Book Review: Night of the Living Dead by John A. Russo


A few years ago, I found a slightly beat-up copy of John Russo’s novelization of Night of the Living Dead at Half-Price Books. Of course, I immediately purchased it. From my own knowledge of the making of George Romero’s classic horror movie, I knew that John Russo was the one who came up with an idea involving zombies which led to Romero writing a story outline for Night of the Living Dead which Russo then turned into the film’s screenplay.

I also knew that Romero and Russo had a falling out of sorts after the success of Night of the Living Dead. With the film in the public domain as the result of a screw-up on the part of the movie’s distributor, there was some controversy over who had the rights to the original’s story. That’s one reason why the titles of Romero’s subsequent zombie films (i.e., Dawn of the Dead, Day of the Dead, Land of the Dead, and the rest) were all about “the Dead” as opposed to “the Living Dead.” Russo’s subsequent zombie-themed work (i.e. Return of the Living Dead) featured the term “Living Dead” and was also sold as a sequel to the original Night of the Living Dead.

With all that in mind, I was curious to see what Russo’s novelization would be like. What extra information would the book contain about the characters? Would there be any extra details that were cut from the film? How about an alternate ending? It’s been known to happen. (Check out the novelization for Halloween if you want to see how much a novelization can differ from the film that inspired it.)

Well, it turns out that novelization of Night of the Living Dead is pretty much a straight recreation of the film. We do learn a bit more about just how bad a relationship Barbara has with her brother Johnny. And it’s firmly established that Ben was a truck driver before the dead came back to life. Otherwise, it’s pretty much just the movie in novel form. We don’t learn much about the characters that we didn’t already know. Harry is still stubborn and cowardly. Ben is still the designated hero who manages to get everyone killed through his own stubbornness. Barbara is still catatonic for most of the book. (I know some would complain about Barbara being so passive but her stunned disbelief is perhaps the most realistic part of the film and the novel. That’s how most of us would react to going through what she’s just been through.) Russo is a good writer and he does a good job capturing the tension in that little house. The final few chapters — which recreate the film’s downbeat ending — are particularly well-done. But there’s not much in the book that isn’t also in the movie.

One interesting thing about the novelization is that it was originally published in 1974, six years after the release of Night of the Living Dead. Was it written in an attempt to help establish that Russo and/or Romero owned the rights to the film? Or did it just take the publisher that long to realize that they’re might be a market for a novel based on the film? Who knows?

The book doesn’t add much to the overall story but I’m still glad I’ve got a copy, You can never have enough Night of the Living Dead memorabilia.

One response to “Book Review: Night of the Living Dead by John A. Russo

  1. Pingback: Lisa Marie’s Week In Review — 10/25/21 — 10/31/21 | Through the Shattered Lens

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