Today I’m going to talk about one of my favorite things to do on this blog, movie novelizations. If you read this blog, you know I love movie novelizations. Especially movies from the 70s and 80s. Today, I’m going to discuss the novelization of the zombie classic, Return of the Living Dead.
The history of this movie and its novelization is interesting in and of itself. I discussed it a bit when I reviewed the actual Return of the Living Dead movie. Essentially, John Russo who helped Romero write the original Night of the Living Dead movie, also wrote the novelization AND in 1977 a direct sequel book, Return of the Living Dead. When Romero and Russo parted ways, they split the rights. Romero went on to create his “of the Dead” movies and Russo went on to adapt his Living Dead sequel novel. However, when the book was optioned, the studio had Dan O’Bannon rewrite the book as a script with a heavy comedic undertones to the horror. That was how the movie was made. John Russo would go on to write the novelization of O’Bannon’s script.
Like I said, interesting. I’ve always enjoyed this movie so I thought I’d track down the novelization to review. Because of the convoluted back story, it’s tough to actually track this down. Many times the original Russo 1971 Return of the Living Dead book is mistaken for the 1985 movie novelization. You have to make sure you are getting the right book.
But I got it, and I’ve read it. How does it stack up to the movie? By the way, in the below review I’m assuming you’ve seen the movie.
As a novelization, it’s not that bad. Most of the scenes of the movie are there. The character names are a little different in so far as the punker group of Freddy’s friends are concerned. The major story details are the same, however, there are a few changes for the book. It’s a lot more clear in the book that Freddy used to be a major punker. He and his girlfriend Tina had walked in on their friend Sunshine after he overdosed on dope and the sight, in effect, scared them straight. Freddy got a job and was determined not to end up the same as Sunshine. This event is referenced throughout the book, but is only quickly mentioned in the movie.
The major difference in the novelization is a subplot of Russian spies who worked for the government back in the late 60s during the original events of Night of the Living Dead. They are the reason the barrels of Trioxin are mistakenly sent to the Uneeda Medical Supply warehouse. The spies sent some of the barrels there to hide them away from the government so the chemical could be released again later. The spies then leave the country and head back to Russia. We have several scenes of them in this book drinking and discussing their actions spying for the government and talking about the missing Trioxin barrels.
More differences involve the character Legs (aka Trash), played by Linnea Quigley in the movie. During her graveyard striptease (which exists in the movie), in the book it turns into actual sex with her boyfriend, Suicide. And even though, in the movie, Trash returns as a zombie for a short appearance at the end, Legs, in the book, stays dead and we don’t see her again.
We get a bit more fleshing out of certain characters like the mortuary owner, Ernie. A little bit more with the paramedics that come to pick up Freddy and Frank, and even some back story to a few of the zombies that go on the rampage. Two of which were being “dressed” by Ernie in the beginning. They were a couple who died in a car wreck. As a matter of fact, the zombie that is interrogated at the end of the movie, in the book, is actually the female side of this dead couple from the beginning.
All in all, this was actually a pretty good novelization. I enjoyed reading it and seeing a little bit more than what we get out of the movie.
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