently creepy reboot of Romero's classic franchise from George A. Romero himself. It's not all that it could have been, but it's far more than most of us expected from a director still writing, producing, directing and even acting (he has a cameo in this one) at a time when many of his peers have given up on the horror genre or retired entirely.

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©2007 Alex Sandell [All Rights Reserved]. Copy this without my permission and I'll sick an ass-kicking deaf Amish with a scythe on your ass. That's right ... I went there.