First published back in May of 1985, Russo’s novelisation of the film ‘Return Of The Living Dead’ (1985) was released alongside the release of Dan O’Bannon’s comically slapstick offshoot to the classic film ‘Night Of The Living Dead’ (1968).  Co-written by Russo, ‘NOTLD’ was a masterpiece of cinematic horror with a glorious follow-up novelisation by Russo - ‘Night Of The Living Dead’ (1974).  However, following an argument around the handling of any sequels to the commercial success of ‘NOTLD’, Russo and Romero agreed to each take to separate routes in which they would individually follow on the story with.

Romero’s sequels were collectively referred to as the ‘Dead’ series (with ‘Dawn Of The Dead’ (1978), ‘Day Of The Dead’ (1985) and more recently ‘Land Of The Dead’ (2005)).  Russo, on the other hand, took on the ‘Return Of The Living Dead’ name for the follow-ups, and so released the book ‘Return Of The Living Dead’ (1978).  After the idea was rejected by several different film studios and directors (one of which being Tobe Hooper of ‘The Texas Chainsaw Massacre’ (1974) fame), a re-writing of the screenplay with director Dan O’Bannon eventually took the idea along a much more comical and slapstick approach; hoping to achieve a similar success to Sam Raimi’s (at the time) recently released film ‘The Evil Dead’ (1981).  And so Russo’s ‘Return Of The Living Dead’ films came into life.  The first of these films saw a novelisation written by Russo himself, and was purely based on the film, making it markedly different from Russos earlier novel of the same title, which was originally published by Hamlyn Paperbacks.  This review is of the 1985 novelisation of the film.

DLS Synopsis:
It was Freddy Travis
’ first day in his new job as a shipping clerk at the Uneeda Medical Supply warehouse.  Getting him started in his new role, Freddy is shown the ropes by the warehouse foreman, Frank Nello, who shows Freddy the various oddities that the suppliers ship out to their various customers.

After the other warehouse workers have finished for the day, Frank Nello takes Freddy on an out-of-hours guided tour of the weirder items that the warehouse stocks (split-dogs and human corpses which are used for medical experiments and US army ballistic tests).   Relishing in the gruesome weirdness of it all, Frank then informs Freddy about the apparent ‘happenings’ that had apparently occurred with re-animated corpses in Pittsburgh, whereby a chemical spill of Darrow Chemicals’ recently created chemical - 2,4,5 Trioxin - caused the corpses in Pittsburgh to come back to life and attack the living. 

Disbelieving the story, Freddy is taken down into the basement where a number of chemical drums have been stored for many years, supposedly by the US Army.  However, whilst attempting to inspect the contents of the drums (Frank assures Freddy that they contain corpses) one of the drums topples over, spraying a fog of noxious yellow gas into the faces of the two employees.

After been knocked-out for a while by the strange gas, Frank and Freddy, now feeling somewhat ill, make their way back up to the warehouse’s main floor where they discover that the split-dog and the corpse have come back to life.  However, these re-animated monstrosities are now in a rage; desperately seeking the consumption of fresh human brains which will relieve them from the pain of death, if just for a short while.

After summoning the warehouse boss, Burt Wilson, the three of them attempt to kill the re-animated corpses, firstly by destroying the brain, and after that fails, by dismembering the bodies.  However, the undead corpses keep on squirming with undead life, so Burt Wilson decides that they should take the wriggling body pieces to the funeral parlour across the way, which is owned by his poker buddy Ernie Kaltenbrunner.

Meanwhile, Freddy’s girlfriend, Tina Vitali, and his punk friends (Meat, Scuz, Casey, Legs, Chuck and Suicide) are all waiting in the funeral parlour’s adjacent cemetery (somewhat appropriately named ‘Resurrection Cemetery’) for Freddy to clock off work.  Once Ernie has been convinced to burn the wriggling remains of the two re-animated corpses in his crematorium, the subsequent smoke thats created escapes into the atmosphere, mixing with the clouds above, and subsequently raining down more of the bizarre chemical that reanimated the dead, back onto the streets below.  No longer is the cemetery such a ‘cool’ place to hang-out in for the out-of-control youths; because the dead are rising all around, and they’re hungry for fresh human brains...

DLS Review:
Bursting at the seams with comically surreal moments and numerous attempts at humour (such as with the characters ‘Burt and Ernie’ – Sesamie Street) the novel is a far cry from the hauntingly desperate moments depicted in ‘Night of the Living Dead’ (1968 / 1974).  This new angle for the storyline takes a very wide berth from Romero’s direction and instead somewhat surprisingly redefines the ways in which the zombies act.  Destroying the brain or severing the brain from the rest of the body, no longer kills off the zombie threat (as per the ‘rules’ set down in NOTLD).  The zombies also have a magnified strength as well as a reasonable level of intellect still left intact.  So much so, that the zombies are still able to talk, plot and outwit their living-human counterparts.

The novel steers clear of any hope of delivering a creepy or gritty atmosphere, and instead bounds through the storyline with an almost camp glee.  However, the story unfortunately entirely fails to engage with the reader with any sign of actual humorous comedy.  The wooden characters simply flounder around the tale, acting out their individually predictable responses to the unfolding epidemic.  The story finds itself undecidedly halfway between a comedy and a horror, without actually delivering and substantial levels either.  This ultimately creates a borderline-boring story that simply misses all the required mark on pretty much all accounts.

The ending is however quite surprisingly downbeat for the rest of the novel, but does allow for an easy conclusion to the tale whilst leaving the door suitably open for further sequels.  These sequels came in to play in the cinematic world, but fortunately, the literary world was sparred any further such atrocities in the name of zombie fiction.

The novel runs for a total of 176 pages.

© DLS Reviews

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