Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Review: Undead

John Russo, 2010, Penguin Australia

As a zomfic fanatic, one of the things that most gladdens my heart about the current boom is - as I've mentioned in previous reviews - that many older zombie-related publications are being re-released, and in many cases finally garnering the readership they deserved the first time around. The latest of these is Undead, a two-fer from Night of the Living Dead scriptwriter John A. Russo, which comprises Russo's original 1974 novelisation of the movie he co-wrote with George A. Romero, plus Return of the Living Dead, the original novel that later became the basis for the 1985 movie of the same title.

I'll begin by stating that Undead is a book all self-respecting zomfans should own. I mean, it's John A. Russo, after all. As far as the contents go, if you've seen NotLD, you already know the tale, although Russo certainly makes an effort to flesh out the characters a little more, to introduce some backstory. Return of the Living Dead is written as a continuation of the same story - bearing almost no resemblance to the blockbuster movie - taking place a decade after the events of NotLD, and indeed featuring at least one of the original characters.

While NotLD is an enjoyable enough read, I must admit to being somewhat disappointed with Return: Russo's dry, almost completely unemotive writing style perfectly recalls the documentary-like style of the NotLD screenplay, but without a similar cinematic template to ensure similar reader expectations of Return, the latter novel comes across as a bit boring: events are reported matter-of-factly, with little apparent attempt to engage the emotions of the reader. There's also no evidence whatsoever of the biting black humour that runs right through Russo's wonderful 1985 novelisation of the Return of the Living Dead movie, which is a great loss. That said, there's certainly sufficient inventiveness and momentum of plot to ensure continued page-turning, but ultimately Return of the Living Dead reads like a pastiche of classic zombie movies.

Still, worth reading, nonetheless. Buy and read it for the nostalgia value, and in the knowledge that the profits will actually go to the rightful party (and if you know your NotLD history, you'll understand what I mean).

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