[Book Review] 'The Living Dead' is a Sprawling Zombie Epic from George Romero & Daniel Kraus Full of Humanity & Terror
Without question, George Romero forever changed the genre of horror in 1968 with The Night Of The Living Dead, starting what would become a worldwide fascination with ghouls - the dead who come back to life to attack the living, who then return as more living dead - eventually known as “zombies..."
...Throughout Romero’s illustrious career, he further developed this frightening, captivating, and thought-provoking inner world through five more films and a series of comic books. It was his world, and we, as viewers/readers, were lucky to view it. Before his untimely passing in 2017, he was working on what would become the book The Living Dead, an epic tale that takes a deep dive into exploring the universe George created.
The Living Dead was helped into reality by co-author Daniel Kraus (Bent Heavens, They Threw Us Away, Rotters, and The Shape Of Water and Trollhunters written with Guillermo Del Toro). In Kraus’ skillful hands, and with plenty of notes from George and access to all things Romero from The George Romero Foundation, George’s voice is evident in just about every word on every page. It’s a remarkable feat that will be cherished by fans and newcomers alike. Kraus’ loving attention to detail is what truly brings Romero’s vision to life.
The book delves into the start of the virus that eventually led to the “zombie outbreak” we all have come to know through George’s work like Diary Of The Dead and Night Of The Living Dead. Both films, decades apart, vividly depict a world coming unhinged and realizing that life will never be the same. It’s eerily similar to our current pandemic-induced circumstances, right down to the dismal government response. We feel this parallel throughout the book, enhanced by the fact that the press is the only relied-upon source of truth for as long as it can last. What we get is a perfectly crafted nightmare masterfully unfolding right before our eyes. In a world that seems to be on the brink of collapse, all of George Romero’s optimism subtly shines through when you would least expect it. It leaves plenty of room for home, told mostly in the small moments a film would not allow.
Co-Author Daniel Kraus pictured above
This book is brimming with tender moments that convey the character’s motivations, both before and after the brink of chaos. The smallest of scenes stick with you long after you turn the last page. Normally the large cast of characters might seem frivolous and overwhelming, to the point that readers might find themselves flipping back to remember a name or a detail. However, every single character is given the space to develop, making the story all the more compelling. It’s an incredible feat that highlights both Romero’s strength as a storyteller and Kraus’ skill for bringing the human condition to print. The salient universal truth in these modern zombie movies becomes even more crystal clear in writing - humans will selfishly turn and betray each other.
Humanity aside, the book is also flush with scary moments in settings ranging from a gunfight in the streets of San Diego, which leads to the “first zombie”, to zombie self-realization on a navy ship. In these brilliant chapters, readers witness first hand as a zombie comes to understand it’s not the human it once was. These passages add greater depth to every sequence and nuance in George’s Dead films. The book feels as if it completes a puzzle for the films we love, even if tangentially there are a few ways to piece it all together. It’s an exceptional and captivating stand-alone story that also paints a continual timeline for us viewers turned readers. It would be a thrilling ride for someone unfamiliar with Romero, but the devout can expect to find Easter eggs of many favorites, even Knightriders. The Living Dead is both incredibly important and pure excellence. One can’t imagine a better story if George were alive, and we are lucky to have such an accomplished novelist in Kraus to help convey his last statement.
This is the final word of George Romero and a beautiful, frightening work of art that will bring genuine joy to any fan. This is his sprawling epic film budgets wouldn’t allow, and to have it in the world’s hands today is a remarkable thing. The book provides us a unique mirror to the world of 2020 and helps us realize it’s more important now than ever to stay scared.
The Living Dead releases on August 4th from Tor Books.
By Justin Drabek
Enjoy Justin's writing? Leave him a tip here through Cash App!