For the most part John Russo, in writing the novelization of Night of the Living Dead, stayed closely to the original script, filling in pages of the 22 chapters with many unfilmed scenarios. Seeking George Romero’s blessing (and selling power), Russo sought a preface for his book.

Ages are given for Barbara (19) and Johnny (26). The cemetery is very much the same as it was visualized in the movie – no entrance gate, no lawn, no walls. Just tombstones and dead leaves scattered about. A different touch borrowed from the script is an old church nearby that serves as a landmark in Johnny finding the remote cemetery. When Johnny hears the radio announcer come back on, it is line for line identical to the original script, though Russo adds in that Johnny figured the radio is either dead or not dead, but not coming to life every now and then.

Johnny smokes a cigarette instead of putting on his gloves. He accuses his sister of being afraid of the dead people and warns that they’re coming out of their graves, spotting the first zombie – mistaking him for a caretaker.

Barbara screams for help but stops realizing no one would be around to hear. The zombie described as the attacker, uses a rock to crack Johnny’s skull. The way it’s described is through Barbara’s P.O.V. She cannot make out who is winning the struggle, and sees the one of the figure’s skull crushed. Then she sees in the moonlight it’s her brother, and the attacker is ripping flesh from his face. Just as she did in the original script, Barbara escapes toward a rural highway and reaches a low stone wall. She runs toward the soft glow of a window in the distance. Reaching the storage shed written in the script but not seen in the filmed version, she continues to the house screaming. Luckily she finds a skeleton key in the doorknob of the entrance and is able to lock the approaching attacker out. Looking out the house window, she sees another man approaching – even spotting a truck coming up towards the house. Her attacker is waiting under a tree, as if he is resting, gazing toward the house. Of course, Ben is first mentioned as just a truck driver as per the original script then his identity assumes that of the black drifter we come to know in the film. The living room/tire iron zombie played by John Russo, unlike his screen equivalent, is described as severely rotten – with an eye hanging half out of his socket. A white fluid, not blood, oozes out of the jack handle blow to its skull.

The only sounds described are that of the rasping crickets and the dead lungs of the zombies. Radio broadcasts and Ben’s account of the incident at Beekman’s Diner are identical to the original script, although he mentions that he is a father of two boys assuring himself aloud that they can fend for themselves if he doesn’t return. We also learn that the truck Ben is driving belonged to a man he found dead by a roadside.

Moving her corpse into a vacant bedroom, Ben observes that the elderly woman upstairs had been gnawed on right through her spine. He investigates one room that contains the mutilated corpse of a little boy same age as one of his. He figures this child was the lady’s grandson, and that he had been attacked while sleeping, noticing the disturbing sight of bloodstained bed sheets.

Tom’s age is 16 years old and he wears a denim jacket instead of Judy’s character. Harry fiddles with a radio (as in the original script) but gets nothing but static in the cellar. He also makes a stretcher for Karen while Tom and Judy handle the molotov cocktails. Ben removes the bodies again so Harry can throw the molotovs out one of the bedroom windows onto the lawn.

On the television broadcast, Chief Conan McClellan advises not only beating and burning the attackers but also chopping their heads off. In fact, each time a ghoul is killed by the men it’s head is hacked off with a machete as an extra safety measure. A bus crash had just been surveyed by McClellan’s posse moving through rural Pennsylvania (integrated in Russo’s Return of the Living Dead novel). The posse rest at a makeshift camp in the fields near the Miller farmhouse they’ve spotted on the map. Deputy George Henderson (a character from part of the unfilmed script) also assists the posse and speaks a bit.

On television, the doctor’s name is Lewis Stanford not Grimes as in the film. When Barbara’s now undead brother grabs her, his fingers dig in her throat, and she is torn apart and eaten by a pack of starved zombies. Ben also gets bitten during his struggle with Karen.

Ben is woken up not by the barking of dogs but first by a helicopter. The posse enters the farmhouse and finds the bodies upstairs of Miller and her grandson when an anonymous posse member shoots Ben in the head as he comes through the cellar door. McClellan follows his lines as in the first draft of the script - "be careful! There might be people in there!"

