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Sidney J. Furie
Billy Dee Williams,
"Diary of the Dead" (1976) is a solid suspense story with something of a Hitchcock feeling of irony. The story is unique. It's a 70s-style noir, in color, darkly filmed, placing the protagonist (Hector Elizondo) in a great deal of trouble, and circling around troubled relationships and murderous passion.
This movie held my attention the whole way, featuring strong acting from the entire cast. Elizondo is an unemployed man, married to Salome Jens who works. They live in the house of their harridan mother-in-law (Geraldine Fitzgerald), who is in bad health. Her hatred of Elizondo and his for her are tangible and continuous. She continually holds over their heads the prospect of inheriting her money, but they disbelieve her claim. Elizondo takes refuge in crossword puzzles and his garden, but an intrusive neighbor (Joseph Maher) affords him more conflict. When an elderly aunt visits and drops dead in the living room, Elizondo sees a way to overcome his intolerable situation. His plan runs into more difficulties than he imagined or we may have thought, and that's what makes this tale interesting.
The title is misleading in view of Romero's films. This is not a zombie film. Think instead of diary as a metaphor for something left behind by the dead that is revealing, like a diary.
The subtext of the movie is an insufferable closeness and intrusiveness that's inflicted upon Elizondo. He has no privacy or psychological space. He cannot find work that suits him, and his home life in a lower middle class neighborhood is torn apart by the presence of Fitzgerald and Maher, who also form an alliance. Fitzgerald knows how to interrupt his love life and even his taking a shower. The feeling is claustrophobic. His garden is even threatened at one point by workmen seeking to lay cable lines. Maher's dog intrudes too and Elizondo hates the animal. He's reduced to conversations with a friendly bartender. When he executes his plan, he runs right up against a scheming landlady, who again threatens his privacy. Elizondo feels trapped.
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