Sphere, out now
Romero’s classic zombie story repackaged and reissued.
As Simon Pegg comments in his brand new introduction to the novelization of what many consider Romero’s finest zombie outing – and one of the best horror movies of all time – for a lot of people, especially in the UK, this was the only access they had to Dawn of the Dead, thanks to the furore over video nasties. But in some ways this was a good thing, as the book expanded upon the character backgrounds, providing a richer context for when you could finally watch the film. As all good novelizations should, it offers more levels to the story above and beyond the action and the obvious ‘the zombies are us’ central theme.
We start in a newsroom with pregnant Francine Parker and her boyfriend, Steve, escaping in a helicopter as tensions begin to get out of control. At the same time, their friend – SWAT officer Roger, who they are meant to be hooking up with – is finding that policing the zombie-ridden streets is not as easy as the authorities are making out. Thankfully, he bumps into another kickass SWAT man, Peter (who was played by the legendary Ken Foree in the movie) who saves his bacon. In return, Roger takes him along to the rendezvous point.
Though far from happy to have an alpha male tagging along, Steve relents and it isn’t long before they fly over a place that could give them all the supplies they’ll ever need: a secluded shopping mall. Once they’ve restored the power and made the place ‘safe’, by dispatching the zombies inside and blocking off all the entrances with trucks, they plan to wait things out, tuning in to the TV for reports. But is this simply the calm before the storm, and do they have more to fear from actual human beings than the living dead?
Having never come across the novelization before, and being a big fan of all Romero’s zombie flicks, I was interested to see what he and Sparrow had done with this. As you might expect, the book – like the film it’s based on – is of its time, but that just gives us a glimpse into how things were back then. Francine, for example, has to work harder than a female character might these days just to get heard – although she proves in the long run just how tough she is. We also get more about her relationship with Steve, coming off the back of a bad break-up with her ex-husband. The comradeship between Peter and Roger is also brought more into the story, through many action-packed scenes where they’re tackling the zombies. And my favourite bit of the movie, where zombies wander around in the mall to muzak, loses none of its comedy value when read instead of watched; in fact there’s even more of a sense of tragedy now.
In this age of The Walking Dead and Resident Evil films, this shows us how it used to be done old school – and perhaps some things were all the better for that.
Adding more meat to the nostalgic living dead tale 9/10