Diary of the Dead is the fifth film in Romero's highly acclaimed Living Dead series of zombie films. It is not a direct sequel to previous films in the series, instead being "a rejigging of the myth" according to Romero.
Diary of the Dead follows a band of people making a horror film at the time of the first outbreak who decide to record the epidemic incident documentary-style and end up themselves being chased down by zombies.
The movie begins with news reporters filming a story about the death of an immigrant couple and their child. As they are wheeled out of their apartment building on a gurney, the mother and the child suddenly wake up and attack the emergency services crew on site. Both are shot in the head, but not before biting quite a few of the people.
After an introduction to the zombie documentary ('The Death of Death') mostly filmed by Jason Creed (Joshua Close), a film student at the University of Pittsburgh, the film cuts to the group of students filming a mummy horror movie in the woods in the middle of the night, with Jason directing. The actor playing the mummy, Ridley Wilmot (Phillip Riccio), is lectured on the way a corpse moves and the make-up artist, Tony Ravelo (Shawn Roberts), on not doing a good enough job on the make-up of the zombie. While the group argues, another student, named Elliot Stone (Joe Dinicol), declares that something strange is on the news. All the students, and their supervising professor hear the reports of the dead waking, and Tony scoffs at the news. After hearing the report, Ridley decides to head to his home in Philadelphia, along with his girlfriend Francine Shane (Megan Park), another student.
The group gets into their Winnebago and heads over towards the university dorms to pick up Debra Monahan (Michelle Morgan), Jason's girlfriend. Entering the abandoned dormitory, he finds Debra in her room, attempting to get through to her parents, but to no avail. On the laptop computer next to her is the news report that was shown at the beginning of the movie. They get on the road once more, and Jason requests that each of the people introduce themselves to the camera, because he believes what is going on will be a part of history, and wants to document everything. Each of the group members introduce themselves hesitantly, starting with Mary Dexter (Tatiana Maslany), the driver, and moving to Debra, and Tony, then to Elliot, Gordo Thorson (Chris Violetti), his girlfriend Tracy Thurman (Amy Lalonde), and finally their professor, Andrew Maxwell (Scott Wentworth). While they drive, they encounter a car accident on the side of the road, where a State Trooper slowly stumbles towards the caravan. The students are frightened as he looks as though he has been fried from the fire of the accident. He begins to pound on the door, and the group quickly drive off, running over three other zombies as they escape.
Mary falls quickly into depression as she realizes that she has murdered three people. Stopping for a break outside, Mary shoots herself with a pistol she was carrying, prompting the group to panic. Discovering that she still has a pulse, they rush to an abandoned hospital, looking for help. The group splits up, and Gordo hears a chaotic radio transmission. The group eventually find a doctor hidden behind a curtain. They call for his help, only to discover that he is a zombie. After firing shots into his torso, they realize the only way to put an end to him is to shoot him in the head. After killing him, an undead nurse starts to stumble towards them. After losing its eyes due to Debra zapping her head with a defibrillator, Gordo puts an end to her by shooting her in the head too.
Running out of battery power for the camera, Jason opts to stay with a comatose Mary while it charges. He hears Debra screaming, but remains where he is, not wanting to leave his camera. Debra comes back, with another video camera in hand, and lectures Jason about his documentation being more important than their lives. Mary suddenly groans as she begins to turn into a zombie. The professor confiscates the pistol from Gordo's hands and kills Mary. On their way out of the hospital, a zombie patient bites Gordo in the arm before Elliot stabs the patient in the head with an IV pole.
A few hours later it is dawn. The group bury Mary, and Gordo is dead. Tony prepares to shoot him, but Tracy stops him, pleading for him to wait and see whether he will turn. Gordo then does wake up as a zombie, and Tracy kills her boyfriend herself. They get on the road again, only to have the caravan break down due to a broken fuel line. They find a barn and its deaf owner, Samuel, an Amish man. After repairing the fuel line, the group prepares to leave. But several zombies appear from out of nowhere and attack. Samuel is bitten and stabs himself in the head with a scythe, thus killing the zombie behind him in the process.
