The allegorical content of mass-market genre films is always amusing to consider, and no director of cheesy flicks is more fond of allegory than George A. Romero, whose four-decade run of zombie movies continues this week with the release of “George A. Romero’s Diary of the Dead.” Romero, who like his buddy Stephen King makes no effort to disguise his leftward leanings, whipped up a parable about racism in 1968’s low- budget creepfest “Night of the Living Dead,” in which a black hero was lynched by white townsfolk. He moved on to a swat against consumerism in 1979’s “Dawn of the Dead,” which was shot in a shopping mall. Lately Romero’s viewpoint apparently has grown more extreme: in 2005’s “Land of the Dead” Romero showed that he saw contemporary America as experiencing another great Depression, dividing starkly into haves and have-nots in which the rich lived in penthouse fortresses and the poor in hovels where they prepared armed onslaughts on their business-suited betters.
“Diary of the Dead,” which, like dozens of recent films, from arthouse flicks all the way down to “Cloverfield,” is shot on jumpy hand-held cameras, says much about the fashionable left’s view of the terrorist enemy today. It takes place in a post- 9/11 world in which the zombies are unstoppable bloodthirsty savages–yet the message is that we should get used to them, sympathize with their plight and more or less admit that we’re doomed and accept it. The zombie outbreak this time starts at a murder scene where a family of dead immigrants being taken to the morgue suddenly rise up off their stretchers and start munching on the carotids of the police and other authority figures–payback time.
As a group of student filmmakers simultaneously flee the area and make a documentary about the carnage erupting around them–everyone who gets bitten by a zombie turns into one–they fight back half-heartedly, talking about their guilty feelings and describing themselves as no better than the supernatural killers. As they talk about society’s failures during, for instance, Hurricane Katrina, and look at news footage about looting and paranoia breaking out all over the country in the wake of the zombie attacks, the tone of the movie evolves from a resolve to fight back to despair and surrender. We, meaning America, have brought this on ourselves, they learn. Now we’ll just have to pay the price.