The dead yet live!

Did you know George Romero had done a new zombie film? No, not LAND OF THE DEAD, I mean, a new zombie film, effectively rebooting the entire 'zombie apocalypse' franchise he originally began with NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD, lo these many decades ago?

I was vaguely aware that something was supposed to be in the pipeline, but, honestly, I paid little attention. I enjoyed LAND OF THE DEAD in a sort of absent minded way, and think it was a decent coda to Romero's original zombie arc, while feeling that the underlying theme -- living humanity has reached an evolutionary dead end, and now, the dead have inherited the Earth -- was actually pretty fucking stupid. What with that, and the very deeply mixed feelings I have for Zack Snyder's DAWN OF THE DEAD remake, well, I'd felt I was pretty much DEADed out.

But yesterday SuperWife got an email from our local college which stated that they were going to be showing the new George Romeo movie DIARY OF THE DEAD in an exclusive local engagement this weekend, starting last night. Did I want to check it out? Why yes... yes I did. So off we went to campus, where I happily shelled out the princely sum of $6 for two tickets, two popcorns, and two sodas, and we sat and thrilled to the latest magnum opus by the master of zombie horror himself.

WARNING: If you're the sort of person who shrieks and weeps and cries and stomps your widdle foot when reading articles about movies or TV show episodes or books or comics that you haven't watched or read or otherwise audited yet, and those articles give away details of said object's presentation that you feel should not have been given away to you without your express permission because, you know, nothing in the world is allowed to exist that you might in any way find even remotely objectionable on even a sub-microscopic level, well, there may be some of that stuff you whine and cry and scream and wave your tiny fists in the air over called 'spoilers' in this article. You have been so advised.

Meant to be a 'reboot' of the franchise, DIARY updates the beginning of the end from occurring in the late 60s to the early 21st Century, showing how the multiplicity of video recorders in the hands of the public leads to a global saturation of video recorded zombie carnage, uploaded to websites like YouTube and FaceBook for the entire world to see the truth of what is actually occurring as the recently dead return to life -- or, at least, feral ambulation -- and prey on the flesh of the living.

Whereas Romero's previous zombie epics could only feature 'mainstream' media coverage of the ongoing chaos due to the technological limitations of the late 20th Century, in DIARY, we see amateur videos from all over the world, downloaded and cut into the central narrative being shot as it unfolds by a student filmmaker who was out in the woods with some friends making a horror movie for film class on the night everything went to hell.

Unlike Romero's previous zombie stories, this one does not show a random mob of strangers coming together in a fortified building, where, trapped by insatiable hordes of walking dead outside, they gradually tear themselves to pieces from within. DIARY is a road movie, featuring a group of students trying to get back to their respective homes in a camper van, and the various ordeals each has to survive (or, you know, not so much) on their journey through a world suddenly overwhelmed by the relentless onslaught of flesh devouring zombies.

There is no omniscient third person camera in this film, and as a consequence, we are not allowed to watch it from a comfortable distance. Every frame of this movie is shot by one of the characters in it, or by security cameras in various buildings they enter on their journey. The perspective is entirely internal and harrowingly personal, and if the protagonists of the film often seem to be acting irrationally, well, I think it's difficult for members of an audience to really understand just how shocking and bewildering it would be to suddenly find oneself immersed in horrific events of this scale and nature. Certainly I'd like to think that I'd do things more sensibly (posting lookouts on top of the van whenever we're stopped for any reason, avoiding specific locations that are almost certain to be infested with newly reanimated corpses like hospitals, searching each new building carefully for lurking dead before relaxing behind locked, heavily reinforced doors, etc) but I'm sure that for the bulk of the several days the film covers, most if not all of the cast are deep in shock, with their thought processes numbed into near non-existence.

One of the interesting points about films like this (at least, to me) is that while they take place in the 'real world', these are worlds where, obviously, certain pervasive and influential pop culture artifacts have never existed. In a SPIDER-MAN movie, for example, there have never been any Spider-Man comics, TV shows, or movies. That's usually not a particularly important difference, but in a movie about a zombie apocalypse that occurs in the year 2006, the absence of people (especially film students) who are knowledgeable about various details of the attendant mythology (to kill a zombie you have to shoot it in the head, anyone bitten by a zombie will die within hours and then come back as a zombie almost immediately) is striking. Nobody in this movie, apparently, has seen any George Romero zombie movies, or RESIDENT EVIL, or any of the multiplicity of zombie offshoots. Everybody has to learn the mythology from scratch.

More striking to me is that nobody in any zombie movie I've ever seen ever mentions what must be a frankly horrendous stench accompanying the presence of the living dead. Leaving aside specific things like how awful it should smell when an eviscerated corpse sits up and all its intestines spill out on the floor (something that seems to happen at least once in every zombie movie since the original NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD), nonetheless, Romero is at pains to show that his zombies continue to rot even after being reanimated. The stink from even one zombie should be (as one of my one time drill sergeants would put it) "enough to knock a buzzard off a shit wagon"; the dense cloud of choking reek emanating from a horde of the shambling dead should be a miasma from hell. Yet apparently it's not so; zombies sneak up on the unwary constantly in these movies, and nobody ever comments on how bad they smell.

Regardless of all this, I enjoyed DIARY OF THE DEAD enormously and strongly recommend it to any true zombie fans that may be reading this -- or just to anyone who enjoys seeing deaf Amish farmers named Samuel kill zombies with a deftly lobbed stick of dynamite and a skillfully wielded scythe.

And any time a zombie clown shows up at a kids' birthday party, you just know whacky, hilarious hijinx are going to ensue.

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