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Diary of the Dead is the fifth movie in the "Dead" series written and directed by George A. Romero, and marked his return to making independent films after Land of the Dead.

The movie is mostly made up of footage from the two portable cameras the characters carry, with occasional shots from surveillance cameras and video clips downloaded off the Internet. In a clever section of the movie they show the characters editing the section of the movie the viewer has just seen.

The movie opens on a news report, being narrated by the Final Girl, explaining the reasoning behind the movie itself. The main story line starts of with a group of film students, along with their sardonic boozing professor, making a classic cliched horror movie. When the group hears escalating radio reports of people coming back from the dead, the shoot falls apart, with monster-player Ridley departing in his sport car as the rest of the group leaves in a Winnebago.

The cameraman/director, Jason, decides to return to their university to pick up his girlfriend, Debra, but the Winnebago plows through a group of zombies on the road along the way; still skeptical that they are in fact the walking dead, the grief-stricken driver, Mary, shoots herself. The others take her to a hospital, which turns out to be abandoned — at least by the living. The remaining survivors are quickly forced into the realization that the Zombie Apocalypse is indeed upon them.

Heading for Debra's home, they have encounters with the zombie-movie equivalent of Wacky Wayside Tribes: a Badass mute Amish farmer, a group of black people who have set up a survivalist-type fort, and (briefly) a gang of National Guard deserters. When they finally reach their destination, they find that Debra's family are all either dead or zombiefied, so they decide to go to the mansion owned by Ridley's family.

The group finds Ridley alive, but come to the painfully belated realization that the rest of his family is dead or walking dead, and he has been bitten. Still wearing his mummy movie-costume, he ends up reenacting the opening horror movie scene; Tracy, the "victim" in the horror movie, becomes disgusted and drives off in the Winnebago. Ridley kills two of the group, including Jason, and the movie ends with Debra, the professor and Tony watching from a "panic room" as a growing horde of zombies slowly breaks into the estate.

Contains examples of the following tropes:

