The thing to keep in mind as this movie begins is that it is not a sequel to “Night of the Living Dead.” Depending on how you look at it, this is a reboot of the franchise. Or, like, a side-quel, which starts at the same time “Night” does – which is to say, in the opening moments of the zombie apocalypse.
Of course, to pretend they happen at the same time, you have to assume everyone in the original “Night” just kind of forgot their cell phone. And that the farmer didn’t have cable. And that they just had one really small TV.
Honestly, though, I can’t say that anything that happens in “Diary” contradicts what happens in “Night.” So, there you go.
“Diary of the Dead” exists in sort of a strange limbo of filmmaking. It’s meant to be a documentary of sorts, detailing the zombie uprising, and as such we get voiceover, and camera twitches, and various other things.
For example, the opening footage has some narration over it. It’s touted as footage that a news cameraman uploaded. He was the one that shot the footage.
The actual footage shown shows some cops, and an ambulance, outside a dwelling. Inside, a dad murdered his wife and sixteen-year-old son, and then put the gun in his own mouth and pulled the trigger.
A newswoman starts stating these facts, while the corpses are rolled towards the ambulance in the background.
But then the cameraman interrupts the newslady, in order to film what’s going on. To wit, the dead woman sits up and bites one of the ambulance workers. And then, the sixteen-year-old also gets up, and one of the cops shoots him in the head.
There’s some more action, but it’s not all that important. Because now we’re into the narration, which says that the narrator (who’s a female, by the by) and her companions (who we haven’t seen yet) have been downloading video from various online sources, and also took their own film they’ve been shooting, and they cut it all together to make the documentary we’re about to see:
“The Death of Death.”
That’s a pretty amusing in-joke right there. If you’re not aware, Romero has used that title in at least two places. Once when he started writing a zombie novel in sections, and selling it on the Internet. And he also made a comic book with that title.
And now, the film-within-a-film presents “The Death of Death.” Which our narrator notes sometimes has music, in order to scare us.
Now we’re into the footage that the narrator and pals shot, along with a burn-in that says October 24th, 11:00 PM.
We’re in the woods somewhere, and a woman in a white dress is running. She stops for a second, looks behind her, and a mummy steps out of the woods.
The woman screams, then stumbles, and the mummy catches her, and someone yells, “Cut.” I guess we have to assume this is the director.
The director complains that the “mummy,” who’s obviously a student actor, that corpses can’t walk fast. The “mummy” retorts that is the girl is going fast, he has to go fast.
The director, whose name is Jason, says that if the mummy catches the girl, the movie is over.
And then… then it’s just a whole discussion about this being a student film, and about getting credits for college, and about how the drunken professor promises that everyone will get five credits for making the film.
And then some random dude standing off in the woods says that “there’s something on the news” they should all hear.
So we cut, and go over to where everyone is listening to the news, and we learn that five, no wait, six corpses have gotten up and attacked people.
The mummy says he’s not waiting around to find out if this is a hoax or not – he’s headed back to his place. Another dude says that the mummy’s place is huge. That guy is named Eliot. I think he was the guy who said everyone needed to listen to the news.
There’s also a makeup artist named Tony. Just so you can have a name to cling to. Cling hard. I’m still not sure who two thirds of these people are.
The mummy says everyone is free to join him. One blonde chick who has no name as of yet opts to go with him.
The crew packs up and heads to the dorm, because “Deb” is there. Whoever that is.
And now we’re in a long point-of-view shot in the women’s dorm. I think Jason is still holding the camera, but I have no idea.
There’s no one there, except for one dude who’s stealing a small TV. Which he’s completely honest about.
Jason goes to Deb’s room. Deb is there, and she’s upset because she keeps calling home and no one is answering.
Ah – Deb is our narrator. Thanks subtitles.
And now we’re in a Winnebago. Mary’s Winnebago. No clue who Mary is. And they’re driving along to somewhere-or-other.
Ah. Mary is the driver. That clears THAT up.
Okay, now they do a run-down of all the names. Is it worth mentioning they’re all in the University of Pittsburgh? And that they’re all trying to get home? Sure. So there you go. That’s the plan.
So, yeah, names and identifying characteristic. Trust me, there’s not much to hang onto.
Mary: Owns the Winnebago we’re all in. Brunette.
