Return of the Living Dead (UK: Arrow Books,
Tagline: "They're back from the grave and ready to
This one is an anomaly of sorts. It might get
complicated, so pay attention. In 1978, John Russo
(who co-wrote the classic Night of the Living Dead
with George Romero) wrote a novel called Return of
the Living Dead. When it was to be filmed, after the
original director bowed out, Dan O'Bannon was brought in to re-write the
script and ended up directing it. By the time he was done, the project
resembled John Russo's novel pretty much in name only. Russo was given
screenwriting credit though it was more of a "creative consultant" kind of
thing. So the movie was made. When it was time for the novelization, they
threw the bone to Russo who wrote a novelization of the screenplay based
on the title and not the content of the book he had earlier written. At which
point Russo, instead of writing his novelization directly off the script,
changed character names and added new plot elements, farther straying
away from his earlier novel. Got all that? Good. Sounds like a movie based
on making this movie would have been more interesting than the movie
But onto our book, Return of the Living Dead.
First off we meet Freddy Travis who works at a medical supply warehouse
called Uneeda (heh! Uneeda a cadaver, we got 'em!). Freddy's trying to
clean up his act since his friend died of an overdose. Freddy's boss, Frank,
shows him the ropes, pointing out all the goodies stored in the warehouse,
everything from human skeletons to organs to a dog that is split in half and
mounted. He takes him downstairs where the corpses are and shows him
bodies inside barrels that belong to the U.S. Army (zombie specimens from
the original Night of the Living Dead outbreak). Opening the cap on one of
the barrels, Frank decides they can't see the body good enough so they tip
it and it falls over and spills all over the place...releasing a chemical gas
that makes them pass out and reanimates the dead things in the
warehouse and in the appropriately named Resurrection Cemetery next
door. And that is the hinge upon which our story swings. Regaining
consciousness, Freddy and Frank decide to clean up the spill and that's
when they realize that everything from the split dog to the corpses in the
cold room are alive and pissed off, screaming and banging at the door to
get out. That's when Frank calls the Army emergency number to explain
And it is quite a problem, as one cop discovers:
"He whirled and fired, blowing one of the ghouls apart, blasting flying
chunks of gristle and bone and dead meat out of its abdomen so that the
torso was cut in two--but the two halves of the thing continued to writhe and
crawl in the muddy grass."
Because you just can't keep a good corpse down:
"Lightning flashed, and he saw a corpse looking right up into his eyes,
with blood all over its mouth and chin. It was munching on a human arm that
still wore a tatter of a white paramedic uniform. The corpse was old and
hideous, mostly a skeleton held together by tendons and dried, decayed
Russo seemed to be having fun in this book, describing Ghastly,
Gruesome, and Gor-ifying events with splendor. We get to find out about
Operation Drummer Boy, the Army cover-up, some CIA spooks that
defected to the Russians, the KGB's aims to make the zombie horror
overtake the U.S. And if that isn't enough, we have brain-munching
zombies galore and some unintentionally hilarious 1980's "New Wave"
types...or what writers and directors seemed to think they were. The movie
itself was presented as kind of a horror-comedy like Reanimator, but a lot of
the funny stuff in the film doesn't translate so well to the printed page (and
maybe that's not such a bad thing). Going off-topic slightly, I've always
wondered if the seed of Russo's/Romero's Night of the Living Dead wasn't
the following from Ornella Volta's book The Vampire:
"Given the greater number of dead than living on this earth, a revolt of
the dead against the living who had buried them would certainly end in
defeat for the latter."
Pros: Like the movie itself, this is a fun slice of 1980's pop culture...with
zombies and ridiculous teenagers. You gotta love that medical/anatomical
warehouse and the split dog!
Cons: The characters are about as cardboard as you would suspect and
their motivations are often silly as in any 1980's horror film (Freddy and
Frank attempting to mop up the toxic waste is a good example).
Overall: Like the novelization of Piranha, I had a good time with this and it
makes for a fast read with nary a plot complication to tax your brain.
3½ bloody skulls out of five.
Our next Guilty Pleasure:
"From the blackest pits of hell..."