After the film was released, John Russo finished and released his novelization of the movie published in English only in Britain by Arrow (ISBN #: 0-09-942610-2), drawing from but loosely following Dan O'Bannon's script. No photos from the film were used just a blurb on the cover stating "now a major motion picture’ – and a skull made to look rotten with wax and crepe hair.
The first immediately noticeable
changes are the characters are given full names. Also July 4th falls on a
Wednesday not a Friday as in Dan’s script. Character descriptions differ: Freddy
Travis is 22 years old, scared straight from thinking "Live fast and make a
good looking corpse." Russo invented a background story about a friend of
Fred’s named Sunshine recently died of an overdose so Freddy cut his hair and
tried to clean up his act. The novel opens with Fred in the john hiding until
punchout time. Frank tells him to lose the "I got my shit together"
shirt if he wants to get ahead.
Frank Nello is 45 years old - but otherwise pretty much the same as in the film. He shows Freddy how to fill out orders in the office over coffee before showing him the stock, now that the hustle from the workday is over and he can think straight. Freddy shows more intelligence than he did in the film, offering a few reasons why India seems to turn up a lot of skeletons with perfect teeth. "Overpopulation. Disease. Starvation..."
Burt Wilson is freckled, redheaded with thick glasses – contrasting the grey haired Burt with the Members Only jacket in the film. Tina Vitali, Freddy's Italian Catholic girlfriend, is 20 years old with black (not brown) hair and big breasts. Legs (Trash in the film), Scuz's girlfriend here, has blue hair and leg warmers. Casey is a nymphomaniac blonde, Chuck pretty much the same new waver as in the film except with a crew cut. Meat (Spider’s character) is the same except with dreadlocks rather than a jeri curl. Meat and Casey have something going on too. The young people are smarter here; Meat has decided he is agnostic and Casey blurts out "Maybe the warehouse is full of cadavers!" when the gang discusses going to pick up Freddy.
Frank asks if Fred ever saw "any of those movies about corpses coming back to life", citing National Enquirer describing a 1970 incident about a leakage in a Pittsburgh veterans hospital. He mentions a colonel had contacted the company pitching a fit but had stopped calling. They guess he'd been killed in Vietnam. We learn Frank's wife is named Alice and he even mentions Fred to her on the phone. The six basement cylinders are described similarly, but the corpse inside is not as viewable through the porthole. Frank is afraid Fred won't believe the blurry blob of black tar is actually a body so he makes Fred help carry the tank into the light to see better, when they drop it smashing it into another canister. Far more dramatic than the casual slap on the tank which released the vapors in the script and film.
Next is a chapter detailing
a KGB subplot not in the film or the original script at all. The scene is Moscow
in the former Soviet Socialist Republic. Englishmen Guy Burgess and Donald
Maclean are having a cookout with their American friend Raymond Aston-this is
the man responsible for the drums landing in Louisville. Back in 1970, he was
the chief liaison for the C.I.A. in Operation Drummer Boy, the rollup of the
Darrow Chemical crisis near Pittsburgh. He diverted 24 drums containing
deactivated zombies from their intended destination, the C.I.A. Lab at Langley
to Uneeda. Why? Aston was working for the K.G.B.! When his actions was found out
by Colonel Peter Hoffman, Aston murdered him and fled to Canada then Russia.
Aston also mentions that just six months earlier spies had checked out the
warehouse and saw that the drums were still there...ready to crack. The three
evil men drink Vodka joyously adding "It will happen again!"
Suicide's car, described as ‘reeking of cat shit’, narrowly misses hitting a bread truck rather than a train (or chicken as in the O’Bannon screenplay first draft). When they arrive at Resurrection Cemetery, there is lightning and thunder to anticipate the rainstorm.
When the reanimated split dog is discovered by Frank and Freddy in Uneeda, it is free from its base and is hit not with a crutch as in the film, but with a broom. When the men go back into the office to figure out what to do, Fred decides to sit down in Burt's swivel chair (rather than stand up and panic). When he brings up calling the Army number on the tank, Frank explains "they would throw our contaminated bodies in drums like the poor old sap in the basement" rather than get into the damage of reputation concern expressed in the film.
The scene with Colonel Horace Glover is next (it is Grover here, delineating sharply a Sesame Street theme). Grover was First Lieutenant when he was assigned to Operation Drummer Boy and Hoffman was his commanding officer. The problem with the drums had stunted his progression to general all these years making him a miserable and frustrated man. Also he is described as short and flabby, still cruel to his rich wife Ethel (who actually owns the mansion), and drinking Jack Daniels as he looks out over the sea behind his wife's mansion muttering "God save America."
