George A. Romeroï¿½s return to the zombie game after his uneven big-budget 2006 feature Land of the Dead finds the horror legend back in his own element. Diary of Dead is a fresh start in form and function; a low-budget indie feature that resets the clock begun in Night of the Living Dead back to the first day that the flesh-eating undead rise.
The events unfold through the eyes of student filmmakers escaping the zombies via Pennsylvania backcountry roads, recording the carnage along the way.
Their footage is the totality of Diary ï¿½ a film-within-a-film conceit that proves very effective. This is easily the most frightening film that Romero has produced in ages. Hand-held camerawork gives a striking immediacy to the destruction, bringing viewers face-to-face with unnerving, realistic brutality inflicted upon man and zombie alike. The believable horror, nihilism and dread are very intense ï¿½ a needed counterbalance to the weak acting and dialogue (never Romero strengths).
As with all of Romero's zombie films, a not-too-subtle social commentary runs throughout. Media saturation, obsession and complacency in the face of catastrophe are the current targets, and Romero skewers them with obvious, broad strokes, from the student who refuses to release his camera even under attack to the use of real news footage from contemporary disasters as poignant stand-ins for a world under siege.
The DVD is rounded out by interesting bonus features, including multiple behind-the-scenes docs, interviews and amateur shorts, including a humorous look at surviving an outbreak in Las Vegas, directed by Teller of Penn & Teller fame. (Phil Morehart) Grade: B+