Forget everything you saw in Dan O'Bannon's movie of the same name. It all started with a far different seed for a sequel to Night of the Living Dead. The original story of Return of the Living Dead (that's right, not "The Return") was originally conceived by Night alumni John A. Russo, Russel W. Streiner and Ricci Valentine (Rudy Ricci’s pseudonym). Five years later, Russo had his second novel and a prospective movie. However, perhaps he should have been called his latest The Retread of the Living Dead.

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The first pressing of the Return of the Living Dead novel was by Dale Books in the U.S. (ISBN: 0-89559-062-X) in Sept. 1978, a month before the novel of George Romero's Dawn of the Dead. A generic painting of a girl running with large zombie face in backdrop served as a fittingly uninspired cover. The back cover builds the story up more than it should: "…soon the entire country is filled with death and terror as corpses rise from their graves in search of human flesh to eat! No one is safe from these super-strong creatures and it seems as though a whole country could die in a bath of blood and horror! This sequel has all the terror, suspense and gore that made the first story a classic." A 1979 pressing from the British publisher, Hamlyn (ISBN: 0-600-37632-X) yielded two pressings. The first has yellow title and photos of actors made up as zombies on the back; the second, for the Australian market, has a waxy corpse head in a trenchcoat (this photo would later re-surface in an alternate angle on the film version novel from Arrow).

Taking place ten years after the events in the original story, nothing else in it could be noted in relation to the film version except a character named Bert.
The 176-page novel begins with one of many excerpts from Russo's precursor Night of the Living Dead novel. Russo rehashes the entire prologue, a reflection on death and dying changing the first line to "Dawn is a time of rebirth" – possibly a reference Dawn of the Dead which was in the works by George Romero at the time.
Bert Miller is driving his pickup in the first scene with his three daughters, Sue Ellen, Karen and Ann inside. They are well-dressed and speeding towards a farmhouse with cars lined and parked outside. Karen, his youngest daughter, is 8 months pregnant. In the Dorsey family farmhouse a congregation is mourning the death of a 9-year old girl who died of rheumatic fever. Reverend Michaels pounds a spike through her skull after reading a prayer. Just then, a boy storms into the service and informs them excitedly that the bus has wrecked nearby. He claims they all are dead.
Again, Russo rehashes a substantial section from his Night novel, this time the Civil Defense broadcast. He must have taken Oscar Wilde’s quote "self-plagiarism is style" literally. Sheriff Conan McClellan also returns and is a main character. Hearing the radio report, he has rookie Deputy Greene drive him out to the scene of the accident. Bert and his daughters as well as others have been carrying the 34 corpses of the bus tragedy; 13 have been spiked through the head by members of the congregation. When the members order everyone to flee as the authorities arrive, McClellan remarks that the spikes are to stop the dead from rising again as they did once before a decade earlier in this same area, rural western Pennsylvania. reporters arrive a short while later, and Russo retreads another excerpt, this time the Civil Defense broadcast covering the Venus space probe.
After drinking in a bar later that night and getting harassed by a drunk who believes the dead will and are returning due to the TV coverage the tragedy has gotten, McClellan and Greene attempt to rescue a woman being raped nearby in a park after hearing screams. Greene is fatally injured while attacking one of the two assailants who are shot, the woman is dead of a broken neck and McClellan calls the morgue.
Just past midnight Mr. O'Neil is the embalmer in his funeral parlor and is preparing Greene's body. The raped woman is in the embalming room when she revives and stabs Mr. O'Neil with various instruments, gnawing on his corpse. The other bodies, including Greene and a middle-aged black man also revive.
Bert finishes watching reports that the dead may be rising again and watches McClellan deny the rumors even after the funeral murders. Michaels claims in a phone interview that this is the work of the Devil. This excites Bert who alerts his daughters, still traumatized by the tragedy. He explains that they were young when the first crisis happened and he sent them away with their sheltering aunt. Laws prohibited the public rehash of the event so it has become urban legend.
Russo inserts the identical radio broadcast here from Night urging citizens to stay in their homes behind locked doors. Near dusk, Bert has fallen asleep, exhausted after boarding the house. Sue Ellen chooses to run away from the fight, leaving carefully without a sound, walking out along the highway towards Willard. Upstairs, Karen and Ann hear something getting in the door a while later...thinking it is Sue coming back. They go down and see their father has been partially devoured by three ghouls who have managed to get in. Just then, the ghouls are killed and two officers appear introducing themselves as Trooper John Carter and Wade Connely. A man named Deputy Flack and a girl appears named Angel. With them are two 'prisoners' and...Sue Ellen! Now unconscious, and bruised. The men claim she was being attacked when they found her. Billy, Sue's boyfriend arrives on his motorbike at this point and they take Sue upstairs.
Flack and Carter defend the house from more ghouls before they take a rest inside the Miller house. There, the TV News is on and McClellan is speaking about how this crisis is worse than the first one. Flack threatens Billy's life at knifepoint, Angel finds a family safe she is determined to open, and the men refuse to bring Karen to a hospital due to her labor pains which have just started. Upstairs, Sue awakes at which point she reveals she was raped by Flack, who overhears this conversation and confesses. He then holds everyone at gunpoint announcing they will become zombie feed (three or four times). While Wade is out in the lawn firing at the gathering zombies, Angel is silently attacked by a ghoul in Bert's room. It even eats her breasts. No one hears her struggle over the gunshots outside.
Billy and the captured men are tied up in the living room when the men decide to leave in the truck and patrol car. Carter goes into the room to look for Angel and sees her attacker and her corpse. He decides to leave her to revive and to not tell the others she is up there. A shot is hastily fired by Carter into one of the prisoners so that he may die and revive to feast on his partner, while the men take Billy, Ann and Sue Ellen on their next trip to the Kingsley estate. Along the way, numerous zombies are run down and shot, and Billy's used as zombie feed in one situation when he is thrown off the truck.
We learn that the prisoners were real officers, Carl Martinelli and Dave Benton, who were captured while trying to help Angel who acted like she needed assistance. Their clothes were switched so that they looked like the looting rednecks. Carl had been shot but not fatally; he proceeds to get up and free his partner after which they find weapons, kill Angel and the bedroom zombie. They even deliver Karen's baby upstairs. Karen dies at the moment of her son's birth and Dave drives a spike through her skull. When the men leave, they encounter a few zombies until they find refuge near a generator.

