The ‘Undead’ volume gathers together the Night of the Living Dead and Return of the Living Dead into a single volume with an introduction by the author, John Russo. ‘Night’ novelises the movie, with a minor variation here or there, while ‘Return’ provides an original tale that Russo wrote, having retained the rights to the Living Dead franchise, and which gave it’s name, and very little else, to the Dan O’Bannon horror/comedy movie. In many ways ‘Return’ comes across as the better of the two stories. If you’re a fan of Russo and zombies, you will probably enjoy both of these two stories; if not, then you might want to avoid ‘Night’ altogether, or not pick the book up at all.
Fair warning – ‘Night of the Living Dead’ isn’t a good place to start reading this book. Russo’s style and effort to novelise the movie comes across like someone trying to novelise a visit to a hardware store or the supermarket on a particular dreary day. He struggles almost constantly to find alternate ways to say the same thing as zombies launch attacks against people and property. The story struggles, the characterisation falters and the reader, likely, begins to wonder why they parted with their money. The story improves slightly toward the second half, but given you have to get through 50+ pages of poor story before that some readers may never find that out. I admit, at the end, I actually cared a little about what happened – but I certainly didn’t have the sort of emotional response the blurb on the back of the book might suggest.
In ‘Return of the Living Dead’, Russo provides a much more effective and readable tale. The story flows better, the sentences never seem to struggle to find a fresh word for anything, and the characters have just enough individuality for you to care. The story has a little more plot, the zombies have a little more action – better than ‘Night’, but still not thrilling or horrifying. When Russo decides to describe a zombie attack in detail it all sinks worryingly into immature sexualised nonsense about the soft parts of women victims. Despite emphasizing the mindless nature of these animated corpses, a couple attack like wretched adolescents out for a undead grope. It never adds anything to the tale and just comes across like those formulaic horror movies that characterised the 70s and 80s – all scantily clad college kids meeting grisly ends at the hands of psychopaths and monsters.
In the cold light of day, both stories tell a tale that will engage those with an interest in zombies. If you don’t go in with expectations of high-browed literature you probably won’t be disappointed. ‘Return’ definitely reads far easier and provides a more engaging tale – and, to some extent, you could read it first as it makes many references to the original, even quoting whole sections as chapters that recall the civil warning broadcast during the original ‘outbreak’.
At best, a flawed exercise in zombie storytelling. A weak first story very likely to scare off a reader long before the zombies have the chance to really get into gear. The sequel provides more satisfaction, but gives in all too easily to inane acts of adolescent titillation.
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