Friday, August 8, 2008


One of the goals of 365 Days is to look at how the living dead are treated in various genres; we've got plenty of horror films, obviously, as well as a plethora of comedies and a surprising number of love stories. What I was really hoping to find were some zombie documentaries--ostensibly real ones, not mock-docs like AMERICAN ZOMBIES--but aside from a few specials on The History Channel I was coming up empty. The closest I could find that fit my admittedly loose criteria was Roy Frumkes's 1989 making-of documentary DOCUMENT OF THE DEAD. (And if anyone out there knows of any "real" zombie docs--especially in the vein of those searching-for-Bigfoot films from the '70s--please let me know.)

DOCUMENT is both a behind-the-scenes look at George Romero's DAWN OF THE DEAD as well as an informal study of the director's style and technique. Unlike similar projects which serve as glorified electronic press kits, this is a true making-of film; Frumkes follows Romero around DAWN's Monroeville Mall location, gleaning bits of production trivia (for example: shooting was suspending during the Christmas season so time wasn't wasted removing and replacing the mall's holiday decorations) and Romero's thoughts on the filmmaking process.

In addition to the filming of DAWN, Frumkes studies Romero's directorial methods, using clips from MARTIN and the original NIGHT to analyze his stylistic consistency. We also get a look at Romero in the editing bay before segueing to the TWO EVIL EYES set. It's fascinating stuff, and aspiring film students should check it out.

As interesting as all of this is, DOCUMENT often the mirrors the tedium that permeates film shoots--most notably during the EYES segment, where Tom Savini repeatedly tries to get Ramy Zada's death scene to work--and there's little that revelatory (aside from a brief clip deleted from EYES and a FANTASTIC VOYAGE-inspired detergent commercial from Romero's early days). Frumkes also rounds out the film with talking heads Gahan Wilson, Steve Bissette, and the Phantom of the Movies as they discuss NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD's cultural impact, but it acts more as filler and barely grazes the surface.

A look into the mind of zombiedom's most influential director, DOCUMENT OF THE DEAD is recommended to both student filmmakers and die-hard Romero fans. Casual fans, though, might get a little antsy.

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