15. Diary of the Dead
I worry sometimes about my generation, Generation 2.0, they’re calling it, the generation that created YouTube, MySpace, Facebook, that embraced reality television. We are increasingly self-involved and less concerned with the world around us. It seems we almost can’t experience the world anymore without the comforting detachment of a television or computer screen. We are more inclined to watch then to act.
George A. Romero is apparently worried, too. While most of the Seventies Horror Babies have mellowed in their old age, Romero is only more enraged. He’s never trusted the government or mainstream media but the supposed last bastion of free journalism, the new media of the internet, blogs, and so on, are even more vilified. It’s just more noise, cluttering up the truth. By the end of “Diary of the Dead,” Ol’ Georgie Boy even suggests that the best way to survive the increasingly frightening world we live in is to completely seal our self off from it.
Kids, Romero is back. After the disappointing “Land,” “Diary” is by far the most unsettling and frightening film he’s made in years. His social observations are even less subtle then usual and perhaps take up too much prominence. However, they are vital and far too truthful too ignore.
In addition to being upsetting on a social level, this is just a scary movie. Perhaps for the first time since the original “Night of the Living Dead,” we get a sense of panic, a sense of our reality and society completing crumbling around us and the world submitting to total chaos. The first-person camera makes this panic even more realized because we get a sense that this could really be happening.
The mood is fairly somber but moments are still set aside for the lighter aspects we enjoy about these movies. There are several awesome gore effects and Romero has managed to think up new cool looking ways to dismember living and undead bodies alike. There’s humor too, some of it really funny. (The Amish have never been better.) Don’t miss the cheap shots at some modern horror films and a handful of notable voice cameos, either.
At first, the cast and characters come off as amateur-like or shrill. However, as the story continues on, we get a hold of some of that strong characterization we expect and some surprisingly good performances emerge, most notably Michele Morgan and Joshua Close. A deal has all ready been struck to make another Dead film but George can stop now as far as I’m concerned. The cycle has come full circle. By going back to the beginning, he’s made the appropriate, excellent closer this franchise deserves. Good job, old man. [Grade: A-]
16. Survival of the Dead
During the nineties, it seemed like Romero couldn’t get any funding for his potential zombie projects. The fourth of his dead saga was up in the air for so long and fans cried for more Romero zombie movies. Now, here in the new century, it seems like the only thing Romero can get made at this point are zombie movies. And instead of bitching about how he can’t get his original visions made, George seems to think that making any movies is better then none. Said fans are now bitching about how these films lack the, aheh, bite of Romero’s classics.
So what of “Survival of the Dead,” the latest in the seemingly outgrowing “Dead Trilogy?” The exposition filled opening narration concerned me, as I didn’t want a repeat of “Diary of the Dead’s” didactic tone. Soon afterward, however, the movie evens out. It comes to focus on a group of six ex-soldiers, the leader of which was a minor character from “Diary.” While the ensemble style never really went away, this group of characters feels more like a Romero group of characters then either of those from the previous two zombie movies. Alan Van Sprang is a strong lead, grouchy, motivated. He’s a jerk with a heart of gold and entertaining to watch. The rest of the team is less developed. The swarthy Hispanic, the wacky comic relief, the hipster youth, and the butt-kicking lesbian aren’t exactly four dimensional, but all of them are at least given amusing dialogue. I’d say they have two and a half dimensions. The group of mercenaries are all quite capable fighters.
The zombies are not what end up providing the main threat. Instead, the group of heroes are dropped into an island were a religious debate rages. These zombies use to be our loved ones. Should we just kill them or hold on, keep them around, see if they can be trained? It’s a minor difference between the two views but it ends up creating a small war among the people. Any number of sociological ideals could be applied to this but, ultimately, Romero hasn’t had to change his themes much since 1968. Humanity refuses to address the real problem and instead focuses on inane, petty differences that amount to nothing in this strange new world. Society has collapsed around us, but there’s always time for a philosophical debate. Even if George has made this point six times previously (As have I), it continues to be a potent one.
Despite these heavy themes, the movie has an overall lighter tone. The script takes itself less seriously. The eccentric characters and the numerously comical zombie kills make that clear. (Sadly, a few of those kills are saddled by bad CGI gore.) It’s honestly the closest the director’s come to recapturing the spirit of “Dawn of the Dead.” Even the minimalistic zombie designs (Which I love by the way) recall that film. The music is overblown, that pretentious voiceover returns at the end, and I’m not exactly sure what to think of new revelation concerning zombie behavior. (The movie also addresses what would happen if a human bite a zombie, something I’ve wonder about for years.) However, “Survival of the Dead” might mark the return of comic book George Romero. It’s his most fun film in years. [Grade: B+]
So that's it for the George Romero report card. What about my statment at the beginning about Romero being one of the greatest horror filmmakers of all time? Does it still hold true? Look at it this way: The dude is responsible for two of the greatest horror films of all time. Are there a few duds along the way? Of course. Are his current films not as good as his older ways? Naturally. We all have to peak at some point and George is in his seventies. I will say this: A Romero film still has over a fifty percent chance of being better then most of the horror trash out there.
What's next for George? The only project he has announced at the moment is a 3-D remake of Dario Argento's "Deep Red." Seeing as how vastly different those two directors' styles are, I'm not sure if that's a good idea. Or if it'll even get made, seeing as how active production hasn't started yet.
My next Report Card will be Mario Bava, the grandfather of Italian horror. Before I get to that, I do plan on continuing the daily Halloween viewing updates.