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Sundance: The Horror! The Horror!

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Forget Cloverfield! I'm going with zombie master George A. Romero for using a handheld digital camera to cut deep into the YouTube-ification of America. The Sundance Film Festival offers midnight screenings of new movies to scare the bejesus out of you. And pride of place for 2008 goes to Romero's Diary of the Dead. Yes, it's the fifth chapter in a zombie series that began with the classic Night of the Living Dead forty years ago. The great thing about Romero is that his horror movies always have a subversive subtext. "I see something shitty happening in the world," Romero told me, "and I slap some zombies on it." Romero tacks a wicked laugh onto his statement, but he's dead serious. The something shitty this time — joining dehumanization and consumerism — is our tendency to stick a camera in front of everything. As one college babe tells her student filmmaker boyfriend, "for you, if it's not on film it never happened." Unlike Cloverfield, which uses the woozy handheld camera as a gimmick, Diary of the Dead uses it to ask what the hell out there is turning us into a nation of peeping Toms and Tinas. His characters, in the process of making an amateur horror flick outside of Pittsburgh, find terror for real: the dead are rising from their graves and looking to chow down on new victims. The students try to make their getaway in a Winnebago, but zombies are persistent. A mindblowing sequence in a hospital — one of Romero's most nervefrying — turns a place of safety and healing into a breeding ground for ravenous, drooling creatures who can only be stopped by blowing off their effing heads. And through it all, the camera is always there, showing the worst of us, such as two good old boys using zombies for target practice. Romero is asking us: do we stop at the scene of an accident to help or to look? The best scary movies show the monster invading us from the inside. This is one of the very best.

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Peter Travers

Rolling Stone senior writer Peter Travers has reviewed movies for the magazine for more than 20 years. Send your comments and questions to him here.

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