Legs’ character is not as nymphomaniacal as her Trash incarnation in the film. She actually gets into a philosophical discussion with Meat - who is even more horny than she is. Somewhat out of character, she does do her dance however while Meat turns philosophical and ponders the death of Sunshine.
Burt has changed from his work clothes to goofy Bermuda shorts, floppy golf hat and yellow windbreaker. He is fuming at Frank when he asks about what the National Enquirer had said about killing the living dead. Frank recalls nothing was mentioned about that but that those zombie films had their own way - destroying the brain. After axing the body (with results described almost exactly as in O’Bannon’s script), Burt brings up his poker buddy Ernie Kaltenbrunner – who happens to be the mortician across the street. Instead of just barging in on Ernie like in the movie, Burt simply phones him from the office first; we assume they clean up the place a bit before heading over to the mortuary. Ernie is not referred to as Ernst, probably because Russo felt the parallel to the infamous Nazi war criminal was a bit too much.
When we meet the 36-year old, sandy haired Ernie (white-haired and much older in the film), he is not working on one body as in the film, but two - a banker and his wife - Morton and Helen Dowden. Victims of a horrible auto accident (Morton is severed at the torso), Ernie’s embalming procedure is described as he works with 8x10 portraits to restore their appearance. Ernie even talks to his 'patients' when he hears the bell ring and gets his Luger handy. He was expecting Burt but still pulls the gun out, reasoning weirdoes that hang out in the cemetery sometimes. He is very busy and will probably burn the midnight oil for the holiday.
Russo injects more development
into the punkers in the graveyard. Tina is trying to get over the fact that Legs
was screwing Suicide; he'd exposed himself to Legs shortly before. Tina notices
Freddy by a white Uneeda van by Kaltenbrunner's Funeral Home (we see it is a
two-story building). She walks over and meets Frank, to ask if she could stay in
the van until they finish up their 'special delivery'. Knowing it will be
pouring soon Frank asks Burt for the keys so she can stay there until they get
back. Burt reluctantly agrees. In the film, the men are spotted by Casey and
Chuck going to the mortuary and Tina wanders to the warehouse alone when it
starts to rain. This after the rains begin from the cremation of the cadaver at
the mortuary – which has not taken place yet in this novel!
As soon as she enters the warehouse, she hears a voice coming from the cellar: "Pleeeease....heeelp meeee." At the funeral home, Ernie demonstrates the effects of rigor mortis and Burt pulls the rabid weasels story. Back to the warehouse, Tina encounters the source of the desperate voice--the chemical mummy from the canister. The scene plays out like the movie except the mummy uses a crowbar to pry the closet open (and maybe as a tool to crack her skull open). Her friends don't show up to rescue her as quickly.
The cadaver’s body is cremated around this time and then due to the storm, the teens take refuge in the car - that won't start. In Russo’s consistent style of revealing the obvious through dialogue, Suicide remarks that the strange noises the gang hears are corpses coming out of their graves. True they can't hear over the pounding rain that clearly. So finally deciding to go to Uneeda to find Tina, Suicide is bitten as per the film and Meat throws a block of wood at the mummy, not a paint can. Note: The chemical mummy is never referred to by Russo as a ‘Tar Man’.
Ernie makes his call to the paramedics as the men's poisoning gets worse. Russo injects additional gore such as the chemical mummy's fingers being hacked off while the gang tries to bar the cellar door. Scuz is more concerned about leaving his radio down there than his friend Suicide being dead. When they run back to the cemetery they see tombs overturned and it appears like the ground had been bulldozed in portions (reiterating the script’s details). Then instead of the skeleton rising up from the grave, they see a group of corpses croaking "brains!" crawling along the mud. Legs is killed and the gang splits up just as paramedics (named Don Berchok and Stan Feldstein here) arrive nearby. They are not physically described but judging by the dialogue, Stan was modeled after the shorter, dark haired medic in the film. Don’s film counterpart was named Gerry.
The scene where the medics go out to get stretchers is completely different than the movie. When they see some of the walking dead, they immediately believe them to be lepers and they fear an epidemic. They are attacked by some ghouls who bash Don's head in with bricks. Stan fights them off with karate kicks, and even manages to get in the ambulance when he is hit in the head with a brick and falls prey unconscious. Russo writes that they start ripping out of his internal organs – inconsistent with the behavorial traits of the Return zombie with an exclusive diet of brains.
