The Zombie Diaries is a 2006 low budget English end-of-the-world zombie film that has now become the latest entry in the Dimension Extreme catalog here in the United States. Before discussing the film itself, let's review the accolades that Dimension has seen fit to plaster all over the cover art:
THE BEST ZOMBIE FILM EVER (large text, back cover)
A BLOODY POWERHOUSE OF A MOVIE (semi-large text, front cover)
Better than Danny Boyle's 28 Days Later (red text at the start of the blurb, back cover)
While I don't want to take umbrage with the writers quoted above (and those of two additional glowing comments within the blurb itself), The Zombie Diaries, it has to be said, is none of the above. This isn't the best zombie film ever and it certainly isn't an equal to 28 Days Later, nor even its sequel 28 Weeks Later.
What The Zombie Diaries offers is another go-round on the shaky hand-held cam on-the-cheap horror movie cycle popularized by The Blair Witch Project and utilized way too often since.
But, as such, it really isn't that bad. The zombie effects here are fairly convincing, albeit routine. The make-up on the zombies is adequate, and the action fairly realistic - although after seeing the tenth zombie felled by a carefully-aimed rifle, it does start to become a bit tedious.
What makes The Zombie Diaries a success are its unconventional timeline and interesting characters. The Zombie Diaries is largely broken up into three parts: The Outbreak, The Scavengers, and The Survivors. As is often the scenario in modern zombie films, a virus has spread across the globe, animating the recently departed and creating an insatiable appetite for human flesh. At first, England thinks it may be safe, but of course, it isn't. In a relatively short span of time, England is overrun.
The Zombie Diaries, then, follows some human survivor groups who are recording their travails for various reasons. It's a bit off-putting to be suddenly moved from group to group (and a month after the events of the first diary in the second diary), but the movie comes full circle in the end connecting the disparate storylines - with the ultimate terror not coming from the zombies but from mentally disturbed humans themselves.
Some of the horrific scenes are quite well-done given the clearly limited budgetary constraints. The acting isn't bad either. Zombie fans should find a lot to like here. I'd recommend it to others too, but keep in mind this is Dimension Extreme territory and the movie is definitely a hard R.
The Zombie Diaries is given an anamorphic widescreen presentation. The film was shot on handheld video, so the video quality is fairly lacking. Colors are washed out. Details are lacking. Aliasing and other artifacts are plentiful. Since this is yet another horror film that cobbles together "eyewitness" video accounts, however, the defects purposely add to the ambience of dread.
Considering the video quality, it should come as no surprise that the audio is lacking here as well. An uninspired Dolby Digital 2.0 English language track is all you'll find. Dialogue is inconsistent and often hard to hear, especially when characters are distant from the camera. The score is rather minimal, however, and doesn't intrude upon the proceedings.
Subtitle options in Spanish and English for the Hearing Impaired are available.
When the disc is played, trailers precede the main menu for The Wizard of Gore, Automotan Transfusion, Inside, and Night of the Living Dead. There isn't a link for these in the main menu, but a Theatrical Trailer link does give access to a trailer for The Zombie Diaries itself.
More importantly, two feature-length audio commentaries are available. The first has writers, producers and directors Michael Bartlett and Kevin Gates. The second has cast members Russell Jones, Anna Blades, Craig Stovin, Jonathan Ball, and Hiram Bleetman. A random sampling suggests both tracks are lively and entertaining.
One can also view many deleted scenes with a menu system that is awkward at best. Each segment of the film has its own deleted scenes gallery, and each has a separate Play All option as well as access to each scene individually. The scenes are in widescreen but are not anamorphic. The Outbreak deleted scenes run 4:55; The Scavengers 2:40; and The Survivors 6:37.
Finally, there's a feature called Until the Last Light Goes Out: The Making of the Zombie Diaries. Running at a generous 56:34, this is an in-depth look at the making of the film with comments from the cast and crew. It's widescreen, but like the deleted scenes, it's nonanamorphic.
While not a classic in its own right, The Zombie Diaries is an interesting low budget shaky cam take on the traditional zombie apocalypse narrative. There are enough traditional zombie gore scenes and engaging characters here to warrant a look. Recommended.