Deb: Narrator. Brunette.
Tony: Makeup artist. Really short hair.
Eliot: Wears geeky glasses.
Gordo: With Tracy. Longer hair.
Tracy: Blonde. Actress.
Professor: He’s the professor. And he’s drunk all the time.
Some dude goes driving by at about 120 miles an hour.
And then they stop the Winnebago, because there’s a crashed and flaming car in the road. Actually, there are two crashed and flaming cars, and Mary doesn’t think she’ll be able to get by them.
The group sees a state trooper, and it takes them a minute to realize that he’s walking kind of funny. And it takes them until he gets to the window and tries to grab Mary to realize he’s the walking dead.
Mary freaks out, people swear, and Mary hits reverse and drives away from the state trooper.
Then she goes forward again, plowing into the state trooper and various other dead people as she drives along.
Some time passes, and it’s 3 AM. Mary freaks out about the fact that she hit three people, and might have killed them, because she’s not quite on board with the whole dead-returning-to-life thing.
The crew gets out of the Winnebago, all of them watching Mary, who is sitting out in the middle of a field not doing much of anything. At least until she shoots herself in the head.
Everyone gets all freaked out by this, wondering if anyone even knew she had a gun.
I guess it’s worth mentioning that Tony is also not on board with the walking dead thing. He thinks the news is right – that nothing is really happening, and that everything will calm down soon.
And then Deb says, “She’s still alive.”
So the gang goes to a hospital, which is empty. They’re carrying Mary, and trying to find a doctor. Or the ER. Or probably anyone who knows what to do with a woman who shot herself in the head unsuccessfully.
Some of them find a police radio, which they listen to for a while. They hear people panicking, and gunfire, and it finally starts to sink in that, hey, there are dead people out there walking around and biting people.
The crew wanders around the hospital some more, searching for anyone who can and/or will help them.
Finally, they spot a person moving behind a curtain, and call to him.
Only him’s dead. And him’s also just finished eating someone, so he’s all covered in people juices.
Someone yells to use the gun.
Gordo has the gun. He shoots the zombie a few times, and then someone tells him to shoot the zombie in the head. He does. It’s effective.
A former nurse gets up. She’s a zombie, too. Gordo tries to shoot her, but the gun is jammed. He tries to fix it.
Meanwhile, Deb finds a pair of those electro-shock panels, fires them up, and sticks them on both sides of the zombie nurse’s head. The nurse burns, and her eyes melt and pop out of her head. She falls.
Then she gets back up again, and Gordo shoots her in the head.
Mary makes a groaning noise, and the group once again decides they should try to find her a doctor. A live one.
In the corner, the battery light keeps showing in the corner. Which is the kind of thing that would never show up on actual camera footage. But let’s move on.
Jason says he needs to plug in and recharge, and the rest of the group says that he should leave the camera. Jason refuses, noting that the camera “is the whole thing.”
So the rest of the group leaves. Jason stays, and plugs in. And as he pans around, talking to himself, and looking at the dead people on the floor, he points the camera at Mary.
This means the rest of the group went to get help for Mary, who is currently sitting in a wheelchair, as far away from the rest of the group as possible. This is not a well thought out plan.
Jason apologizes to Mary, stating that he’s sorry if anything he or Tony said caused her to shoot herself in the head.
At that moment, Mary wakes up.
Elsewhere, there are screams and gunfire.
Jason calls out.
He looks out the door, and in the hallway… is Deb. Who found another camera. So Deb turns her camera on, and Jason has his camera on, and they go back and forth, cutting between their footage, as Deb tries to explain to Jason what it’s like to have a camera shoved in your face while people are dying around you.
Jason finally gets Deb to tell him that she was attacked, and that Gordo shot the dead guy in the head.
Deb screams to demonstrate how she screamed in the other room, then screams for real, as one of the nearby “dead” patients gets up.
Gordo appears and shoots the guy in the head, then notes that he’s shot three men and a woman in the last half-hour.
The professor points out how easily it came to Gordo. And then goes on. “I remember the war. In wartime, killing comes easily.”
Did I mention the professor sounds British? I really want to know which war he’s talking about.
Mary dies. Then starts becoming undead, which involves a lot of wheezing, and maybe her eyeballs rolling back in her head, or maybe she develops a film over her eyes. I have no idea.
