I became an adamant fan of zombie horror in general and anything Night of the Living Dead in particular during early childhood. The old black and white movie just vibrated paranoia, a certain elemental human elegance intermixed with the baser instincts of cowardice and the need to survive. It’s a cult classic for a reason; it’s a story that covers all the bases in one night: what are we (really) and what can we become. Throw in a scary yet relatable premise, an ultimate psychological gut-punch with the dead, whom we loved, resurrected, broken, and out to get us and the ever-terrifying idea of some mystery plague that takes us (and our technology) all the way back to the primitive days of shivering in the dark, waiting for the sun. The 1990s remake capitalized even further on the nature of horror, both from outside sources and worse, from inside ourselves.
Enter my discovery of Undead, a compilation of two John Russo (one of the screen writers of the original ’68 movie) novels: the Night of the Living Dead novelization, based on the script, and the rarer, Russo writing of its sequel, Return of the Living Dead. This sequel, unlike the horror/comedy movie that bears its name, is a Russo only version that occurred after his split with Romero. This version is touted as a true sequel, all horror, focusing on the same area ten years later when another outbreak swells after a gruesome bus crash. It has nothing to do with the movie, at all.
Of course, what the back-cover tells you and what the book actually is usually differs. Here, we have a blunt yet disconnected gore-fest where the zombies take backstage and the humans, using this new break in the system to wreak some havoc, are the most dangerous villains. No more banding together. Instead, we once again have a rural farm house, a group of teenage sisters, a gang of rapist robbers, and the overarching moral that zombies are nothing compared to evil incompetents on a mission to thwart the system (and do some amazingly petty larceny) while it’s weak. Admittedly, it’s a premise that could work, could even prove more horrifying than our cannibal corpse munching stars. But it doesn’t.
Return of the Living Dead Frances Carden
Frances has a Masters in Fiction Writing from Johns Hopkins and works as a technical writer during the day, where she attempts to make software exciting.