  • Abandoned Hospital
  • Action Girl / Heroic Bystander: In the opening scene, a female paramedic karate-kicks a zombie in the head.
  • A House Divided
  • Apocalyptic Log: The movie is the log.
  • Autopsy Snack Time: In the opening sequence, the cameraman filming some body-collecting EMTs grouses about how one of their crew is eating his lunch off-camera, despite the gore.
  • Badass Grandpa: The Professor starts off drunk and looking pretty feeble. He turns out to be a war veteran and a crack archer. Also Samuel, the mute Amish toting sticks of dynamite. And a scythe.
  • Better to Die Than Be Killed: Presumably why Samuel scythes himself in the head when attacked by a zombie. No chance of coming back, at least.
  • Boom! Headshot!
  • Bottomless Magazines: Mary's .380 automatic pistol.
  • Broad Strokes: Arguably an Alternate Continuity, this film rolls the clock back to the original zombie outbreak, but is set in modern times instead of the late 60s. This applies to all of Romero's Dead previous dead movies of course, being part of the same continuity but each filmed in a different decade.
  • Broken Heel: Lampshaded twice in the movie.
  • The Cameo: Stephen King, Wes Craven, Simon Pegg, Quentin Tarantino and Guillermo Del Toro all voice radio announcers, and Romero himself has a small role as police captain.
  • Camera Abuse
  • Clothing Damage: Lampshaded.
  • Dead Line News: The film opens with a TV news crew covering a murder-suicide in an apartment complex. During filming the corpses reanimate, then begin attacking the EMTs moving them out of the building; one of them then turns on the TV reporter and cameraman.
  • Department of Redundancy Department: The movie made by Jason Creed about the Zombie Apocalypse is called "The Death of Death".
  • Distressed Damsel: First played straight then subverted.
  • Doesn't Like Guns: After giving one of their colleagues who's turning into a zombie the coup-de-grace, The Professor hands the pistol over to someone else, saying it's too easy to use. Later however he picks up a bow saying that it "feels friendlier" (we later discover that he's a former member of the archery team at Eton).
  • Driven to Suicide Poor Mary; worse when you consider she didn't even do it right and instead of dying a quick, painless death, she has to suffer through a gaping head wound until she finally dies.
  • Dueling Movies: In the UK at least, Diary was released at almost the exact same time as REC, another handheld zombie film. Some critics drew unfavourable comparisons between the two.
  • Evil Clown: Footage from the camera salvaged at the hospital shows a zombie clown attacking at a child's birthday party.
  • Eye Scream
  • Final Girl: Not played entirely straight. Debra is the narrator and protagonist (and survives) but while she isn't The Millstone she doesn't actually contribute much to killing zombies or keeping the group safe (even her quick thinking use of a defibrillator doesn't truly finish off a zombie).
  • Genre Savvy: With horror movies, but clearly not with zombie movies.
  • Handicapped Badass: The Amish farmer Samuel kills himself some zombies and offs himself and the zombie who bit him by shoving a scythe through his and the zombie's head.
  • Humans Are Bastards: "Are we worth saving? You tell me." are the last words spoken in the movie, over a viral video of two men using a tied-up zombie woman for target practice.
    • Which is odd, since the film didn't make any overall comment on humanity except for this last scene at the very end.
    • Nor did it imply zombies are anything other than shambling killers with no value.
      • But the movies have always been about how the still-human population react to events. Even if you believe zombies don't have value, tying one up by the hair and using 'it' for target practise doesn't say much about the shooter's value as a human being.
  • Idiot Ball: Honestly, half of the victims pretty much deserved to die due to their terrifying moments of stupidity. Special mention goes to the guy who gets killed because he can't hear a zombie approaching while blowdrying his hair.
    • Special mention goes to the camera man, who caused the deaths of the above guy, and himself, because he left his friend-turned-zombie to get back up instead of finishing him off, when the whole group's seen the need, and shown the willingness, to execute their friends after they turned.
    • Or the whole group when they arrive at the mansion and see that the iron gates and the front door is wide open. After going in and finding their friend, who is obviously a bit off and is all by himself, he assures them that everything is fine. Despite all the warning signs, they decide to relax and have a shower (mentioned above) or start having a drink. Surprise surprise, their friend is crazy and there's zombies in the pool.
  • Improbable Aiming Skills: All the characters are able to pull off headshots as the plot demands.
  • Inferred Holocaust
  • Jittercam
  • Just Before the End
  • Lonely Rich Kid
  • Not Using the Z Word
  • Made of Plasticine: Come on, they sliced a head in half, vertically.
    • With a bastard sword being two-handed, to be fair. While it's debatable whether it was sharpened or not (it was a prop on a wall), if it WAS actually properly sharpened, then yes, it's possible given enough strength behind the blow. It should have gotten stuck in the bone, however.
  • Magical Defibrillator: Making a zombie's eyes explode is magical, right?
  • Mirror Scare
  • Mixed Archetypes
  • Monster Clown: The recording they found of a zombiefied clown bitting someone at a child's birthday party.
  • One-Scene Wonder The deaf Amish man the group meet halfway during the movie. Blows up a handful of zombie, with Jason crying incredulously "I thought the Amish were friendly folk!" as he holds up a small chalkboard hanging around his neck for him to communicate saying "My name is Samuel, hello", while bits of earth and zombie fall from the sky. Probably one of the few likeable characters in the entire movie.
  • Phony Newscast
  • Raised Catholic: Mary keeps a St. Christopher medal in her possession.
  • Room Full of Zombies: The pool house has zombies at the bottom of the pool. They're corpses at first... but then they reanimate.
  • Sanity Slippage: Ridley. Possibly Jason.
  • Show Within a Show: "The Death Of Death"
  • Take That: Jason's criticism that dead things are slow.
  • Taking You with Me: The Amish farmer's solution to having a zombie bite him on the neck from behind, is to swing his scythe upwards, straight through his own head and that of the attacking zombie.
  • The Cameo: Both Romero and the make-up director appear in the movie. Not forgetting voices overs from various horror icons.
  • The Documentary: The film itself
  • The Millstone: You could say it's Jason as he doesn't help, he just films the events. Arguably Debra as well...
    • They seem to be a much straighter playing of The Load. They don't really cause any problems, but don't really contribute anything positive either.
  • The Undead
  • Useless Protagonist
  • Too Dumb to Live: There are zombies killing everyone, Jason. Put the damn camera down.
    • This is played with. Jason is too busy filming to get involved most of the time, but almost everybody else is pretty useful in fighting the zombies. But as he points out to Debra at one point, his documentary being uploaded to the internet is showing pretty much anyone around the world who watches it exactly what they need to do to survive themselves. Debra's voice-over mentions that she agrees with this point in hindsight.
    • There were several occasions where he could have placed the camera in a position to get the shot as well as help out with saving his friends from turning into mindless undead.
  • Wacky Wayside Tribe: As noted above. A common complaint about this movie is that most of these "tribes" are more interesting than the main characters. The Guard deserters become the protagonists of Romero's later movie Survival of the Dead.
  • You Fail Statistics Forever: A radio broadcast says that the number of deaths caused by the zombies will quadruple. It then says that it will increase by 100%, even though quadrupling is to increase by 300%.
  • Zombie Apocalypse
  • Zombie Gait: Although Romero's zombie children never seem to be affected.
  • Zombie Infectee Averted for the most part. There is a few exceptions, but the characters honestly didn't know any better.
    • When Gordo is bitten and dies, Amy insists that he might not come back like the others (even though, yes, he will). So they go by her wishes and wait to see if he will or won't (which he will). When he does, they're Genre Savvy enough to position her several feet away with a gun for when he inevitably does.