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The Definitive Document of the Dead


It’s all messed up.

Rod Lott November 26th, 2012

Significantly updated from his 1985 documentary, The Definitive Document of the Dead promises to be the last word director Roy Frumkes has to say on his subject of zombie godfather George A. Romero. If not, perhaps it should be.

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By the film’s own opening-crawl admission, Document is intended as a teaching tool, so its nature is purposely freeform — and how! Narrated by the late Susan Tyrell (until the new sections), the film captures Romero and friends at work on 1978’s Dawn of the Dead, the now-classic sequel to 1968’s classic Night of the Living Dead. It’s kind of funny watching actors speaking eloquently while being interviewed in full makeup. New footage has Frumkes reconnecting with Romero on the set of his more recent Dead trilogy: the far less effective one, kicked off by 2005’s Land and limping toward 2009’s Survival.

Along the way, viewers get scattered bits patched together with Scotch tape, including a Claymation intro, an old Calgon commercial directed by Romero, a discussion of the MPAA’s ratings system, a stereo store’s sales ad parodying Night, cartoonist Gahan Wilson pleading to be a zombie, a trailer for a presumed porn titled Night of the Giving Head, recollection of the Monkey Shines simian being in heat, and party footage that proves interminable.

What Document does right occurs early: lending credibility to the horror film as a viable vehicle for storytelling, using a dialogue-free sequence from 1976’s Martin as an example. From there — and I say this as a fan of his films — it fails to fascinate even at a passive level. It’s great if you want to hear what he did for his kids for Christmas, but not to find any real insight for fright-flick fans. Again, that’s by design. —Rod Lott

 
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