I’ve come to the conclusion that my relationship with the films of GEORGE A ROMERO is a complicated one. There’s no question that his holy trinity of DEAD films – NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD, DAWN OF THE DEAD, and DAY OF THE DEAD – were life- and career-changing for me. Their inspiration is writ large throughout all nine of the AUTUMN novels and many of my other books. However, with a few notable exceptions (THE CRAZIES, MARTIN, and CREEPSHOW) no matter how hard I try I find it hard to find anything positive to say about many of his other films. To my mind, LAND OF THE DEAD, DIARY OF THE DEAD, and SURVIVAL OF THE DEAD are, by and large, pants. I find it hard to believe they were the work of the same creative force. I’m planning a re-watch of all six DEAD films in the near future, because I’m open to the possibility that it’s me that’s got it wrong…
I think that’s the main reason I’d avoided reading THE LIVING DEAD for so long.
For those who aren’t aware of the book, it’s an absolute brick of a novel written by ROMERO and DANIEL KRAUS. I finally finished it this week and, for the most part, I was surprised and impressed in equal measure.
The long author’s note from KRAUS is, to a zombie nerd like me, almost as interesting as the book itself. He describes in detail how the novel was pieced together from notes, short stories, and other scraps from the ROMERO archives. Reading the essay, it’s clear that this project was a labour of love for KRAUS and editor BRENDAN DENEEN (who I had the pleasure of working with on some of the original HATER and AUTUMN novels).
The novel is divided into several distinct sections of uneven length, each focusing on a different stage of the zombie apocalypse. We begin on day one as a medical examiner and assistant unwittingly try to carry out an autopsy on Patient Zero. The book then takes us through the early days – effectively running parallel with NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD and DIARY OF THE DEAD – showing the familiar societal collapse from the perspective of a number of wildly different survivors. And it’s these same characters we follow for the most part through the days, weeks, months, and years that follow.
I’ll admit, I struggled at the outset, because ROMERO and KRAUS were retelling a story we’ve all heard many times before in many different ways, but the tracking of the characters’ over the years and the way they connected (and disconnected) with each other worked well. The book rewards you more the longer you stick with it.
And it’s the final sections of the story that resonated with me most of all. Those who’ve read my books will know that I’m fascinated by the idea of the post-post apocalypse, and THE LIVING DEAD is the closest we’ll get to understanding how ROMERO saw things panning out. Much has been written about how his plans for the DEAD films were compromised because of budgetary and other studio restraints, but here we have a fascinating glimpse into his true vision of the end of days, and that is worth the price of admission alone.
THE LIVING DEAD is available in print and as an eBook and audiobook. Again, I’m a couple of years late to the party, but if you’re a ROMERO fan I definitely recommend picking up a copy if you haven’t already.