Gordo isn’t mentally capable of shooting her, so the professor gently takes the gun from Gordo and shoots Mary in the noggin.
Then the professor gives the gun to Tony, noting that it’s “too easy to use.”
The gang walks out into the hallway, where they’re confronted by some more dead patients.
One of them has an I.V. pole attached to him. So Eliot grabs it, and stabs the zombie through the chest with his own I.V. pole. While he does this, he loudly points out that clearly the zombie is dead, since Eliot can just keep ramming an I.V. pole through the guy’s chest with no effect.
Oh, and did I mention that Gordo got bit in all this? He did. He says that, “It hurts.”
Eliot knocks the zombie over and jams the I.V. pole through its head.
Deb realizes that she’s still holding a video camera, and she hands it off to the Professor with a, “Take this, it’s too easy to use.”
And now, a bunch of stock footage, with statements about how everyone with a video camera or a blog is talking about what’s going on.
The next morning, they bury Mary. Gordo is dead. Then he comes back, and Tracy shoots him right in the noggin.
Deb wants to get on the road, like, right now, so she can get to her family.
And then, more stock footage, coupled with narration about how they managed to avoid the crowds and looting by staying on country roads.
But now the bad news – the Winnebago has died. Tracy thinks she can fix it, which is supposed to be funny, I suppose.
At any rate, they plan on pushing the Winnie into a nearby barn and repairing it, when an Amish guy comes towards them, grunting. But he’s not a zombie – he’s just deaf. He tells them this using a little slate he carries around.
They inform him they want to use his barn to fix the Winnie, and he writes for them to hurry – then points behind them, where a small group of zombies has gathered and is coming towards them.
The Amish fellow runs back into the barn, grabs a stick of dynamite, and heaves it at the zombies, who blow up real good.
The Amish guy writes that his name is Samuel.
Later, Tracy fixes the Winnie.
Meanwhile, Eliot plays the footage from the video camera they found in the hospital. It’s a little girl’s birthday party. A clown arrives. The girl freaks a little bit. The father grabs the clown’s nose, and yells, “Honk, honk!” And then, the zombie clown bites him in the neck.
Putting George Romero at three for three zombie clowns in the last three “Dead” movies.
Suddenly, there’s pounding on the barn walls. The zombies have arrived.
Samuel tells everyone there’s a back door. They head down to the bottom of the barn… and discover that the back door is open.
Samuel slams it shut, then grabs a scythe.
Tony shoots a zombie in the head. Then another one.
Upstairs, Tracy almost has the Winnie fixed. Suddenly, a zombie grabs her arm. Samuel slams his scythe through the zombie and drags it out from under the vehicle, and Tony shoots it in the head.
Deb gets into the Winnie, and fires it up.
Samuel and Tony open the barn doors.
Everyone starts getting into the Winnie, only Samuel gets grabbed by a zombie. And bitten. Samuel, knowing that his time is short, jams the blade of his scythe through his own head, and subsequently, the zombie’s head.
Never make fun of the Amish, folks. They will MESS YOU UP.
Deb pulls out, ramming zombies along the way.
And then… more random footage, and narration.
The gang stops for supplies, and they’re trying to figure out how to gas up the Winnie and get food, when a random black guy with an M-16 comes out and tells Tony to drop his gun.
Tony does, and a couple more fellows of color come out, both heavily armed.
There’s gunfire nearby, and everyone gets into the Winnie to go… wherever the black dudes tell them to go.
The gang is taken to a large warehouse, where all the people of color in the town are holed up with a lot of supplies. They tell Deb they can have some gas to get where they’re going.
Jason asks if he can get online, and he’s told to go ahead. He uploads his footage to… ready?… MySpace. Where he gets 72,000 hits in eight minutes.
Deb shows up, asking what’s going on, and Deb and Jason argue about whether or not the footage is important. Deb states, once again, that she wants to get back to her family, and Jason tells Deb that the media and/or the government is covering up what’s happening, and making it sound like everyone is going to be fine.
Jason has the most amazing laptop ever. He has yet to run out of power, and he’s cutting together a movie at lightning speed, and getting it uploaded, and… I don’t even know. Let’s just go with, “He seems to be working implausibly fast,” and leave it at that.
Deb brings the argument to a close, and gets ready to walk off, when her cell phone vibrates. It’s a message from her little brother – her family was camping, and now they’re heading home.
