22 March, 2008


Something's happening here, but you don't know what it is... George A. Romero is asking the questions in DIARY OF THE DEAD, and you might not be able to answer them.

Jason Creed learns the meaning of Jean Luc Godard's comment that cinema is life at 24frames per second.

"It used to be us against us; now it's us against them ... except, they are us."

I am pleased to report that I spent the first 95 minutes of my 56th birthday at a Midnight showing of GEORGE A. ROMERO'S DIARY OF THE DEAD (onscreen title). After you reach the big 5-0 you don't so much celebrate birthdays as survive them. So I was really taken by the fact that Romero's fifth zombie film is about the nature of Survival, the quality of life as it's experienced in the early 21st Century and the meaning of Death in the Information Age. In other words, it's a zombie film for thinking people which delivers the gory goods for those demanding ever new ways of destroying the living and disabling the brains of the undead.

A Romero zombie film has to be experienced at a Midnight showing or not at all. That's the way I first saw his first, NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD (1968), and have never quite shaken off the experience. Some 40 years and three zombie titles later the maverick director has more on his mind than ever and doesn't hesitate having his characters speak his cynical, gloomy, very un-mainstream of consciousness. And, first and foremost, it's a genre satire, a pitch black one...

GEORGE A. ROMERO'S DIARY OF THE DEAD is really about American Mainstream Culture, how it has evolved since the 1960s, invaded the rest of the world through television and the Internet and been reflected by Mainstream movies. At the ripped out heart of it all is a fearless auto-critique of Romero's career, from the maker of possibly the first Post-modern horror film to his attempts at entering the Mainstream after the success of his own DAWN OF THE DEAD, to the compromises of DAY OF THE DEAD and LAND OF THE DEAD, to his return as the man who continues to pose the most unnerving questions to his audience and himself.

DIARY is more in the lineage of the first Post-post-modern horror films, exemplified by Lucio Fulci's NIGHTMARE CONCERT (1990) and Ruggero Deodato's CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST (1979), where the filmmaker places himself and his craft on the firing line and comes up guilty. I'm not even going to mention the two US horror films this is being endlessly compared with, let's just say that DIARY is far more thoughtful and outrageous. And his final image is the most disturbing one he's created since the apocalyptic pyre which concluded NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD.

Unless you live in a big city, this is not an easy film to see and I thought I would have to wait for the DVD. Interesting that David Lynch's INLAND EMPIRE, which was equally subversive both stylistically and thematically, also had spotty theatrical distribution. So it goes. This is most compelling US film I have seen since INLAND EMPIRE and my favorite Romero zombie film since 1978's DAWN OF THE DEAD. It's totally unlike any of Romero's previous films except that it's obviously made by George A. Romero. The Panic Room in which the survivors entomb themselves is as symptomatic of our age as the farmhouse was in NIGHT and the mall was in DAWN. And the final question posed over that hideous and haunting final image is one most will not wish to linger upon.

You know the set-up, the characters, the plot and that it's presented as a cam corded, lap-top edited film-within-a-film, THE DEATH OF DEATH. The special effects/video game designer I went to see it turned to me at the end and said, "Romero's a genius." I would say he's a visionary, or maybe someone who can see and hear through the wall of video and sound coming out of innumerable available portals out there. Romero is able to transcend each and every zombie movie/comic cliche and come up with a nonstop stream of new visual frissons, my own favorite in DIARY are the zombies floating in the swimming pool who are digitally activated for the final attack. It's something that Jean Rollin might have come up with.

After spending more time than I would like to admit on message boards and blogs during the last decade I had to laugh out loud when a Japanese poster on a You Tube message board advises the world, "Shoot in head!".

Keep going downmarket, George, keep on asking those chilling questions and thanks for the great birthday present.

(C) Robert Monell, 2008


Scott Mosley said...

I'm glad to see you enjoyed DIARY. It's going on its fourth week at the one theater that's running it locally. Which is longer than I expected it to last after seeing it. I wrote up my thoughts here.


Robert Monell said...

Scott: Thanks for the link and feedback. I read your blog and I like your point about the Bluetooth zombies. DIARY is a wake up call to a brain dead culture. Thanks for your thoughts and I'll be looking forward to your future blogs.

Scott Mosley said...

Thanks for the kind words of encouragement. The way this blog has taken shape certainly had some inspiration in starting my own.

I loved the Amish guy throwing grenades at the zombies. Just when you thought you'd seen it all.

Jeremy Richey said...

Excellent...I caught the Midnight showing in Nashville on Friday which Romero attended. It was a real honor to see the film with him introducing it. I got to meet him yesterday and hope to be posting some pics and thoughts at Moon In The Gutter later today.
My thoughts on the film equal yours although I think I need to see it again before I go in detail (I get a bit cloudy after ten or so) but I was pretty blown away by it...you are dead on about that last shot which was one of the most disturbing images and endings I have seen in a very long time. That last line about "are we worth saving" kicked me in the stomach the same way the closing of CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST did the first time I saw it years ago...Romero is the king and what a ballsy move to make a film like this four decades into his career.

Robert Monell said...

Thanks for the feedback, Scott and good luck with your blog. Yeah, that guy was awesome, especially his demise.

Robert Monell said...

Jermey: So you got to meet the Man himself. I'm impressed! It's literally and figuratively a gutsy film and he's taking some flak for it. Taking on the Internet generation is indeed like Deodato taking on TV news in CH a generation ago and I think DIARY will loom larger as times goes on. Despite what some reviewers are saying it is ORIGINAL in terms of how he develops his satire and includes himself as a target. And it's not smug or self righteous. The low tech style perfectly fits the theme, or themes. It's a film rich with ideas and acute observations. I think the fact that it was made with lunch money for a major studio production and that they are no recognizable faces is why it works and why LAND OF THE DEAD didn't for me. Like you, I'll have to see it a number of times so I can absorb it all, there's a lot there. So I'll definitely be getting the DVD, but it was great to see it with a Midnight Movie audience.

Look forward to your report and thanks again for stopping by with your valued insights.