The corpse Ernie sees by the ambulance is described as ‘skeletal’ not a legless corpse as in the film. The dispatch zombie is described as fat in a brown suit, rather than the pale skinny corpse in black. His line is not "send more paramedics". Instead it is even more articulate: "we're going to need backup at Kaltenbrunner's Funeral Home. We have half a dozen people injured here." After that the ghoul turns its attention to a telephone pole nearby - implying it is going to pull some wires out – a scene originally in the script but not filmed.
After the next group of medics are mobbed by ambushing zombies, the humans begin boarding up the mortuary when Burt and Scuz get in a struggle with the Dowden corpses in the foyer. Helen bites into Scuz's head and Morton grabs onto Burt's ankles. They have to restrain the ghouls and bring them to the crematory. Frank, Fred and Tina go to the chapel.
Meanwhile in Uneeda, Casey and Chuck do not have an encounter with the zombie that burts through the office window. The only noteworthy highlight is that they drink all the coffee and have an agnostic discussion. Chuck even gets lucky. That is not in the movie!
A black cop and a white cop are victimized outside when Ernie suggests hiding in the attic (he aims his flashlight up there). They plan to make a break for Uneeda, taking wood to board up the place in the van. Burt remembers that there's a phone number on the tank there but forgot it. Meat tells him there's a dead body in the basement of their friend and of the walking corpse, and that they tried the phone in the office but it didn’t work. Unlike the compassionate Spider in the film, Meat is not too fond of Tina (calling her a dumb broad a few times during the book). He is not too concerned with her well-being when she is attacked by Freddy and Frank in the chapel. An interesting change was that Freddy's eyes are blinded not by acid but by a candelabra!
Making it out to the van (instead of a patrol car), Burt knocks a zombie's head clean off. When they are inside, bricks are hurtled by the ghouls through the windshield until it is in motion. Back in the funeral home, Ernie and Tina must take refuge in the attic from both Frank and Freddy – who are now rampant ghouls loose in the hallway.
Russo actually gets humorous. Meat and Burt arrive at Uneeda as Chuck and Casey struggle to get their clothes on again. Meat makes a few jokes about the chemical mummy not being satiated with Suicide's brain ("it is hardly an appetizer") but no one laughs. In a move to fill the book up with dialogue Russo has Burt take dice out of his drawer ("I'm a gambling man") making everyone roll for their role in going down in the basement to retrieve the cylinder number. Casey has to be the decoy, Meat has to get the phone number, while Chuck and Burt wrestle the creature down, wrapping it up and locking it in the office. Apparently the baseball bat scene would have taken up fewer pages. Tina and Ernie hear the helicopter whirring as they wait in the mortuary attic. Another Russo-invented character, Police Commander Harry McCarthy is wondering what is going on in the area as officers Manko and Donaldson are preyed upon by cop zombies pleading for help on the radio. Unlike the movie, machine gunfire is even opened on an army of the undead. McCarthy talks to Burt but just rambles on like a drunken maniac so Burt goes ahead and calls the Army instead.
The dialogue is much like
the film's when the call is placed at a nearby phone booth (now the
phones seem to be working!). Just after midnight (rather than around quarter to
five A.M.), Colonel Grover gets the call. A new character, General Milton
Dunstan is contacted by Grover who seems to recall the defector Aston mentioning
this Uneeda building in the past. He gets confirmations of the lost patrol units
through a tap of the Louisville Police reports thus issuing ‘Extreme Urban
A 22 year-old gunnery sergeant smoking a cigarette answers the telephone at last, thinking it is only a drill. "This is Drummer Boy Seven on station for red alert." The code names he calls out are the same as in the film.
Finally it is a few months ahead - Sept. 15th. Gregori Zotov, leader of the KGB division, briefs Aston on the Louisville disaster. The news had blamed a terrorist group called the Green Brigade (citing a theft of plutonium as evidence). America is in a state of panic as to where they may hit next as the three agents drink vodka again.
The French translation from Fleuve Noir (ISBN: 2-265-03078-3) reads more like a summary, playing more like the film than the English version. Translator Daniel Benita omits the Sunshine references, KGB subplot and Operation Drummer Boy. The beginning starts much like the film (Burt had already left, no john scene). Lots of details are omitted, even though the book is the same length as the English version (176 pages) and has rather big print. This ninth entry in the Gore series followed the French editions of the original Return of the Living Dead novel and Night of the Living Dead, and the cover was a painting of zombies and a bloodied screaming woman (drawn after Sissy Spacek in Carrie).
The 341-page Japanese translation, from Kodansha (ISBN: 06-190052-8 C197) and part of their 1986 ‘X’ library, contains many photos - some color - and a livelier cover (based on the style A Japanese poster). Originally 580 yen ($5.00 U.S.).