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Book Review

Book Cover

Night of the Living Dead & Return of the Living Dead


Author: John Russo
Titan Books
RRP: £8.99, US $14.95
ISBN: 978 0 85768 570 4
Available 29 July 2011

Collected together here for the first time we have the horror novels, Night of the Living Dead, and Return of the Living Dead, written by John Russo under the collective title Undead. It is published by Titan Books, who maintain their high standard of well-presented books on good quality paper. There is also an interesting introduction - 'Birth of the Dead' - describing the background to these stories, and then we are straight into the action.

Of course, Night of the Living Dead became a celluloid horror classic; original, daring, and pushing established social boundaries. The script was at first jointly written by Russo and director George A. Romero, but Russo took over the full writing duties whilst Romero’s attention was directed elsewhere. It was Russo who introduced the concept of flesh-eating zombies - the first thing generally associated with this sub-genre. What is little known is that the novel form of his script wasn’t written until 1995, a full 17 years after he wrote the sequel.

This first novel is understandably familiar from the start, but hasn’t lost any of it’s edge-of-the-seat status. The narrative is flying from the start; it wastes no time in telling its tale, and sensibly concentrates on the human characters and their reactions to events, rather than on the monsters, as too many books and films make the mistake of doing these days. It’s telling that the central protagonist, Ben, isn’t there from the very beginning, but that Barbara, who is, spends the majority of the action sitting in a chair staring into space. This is essentially a siege. There is one failed escape attempt, the rest of the story being very claustrophobic, with Harry proving to be as much of a problem inside as the zombies outside. The extreme horror, whilst slightly lessened by time and general acceptability, remains very edgy, aided by a flowing prose which aids comfortable reading.

Return of the Living Dead was John Russo’s scripted sequel to the first film. Eventually, it was decided not to film the script, and instead go for a totally different and dark humorous piece, not a million miles away from what Sam Raimi did with The Evil Dead. Russo’s follow-up was written in book form in 1978. He, quite rightly I think for the time, went for a serious continuation of the original concept. It is set in the same region, but only Sheriff McClellan returns from the first story. It takes place ten years after the events of Night of the Living Dead, when the virus (hinted at being caused by a returned space exploration satellite) rears its ugly head once more. Interestingly, the central character seems to change as the story progresses. At first, it is a hard-edged farmer and his daughters, one of whom is pregnant; then it is some policemen who are not what they seem; and then some captives, who take over centre stage for the finale. And all the while we flick back to the sheriff and his armed men systematically sweeping the district of the undead.

I highly recommend this release. Both novels motor along at an incredible pace, and are definite page-turners. Oh, and you won’t want to miss the child in the cellar.


Ty Power

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