It was sent the night before.
Deb figures this means her family is going to beat her home, but I’m thinking it’s more likely they’ll get eaten while driving along the road. So going home is probably futile at this point. Perhaps they should throw in with the local militia? They seem to have a good thing going…
Deb goes to get some gas for the Winnie.
Jason’s computer buzzes, and some dude comes up on webcam. Ridley. He’s the guy who went, “Oh, hey, there are reports of zombie attacks. I’m going back to my house/fortress.” The other chick is there with him.
Ridley says he’s having a great time.
In the warehouse, Deb talks to Tony – something is going on.
One of the militia fills us in – one of the “soldiers” had a bad heart, and died. Only no one knows where he went.
And we’re back with Jason, who wanders through the warehouse, camera on. I think we see where this is going.
He sees something, starts to panic, then realizes he’s looking at himself in a mirror.
Tony appears suddenly, and tells Jason there’s a dead guy walking around, and they need to go.
Back at the Winnie, they check the vehicle for zombies. Nope, none there.
The head militia guy tells everyone to freeze and shut up.
Jason and Tony find the rest of the group, just as the militia spots the dead guy. They shoot him in the head.
Whoops – that wasn’t the dead guy.
The dead guy grabs Tony, who moves out of the dead guy’s grasp, and starts backing up.
One person yells out to shoot the dead guy, only the dead guy is standing near gas. So Tony grabs a jar of acid and shatters it on the dead guy’s head.
Over the course of a minute, the acid eats into the dead guy’s head, and then his brain, and then the dead guy dies.
A woman pumps some gas into the Winnie. The Head Guy tells her to stop, as they aren’t going very far. He also tells Deb that they aren’t getting any supplies – no guns, no food.
Deb says they won’t leave until they get some. Otherwise, Head Guy will have to kill them.
Head Guy gives them more gas, and food, and guns. What a pushover.
Everyone loads up. The professor decides he doesn’t want a gun, and takes a bow and arrows instead, noting that they seem “friendlier” than the guns.
Dude. When dealing with zombies, the word “friendly” should not apply.
As they’re leaving, Head Guy tells Debbie that he thinks Debbie is a lot like him.
As they drive, Tracy uses her cell phone to pull up a video from Tokyo on YouTube. A nice lady notes, “Don’t bury dead. First shoot in head.”
Then Tracy’s cell phone signal gives out. Eliot turns on the TV, and there’s no signal there either.
The end is nigh, folks. Or nigh-er, anyway.
And now, more stock-looking footage, and statements about how the mainstream was gone. You know, in case you missed it.
Back with the gang, hey, they finally made it to Deb’s house!
Deb says she’s going to go in the house, even though her family isn’t there. She tells everyone else to head out.
They opt, instead, to come in with her.
Deb opens the front door with the key, and then says she can’t remember the code for the house alarm. It’s either 102 or 201.
I’m sorry, I thought she lived here? Were her parents in the habit of installing alarm systems while she was away at school, or is she just kind of stupid?
Probably the latter.
Regardless, she punches in the wrong code, and the alarm goes off.
Eliot figures he can shut it off if he goes to the breaker box. Deb tells him it’s in the garage.
Deb goes through the house to the garage, opens the door, and sees that her family’s stuff is in the garage – they are, or were, home.
Deb starts calling for her parents, and then Tony notices something, which he points out to Deb – the passenger-side window has a hole smashed in it.
Did I mention the professor is wandering around this whole time carrying his bow and arrows? Because he totally is. I’m sure this will be important soon.
Deb tries to calmly figure out what the hole in the passenger-side window would mean. She determines that, you know, that’s her mom’s blood on the passenger-side window.
Tony figures out that Deb is about a second away from freaking right out, and he plays some bizarre psychological game with Deb, where they’re going into the house, but they’re NOT looking for her parents. They’re looking for her old doll. Whose name is Michael, Deb says. Like the archangel.
They go into the house, and Deb does some narration about how she debated whether to leave this part in the film. Oookay.
Deb wanders through the house, and her zombie brother, who looks to be in his early teens, jumps on her back and tries to eat her. The professor shoots an arrow through the brother’s head, which pins the zombie brother to the wall.
I guess he hit a stud. Or they have exceptionally strong drywall holding him up.
