Sunday, March 8, 2009

Book Review: 'Dawn of the Dead' by George Romero and Susanna Sparrow

3/5 Stars

In the days before VHS tapes and DVDs, novelizations of popular feature films were quite prevalent and some even appeared in hardcover as well as in the ubiquitous mass-market paperback format.

The author was usually given a script some months in advance of the film’s release date and expected to provide a novel coeval to (if not slightly in advance of) to the opening date.

Sometimes the novelization would contain material that had been edited out of the film, so you could read some interesting passages that made watching the film a bit more comprehensive. Novelizations were also helpful in figuring out some of the more obtuse plot points in a given film, particularly in the days when DVDs with director’s commentaries simply didn’t exist. Back in the 70s you were left with a choice of paying money to see the film again, hoping to gain an insight you didn’t catch the first time around; or you could pick up the novelization, and learn what happened from the printed page.

This hardbound novelization of George Romero’s 1978 zombie classic is written by Susana Sparrow and copyrighted 1978. Romero had actually finished the film and screened it in the Fall of 1978 at the Cannes film festival, but the US version didn’t appear in theatres until the late Spring / early Summer of 1979, by which time it was competing with big-budget films like ‘Alien’, ‘Prophecy’, and ‘The Amityville Horror’. I remember it as something of a ‘stoner’ film, in that mainstream audiences really weren’t attracted to it. While the film’s gore seems rather unremarkable today, back in ’79 it was considered quite explicit, and to avoid garnering a dreaded ‘X’ rating from the MPAA, Romero released it as ‘unrated’. The film was popular enough to re-energize the ‘zombie genre’, spawned an entire ecology of dire Italian-made rip-offs, and played a major role in making zombies an indelible part of contemporary pop culture.

The novelization is pretty much a one-to-one narrative of the events of the film. It opens with the world in the grip of the zombie infestation featured in ‘Night of the Living Dead’. In Philadelphia, a SWAT team is entering a tenement to deplete its undead population and in the carnage officers Roger DeMarco, and Bad-Azz Mofo Peter Washington, form a bond. They join up with WGON-TV manager Francine Parker and her helicopter pilot boyfriend Steve Andrews, and escape the city in the station’s news chopper. The refugees locate the ‘Shopper’s Paradise’ mall in the outskirts of Pittsburg and decide to make it their new home. Our intrepid heroes discover that even if a mall has a resident population of hungry zombies, as long as you stay out of their way, you can get by. At least, until some hardcore, post-apocalyptic bikers come around, and these biker’s aren’t in a mood to share…

I won’t give away any more plot details so as not to spoil the experience for anyone who has yet to view the movie, but even if you have seen it, having a copy of the novelization around is a good excuse to indulge in some entertaining reading. Nowadays, with the ubiquitous nature of DVDs, video-on-demand libraries, and online movie resources, I don’t expect movie novelizations to have much allure for younger people. But if you’re over 40 you may find getting a copy of this book, in all its gory glory, will bring back some offbeat, fond memories of 70’s pop culture.

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