First published back in October of 1978, George A Romero’s film tie-in novelisation of his cult classic-zombie movie ‘Dawn Of The Dead’ came out just one month following the original September 1978 Italian release of the film, and a good few months before the April 1979 US release.

The novelisation was written by Romero along with help from fellow author Susanna Sparrow.  Due to the immense popularity of the film, the book has been reprinted on numerous occasions, later versions including eight pages of full-colour images taken from the film.

DLS Synopsis:
Everywhere, everyone and everything was in a frantic flurry of absolute disarray.  Over a matter of hours, the United States, and more than likely the entire world, had been brought to its knees.  Even now what they were hearing was impossibly hard to accept.  But it was real.  The nightmare they all faced was real.  For some unknown reason, the bodies of the dead had come back to life with an insatiable hunger for the human flesh.  From small pockets – the epidemic had spread like wildfire.  Every minute of every hour, people were succumbing to the growing numbers of the dead.  And when they died, they too joined the flesh-hungry ranks of the undead.

In the WGON-TV studio in Philadelphia, twenty-three-year-old assistant station manager, Francine Parker, was getting increasingly worried.  Confusion and panic was everywhere.  Furthermore, she’d just learnt that they’d been broadcasting details of rescue stations that were no longer in operation.  Sending people to shelters that had fallen.  Sending people to their deaths.

She had to get out of there.  She had to get away from the rising panic.  And luckily for Francine, her boyfriend, Stephen Andrews, had access to a WGON helicopter.  It was time to jump ship before it was too late.

Meanwhile, a police SWAT team was moving in on a large apartment building where a notorious Puerto Rican named Martinez had been leading the residents in an uprising against the government’s emergency procedures – harbouring the dead in their building without destroying the bodies of the deceased.  Roger DeMarco was heading up the unit, moving in on Martinez’s men before the situation got out of hand.

But the Puerto Rican leader wasn’t prepared to give up their dead family members without a fight.  And with tensions already on edge, it wasn’t long before control was lost and people started to die unnecessarily.  And all because they continued to believe that there was still some respect in dying.

However, within the worst possible situations, it is often where true friendships are forged.  As they worked their way through the dead that were hidden within the apartment’s cellar, executing the bodies one-by-one; a bond was formed between DeMarco and fellow SWAT member Peter Washington.

Trusting his instincts, DeMarco invites his new comrade along with him to get the hell out of this madness.  DeMarco has a plan to join his friend, Stephen Andrews, in the WGON helicopter as they fly northwards towards Canada where they hope to find somewhere safe to ride this thing out.

That night the four of them meet up under the relative cover of darkness at an abandoned city marina, to stock up and refuel before heading off on their journey northwards.  But they’re not the only ones running.  Everyone is scared.  Everyone wants out of this escalating chaos.  One wrong move and everything could take a horrifying turn for the worse.

Luckily they manage to refuel and get on their way without incident.  But their journey will prove to be far from easy.  The need to refuel will bring them back into the vicinity of the flesh-hungry dead.  And as time goes on, so the fuel supplies continue to run low.

And then they happen upon a large out-of-town shopping mall.  Landing on the roof so that they can collect further supplies, Roger and Peter soon realise the potential in the place.  Why keep running when they have everything they could ever want right here?

But the dead are there as well.  And the lure of a complex which offers so much also has its pitfalls.  Unless they’re clever and stay out of sight, the out-of-the-way mall could prove to be their ultimate undoing…

DLS Review:
Okay, so we all know the story of ‘Dawn Of The Dead’ well.  In fact, the vast majority of horror fans hail the film as an absolute masterpiece.  And indeed it is.  What Romero created within his follow-up to ‘Night Of The Living Dead’ (1968) is in some ways the most perfect of zombie films.  Its storyline and premise has captured the imagination of horror fans across the world for decades.  It’s often cited as the one film that got fans in to zombies.  Its influence and the admiration it receives is more than any other zombie film.  It truly is a masterpiece.

So what about the tie-in novelisation?  First off it was released almost at the exact same time that the movie was first brought to the cinemas.  As such, it was very much a “seen the film…now read the book” affair.  And indeed the novelisation follows the script of the film incredibly closely.  Vast amounts of dialogue (of which many of us can recite perfectly) are included word-for-word.  And for such a fondly-loved movie, I’m sure I’m not alone in saying say that this isn’t particularly a bad thing.

However, what you don’t get with the novelisation is the graphic comic book blood and guts that you see in the film.  Instead, much of the visceral zombie gore and stark shoot-to-kill violence of the storyline is missing or very much skirted around.  Indeed, the book reads like a blow-by-blow account of what takes place in the film minus any colourful descriptions.  But what you do get is an added insight into the thoughts and feelings of the four lead characters.  In places Romero and Sparrow take advantage of the ability to explore the inner thoughts of the characters, in particular with Fran showing a far deeper level of concern for her unborn child.

The first third-or-so of the novel follows the film particularly tightly, with almost every word spoken, and every individual scene closely replicated within the text of the book.  Indeed, the SWAT assault on the Martinez apartment block pretty much runs scene-for-scene to that of the film.  However, where the film jumps back-and-forth between characters and scenes, with the novelisation following the film so closely, the end result is actually quite a disjointed and messy read – particularly in these early scenes.  A new paragraph is the only indication that the story is jumping from one scene to another, with the reader constantly stopping and starting as they realise that the story has reverted back to another set of characters.

Once the initial setting of the scene has played out, and our four principal survivors have flown off in the WGON helicopter, the two authors quite noticeably start to back off from such a rigidly detailed following of the film.  With the four principal characters now together, the storyline progresses with much more ease, without the constant flittering between them.

In the giant shopping mall, the authors detail a few added snippets of background information which might have been missed whilst viewing the film, as well as also expanding on a few little extra details – such as the complex being the headquarters for C J Parker, the President of Amalgamated Industries, and his hidden-away offices taking up a large portion of the upper level.

Sadly, the arrival of the raiding bikers is far too rushed.  This action-rich and intense final portion in the film takes up just twenty-to-thirty pages at the end of the book – with all the excitement of defending their beloved new home, crammed into a skimmed over couple of chapters.  Furthermore, although a number of the raiders are given names (Thor, Chickie, Hatchet, Jolly Old Saint Nick) hardly any of their individual characters are given anything other than a cursory sketching out.

That said, the novelisation is still one hell of an enjoyable and entertaining read.  You can’t help but re-enact each and every scene that’s being described in the book as you remember them from the film.  All those powerful and fondly remembered quotes are all in there.  It’s a book that will not only be enjoyed by those who have seen the film countless times already but also those who are only vaguely familiar with the storyline.

The novelisation runs for a total of 210 pages.

© DLS Reviews

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