Deb runs out of the house. Then she runs back into the house, and finds her mom. Who is eating her dad. In, like, a zombie way.
Mom starts walking towards Deb, and the professor shoots mom through the head with an arrow.
Then he notes they should leave. This is because he’s got a doctorate, so he’s all smart.
Deb does some more narrating. It’s kind of dull. Let’s skip it.
In the Winnie, Jason sets the camera down for almost a full minute to comfort Deb. Then he gives up.
Deb asks the professor where he learned to shoot a bow and arrow. He replies, “Eaton. Archery squad. Targets, of course.”
I guess that’s a good thing. Better than it being a “The Most Dangerous Game” situation.
There’s some more banter and character-building stuff which, quite frankly, isn’t interesting enough to document. And then – headlights!
It’s the National Guard. Eliot pulls over, a member of the National Guard steps in, and asks them where they got all their stuff. They say they got it from friends.
The leader of the Guard says, “Can we be friends?”
Then he tells Jason to turn off the camera.
When the camera comes back on, the gang has been stripped of all their food, and the National Guard folks are driving away.
The “documentary” then cuts over to a group of people we’ve never seen before. Some kind of SWAT team kind of thing. They encounter some old people in what appears to be an apartment building. Then they go into an apartment, and one of them gets bitten.
They blow the zombie’s head off.
Then they kill two more zombies.
Then they get mad at the two old people, who were clearly hiding the living dead in their house. “They were family!” pleads the old man. Then they shoot him.
In the heart. So they can wake up dead. Oh, and they do the same to the old woman.
Then the dude who got bit in the neck blows his own head off.
This is followed by some commentary by Deb and Jason.
Moments later, Eliot pulls the Winnie up to Ridley’s place. The front fence is open, and the front door is unlocked.
This makes everyone nervous.
They go into the house anyway.
I guess the good news is, some of them are armed.
The better news is, there are security cameras everywhere, which gives an alternate source of black-and-white footage, instead of showing us just the stuff Jason is shooting.
They wander into the library, and the professor discovers the bookshelf, which has a bunch of first editions on it.
Suddenly, the bookshelf flies open – it’s a door to a panic room, and Ripley is behind it. Dressed in his mummy costume from the start of the film.
Yeah, that’s not creepy. At all.
They ask Ridley where his parents are, and he says out back. They ask why he left the door open, and he said it was an accident, and adds that he’s stupid.
Ridley has clearly lost his mind.
Ridley tells everyone to go do, like, whatever it is they want to do. Get some food. Drink some hooch. Take a bath.
Someone asks him why he was in the panic room, and he says that he was testing the generator.
Finally he asks where everyone’s stuff is, and they basically say they haven’t got any. Except bags of dirty clothes.
All right, let’s pause for a second.
Here are the problems with this movie:
1. There’s kind of no plot. The goals in the movie, so far, have been: Get to Deb’s house. Which led to her learning her parents were dead. So then they, 2. Go to this other house, where I’m sure we’re about to learn that everyone is dead.
As plots go, it’s sort of boring.
Added to that, we’re watching a film “made” by a bunch of student filmmakers, so they restate stuff we already know, narrate things that don’t need to be narrated, and in general, kill the suspense of going from scene to scene by intercutting news reports and the like.
If that’s what Romero was going for, it’s sort of brilliant. And the man can still put together creatively creepy stuff.
But somewhere between making “Night,” and making this movie, he went from telling a great story that happened to be layered with societal commentary, to telling a societal commentary that occasionally gives us a really interesting way to dispatch a zombie.
This whole, “All we have is dirty clothing,” line sort of lays out this problem for us. We don’t care. Dirty clothing doesn’t tell us about the characters, doesn’t really up the suspense, and doesn’t really crackle, as far as jokes go.
But whatever. Let’s wrap this up.
Jason tells Tony to take the camera. Tony, of course, resists taking the camera, because people arguing about whether or not shooting “this kind” of movie is pretty much the main focus of discussion, and it’s been nearly three minutes since someone got on Jason’s case for filming everything.
Tony follows Ridley around with the camera. Ridley babbles about his dad shooting a rabbit.
Deb enters the room, and asks where their blonde friend is, who had like three lines in the movie so far, so who really cares?
“She’s out back, with my family, and the staff,” says Ridley.