Another few hours later, the group encounters a band of rugged African-American survivors who have stocked a fortified warehouse with supplies. Jason uploads the footage he has shot so far on the Internet, and gets 72,000 message replies within eight minutes from around the world. Debra receives a text message on her cell phone from her little brother, claiming they are safe and heading home. Just before leaving, Ridley calls Jason via webcam and invites him over to his mansion in Philadelphia saying that he and Francine are safe. The group gathers some supplies from the warehouse after Tony kills a zombie and proving his worth to the rugged survivors.
The group then sets out again to Debra's home. When they arrive, they find Debra's parent's car in the garage with the passenger window smashed and bloody. As they search the house, Debra is ambushed by her undead brother, who is quickly killed by Professor Maxwell with a bow and arrow. Debra also finds her zombie mother who had been chewing on her dead father. She is also killed by the professor, who claims that they need to leave.
As night falls once again, the group decides to head over to Ridley's home hoping to find santuary. Before they get there, the group encounters two jeeps with four soldiers from the National Guard, who stop them. While the other three soldiers stand guard around the trailer, the colonel (Alan Van Sprang) enters the camper asking where they are going. After ordering Jason to turn the camera off, the four rouge soldiers quickly steal all their supplies, save for their weapons, and drive away, leaving the students with no food or water.
A few more hours later, the group finally arrives at Ridley's home, only to find the front door open. Searching the home, Ridley surprises them as he comes out of a panic room in the library that has a two-foot thick steel door and is filled with video camera monitors eyeing the whole grounds. Tracy and Jason go and unload the caravan while Tony films Ridley going through the kitchen, looking for some food. His strange behavior alarms both Tony and Debra, who ask where Francine and his family are. He claims that they are all dead, and that he has buried them. He shows the two their bodies, who have been carelessly dumped into the swimming pool, but not before Tony noticing a bite wound on Ridley's hand. Ridley quickly turns, and goes outside where Jason is filming Tracy unloading the caravan. The zombie Ridley suddenly attacks her, but she manages to run. Jason follows them with his camera, and distracts Ridley as Tracy smacks a stick into Ridley's back, knocking him out.
Angered that Jason simply filmed her as her life was in jeopardy, Tracy takes the caravan and drives off on her own. In the bathroom, Elliot dries his hair with a blow dryer as he is ambushed by the undead Ridley, causing him to fall into the tub and killing him from electrocution.
Professor Maxwell suggests they head into the panic room after seeing Elliot's death on the TV monitors, but Jason refuses, claiming he doesn't want to be shut off from the rest of the world. He lies that he'll go into the panic room, and while the rest of the group are busy stocking up, he sneaks away, only to run into Zombie Ridley. The group hears the commotion and find Jason being bitten by Zombie Ridley on the ground. Zombie Ridley's head is sliced in half by the professor, leaving Jason lying on the floor. He begs Debra to shoot him, which she does.
The next morning, vowing to continue his movie, Debra uses the camera and takes Jason's place and begins to record their actions. Debra, Tony, and Professor Maxwell spot hundreds of zombies breaking into the mansion from all directions and a dead Elliot walking around the house. The professor quickly closes and locks the panic room door as the zombies move inside the house sealing the three survivors inside the panic room... with no hope of escape or rescue. The movie ends with Debra explaining how inhumane some humans are, and questions whether the human race is really worth saving.
- Michelle Morgan as Debra Moynihan
- Joshua Close as Jason Creed
- Shawn Roberts as Tony Ravello
- Amy LaLonde as Tracy Thurman
- Joe Dinicol as Eliot Stone
- Scott Wentworth as Andrew Maxwell
- Philip Riccio as Ridley Wilmott
- Chris Violette as Gordo Thorsen
- Tatiana Manslany as Mary Dexter
- Todd Schroeder as Brody
- Daniel Kash as Police Officer
- Laura DeCarteret as Bree
- Martin Roach as Stranger
- Megan Park as Francine Shane
- George Buza as Tattooed Biker