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Warner Books released the novel (ISBN: 0-446-76410-8-125) January 1974 with a photo cover of white arms reaching through a boarded up window. As a bonus, 16 pages in addition to the 192 pages of text had multiple photos per page. These very first pressings should have a Kent cigarette ad intact. A second printing by Pocket Books (ISBN: 0-671-83573-4) arrived seven years later with 176 pp, 16pp of different photos. Mylar back poetically reads: "They are coming, filling the night with a furious howl, and staining the earth blood-red…their powers are swelling, from feasting on flesh and gnawing on bone, now they are drunk on the sweet taste of blood…and they march to the rhythm of death. Now they will crash down the gates, take all that is theirs, and wipe the blood from their lips…" A simultaneous, scarcer, Canadian Pocket pressing with a non-mylar cover (ISBN: 0-671-43768-2) exists, recognizable by its white spine. Both had rather dull covers of a woman's hair being pulled from behind by a zombie’s hand whose ripped through the book cover itself!

July 1983 saw the British pressing from New English Library (ISBN: 0-450-05583-3). Though the back text reads similar to the Pocket edition’s write-up, the cover is probably the best of all Night pressings. 

Italy was first to issue a foreign language translation (Il Libro della Paura 02588) in Oct. 1978. The cover art suggests the NOTLD myth that the corpses rose from the cemetery ground. 1979’s German pressing from Pabel/Moewig Verslagunion (Vampir no. 73) was also traditional in its cover art – A ghoul painted after Peter Cushing’s zombie in the 1972 movie Tales From the Crypt is attacking a young girl.

The 1993 reissue from Goldmann Filmbuch (ISBN: 3-442-08108-4) with a still of the zombified Johnny entering the house door was a much more appropriate cover. Other nations continued to stray from the intended concept. Spain’s Martinez-Roca publishing house used a skull candle and ghostly image, Denmark’s Midnattsgrosseren used a shrouded skeleton, Brazil used the Belgian poster art and France a painting for theirs, book one in the 1985 GORE series (Fleuve Noir ISBN: 2-265-02943-2).

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To date, Canada was the last to reissue the novel. Ravenmor, part of Commonwealth Publishing (ISBN: 1-55197-508-4) did so in 1996 for only a year; they were sued and put out of business by unpaid authors. The cover again, erroneously implied even the buried dead rose from the grave and furthermore reads "the terrifying novel that inspired the internationally acclaimed cult classic". Supernatural powers are suggested by the blurb "feasts of flesh and bone fuel their powers of evil". The publisher also made sure to print "by John Russo: Author of The Awakening" though that title is hardly a distinguished work in the genre.

A very poor Audiobook (ISBN: 0-671-66200-7) was released in 1988 by Simon & Schuster (who owned Pocket Books). Adapted by Michael Brooks from Russo’s novelization, with mentions of Mrs. Miller and her grandson), the hour-long dramatization features voicework of actor William Hootkins (Star Wars, Raiders of the Lost Ark) as Ben, Ed Bishop as Harry and Linda Hayes as both Helen Cooper and Barbara. Bishop incidentally also narrates. Most of the story is dialogue exposition and necessary sound effects (i.e. window breakings, zombie moans) were left out. The little Karen zombie actually speaks, tricking her mother into picking her up.
Brooks chose to replace the radio commentator with a lame impersonation of President Ronald Reagan. Coarse language was injected as well as stronger racial tension between Ben and Harry; Ben appears to be a combination of the unsophisticated truck driver of the original script and the smart and sensible character in the film. Even at its original price of $9.95, this piece doesn’t seem to have much value even as a curiosity.


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(Imagine ISBN: 0-91137-03-3) 1985
by John Russo. 120pp. Orig. sold for $12.95. Preface by George Romero. Karen Cooper face cover;

1986 reissue by Harmony reprint orange/black collage cover ISBN: 0-517-56170-0)