I’m going to guess they’re not out there playing a round of croquet.
Deb asks why they don’t just go see her, and Ridley says that’s a bad idea.
I know I mentioned this before, y’all, but Ridley is still wearing his mummy costume. Just keep that in mind.
Ridley explains that his dad was the first to die. Dad ate mom. Dad and mom ate the help. The help bit blondie on the face. So Ridley buried them all in the backyard.
Ridley then takes Deb and Tony to the backyard. Deb thinks this might be a bad idea, while Tony says he has to see. Way to, like, use your scruples and stuff, dude.
Ridley takes them to a big glassed-wall structure. He flips in the lights.
It’s the poolhouse. All the dead people are walking around on the bottom of the pool.
Ridley wanders off. Or runs off. I have no idea, as it happens off-camera.
Tony notes that Ridley had blood on his arm, and we get an insert shot of his arm, and sure enough, there’s blood.
Tony wonders if Ridley got bitten.
Cut to the security footage, with Ridley stumbling into the house and falling over, dead. And Eliot getting ready to take a bath. And Ridley’s undead self waking up and heading out to eat him some people.
Outside in the Winnie, Tracy throws bags on the ground, and asks Jason for help, only Jason says that he’s shooting.
And here comes Ridley, who Jason actually notes, out loud, is dead.
Ridley attacks Tracy, and Jason doesn’t do anything to help. I suppose we could argue that this is supposed to demonstrate the power of the video camera, and how it gets ahold of us, but really, all I can think is that I really hope Ridley eats Jason a lot.
Tracy calls to Jason for help, and Jason tells Tracy to run. Tracy runs. Ridley shambles after her.
Jason yells out, “See! I told you dead things move slow!” You know, from the start of the movie, when he was complaining that Ridley was walking too fast? Also, I’m sure this Romero commenting on the so-called fast zombie controversy.
Hey George, remember when your zombies were afraid of fire? No? You might want to look into that.
At any rate, Jason doesn’t lift a finger to help Tracy. Finally, he tries to “distract” Ridley by yelling, “Cut!”
Oh, it gets so much worse.
Tracy knocks Ridley over the head, which appears to re-kill him, and then she says: “Don’t mess with Texas.”
And The Yellow Rose of Texas plays on the soundtrack.
You know what? I take all my criticisms back. This is the greatest takedown of student films ever created.
As the song continues to play, Tracy gets back into the Winnie and drives away.
Deb peeks out the window and sees Tracy take off, and she and Tony debate the merits of hitting the road. Deb is all for the panic room option.
In the bathroom, Eliot blow-dries his hair until Ridley eats him.
Downstairs, Jason, Deb, and Tony do the whole, “Hey, where’s Eliot?” thing, and then the professor shows up with a gun and says he saw Ridley attack Eliot in the bathroom. He saw it on the monitors in the panic room.
The professor grabs a big old sword off the wall.
And the remaining three students argue about whether or not it’s better to survive the zombie apocalypse, or record it. Deb comes down on the survival side. Jason comes down on the recording side.
So Jason takes off, and goes to another room, where he encounters… Ridley.
Ridley bites Jason. As this happens, Deb and the professor and Tony show up. The professor puts a sword through Ridley’s head.
Jason asks Deb to kill him. So Deb shoots him in the head.
Then we cut to footage of the living Jason talking to the camera, about being given the gift of being able to document the events that have gone on.
And now we’re back in the house, with Tony and the professor calling to Deb, who’s sitting around and doing some smoking, and saying she’s going to finish Jason’s movie.
Then it’s the next day, and the professor does a whole thing about how he doesn’t like mornings and mirrors, and how they both terrify old men.
And then we get all the closed-circuit camera footage. Zombies are walking towards the house. Zombies are coming out of the pool. The Eliot zombie is coming out of the bathroom.
Deb tells the professor to close the door of the panic room. He does.
Deb cuts to some footage that Jason downloaded, of two dudes with guns who tied some dead people to trees and had target practice.
As the movie comes to a close, we see a dead woman hanging in the air, tied to a tree by her hair. One of the guys shoots her in the face, so her body drops away just below the mouth line, while the eyes keep looking around.
Deb says, “Are we worth saving? You tell me.”
Annnd… credits! Complete with chick-sung alterna-song.