The next morning, a gang of teenagers armed with bows and arrows find them and demand they give up their weapons. They let them go and they make their way three miles further to a farmhouse. A gunshot from one of its windows suddenly kills Carl. Dave pleads with the gunmen to stop as he pleads that he is carrying a Karen Miller's crying infant. The people inside let him in and we see it is the Dorsey family. There we assume the gunman was Henry Dorsey's idiot son. Dave needs to feed the kid fast, so Henry agrees to let him take his ‘56 Chevy to the nearby gas station for milk. Mrs. Dorsey agrees to watch the child meanwhile.
A few miles away, Wade speeds out of control and wrecks the patrol car killing himself instantly. The Miller girls are taken uninjured to the truck by Flack and Carter en route to the Kingsley estate after Wade is shot in the head by Carter. Dave hears on the radio how carcinogens may be responsible for activating dead cells before arriving at the abandoned gas station. He takes bags of food back and he and the family begin fighting off zombies with the rifles. Dave borrows the car again to reach the Kingsley estate, but is only given an ax and knife since Henry did not have an extra rifle.
Back at the Miller house, the teen looters have been arrested by the McClellan posse. Around noon, Dave passes the part where Wade wrecked his car and fears for the Miller girls. He is chilled by his own bloodied uniform on Wade.
Gordon and Elvira Kingsley had made their fortune in the local mine industry and had a ten-year old son named Rodney. Now they were all bound and tied to furniture in their own living room. Their guards had been shot by Flack and Carter and their entry made easy because of their uniforms. The maid and butler let them in before they were killed. Now they were searching the place for valuables. Rev. Michaels continued on TV in the living room preaching his belief that the crisis was Judgement Day. When Dave arrives, he encounters the zombified guards, and witnesses Flack take the family outside and feed them to the converging ghouls. A moment later, Flack's skull is split in two with Dave's ax in a surprise attack. Finding Carter in a bedroom, Dave blasts him with Flack's gun and he falls out a window. In another room, he finds the naked bound bodies of the Millers--alive. He explains what happened about the baby, and urges them to stay while he gets help. He encounters figures in the road, one of which he runs into accidentally, and in minutes there are slugs all over the car. Our hero, like Ben in Night of the Living Dead, is killed.
McClellan's posse is at the Kingsleys a while later, and he rescues the girls. When they head to find the baby in the Dorsey house, they find the house was ravaged at some point by the living dead and the family is presumed dead. Upstairs, they find the sleeping infant. End of tale.

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There were additional pressings in June 1985 starting with volume six of the French ‘Gore’ series from Fleuve Noir (ISBN: 2-265-03027-9). Night had been volume one, and there would be another novel called Return of the Living Dead directly tied-in to the film so the French retitled the original story Le Reveil des Morts Vivants or ‘The Awakening of the Living Dead’. The cover painting is dominated by a poorly drawn rotted skull on the left with a man driving a spike into a corpse on the right. More impressive was the 192 page German pressing, Untot (literally ‘Undead’) published in January 1990 by Goldmann (#8071, ISBN: 3-442-08071-1). This belated printing’s cover featured uncredited Michael Whelan art from 1980 of a walking corpse wrapped in a body bag. Ironically there are what look like two biohazard drums in the composition, reminiscent of the tanks in the filmed version. The last pressing in 1996 was by a short-lived Canadian company Ravenmor [part of Commonwealth Publishing] (ISBN: 1-55197-508-4).

Russo quickly adapted his own work into a 104-page screenplay a year later with a co-writing credit to Rudy Ricci. The beginning is very much the same with a short conversation between Karen and Ann about the baby on the way. Titles were to be during their truck ride to the farmhouse. McClellan and Greene are already in the patrol car when they get word about the accident over the police radio. And they happen to be only ten minutes from where it occurred. The congregation has been spiking the bodies in a wooded area where Bert even recites Reverend Michaels prayer when that scene cuts to the officers walking toward the accident. There is fleshed out dialogue in the bar TV scene with the reporter. The scene is the same as the novel's also. The struggle in the park afterwards ends with a close-up of the assailant dying, his face through the windshield of the car. That fades into the County Morgue sign. At one point, an arm dangling under a sheet on a slab twitches. Fade into the neon O'Neil's Funeral Home sign where Greene's prepared corpse begins to blink while O'Neil is distracted by a pet cat. His demise is the same as well with his screams segueing into the screams of the morgue watchmen as they witness the living dead rise. Then we have a cut to Bert's TV. When Sue leaves, we see her through the viewpoint of three zombies in the cornfield in the distance. They appear to be auto accident victims. The rest reads pretty much the same except for the safe that Angel wanted to open. She is killed the same and ignored by Carter. Dave rescues Gordon Kingsley from being zombie feed and his bound family and the girls though spread eagle are not naked. The McClellan posse does arrive shortly afterwards so Dave's tragic death is tossed for a happier ending resulting in all of the gang's discovery of the infant. The last shot is a slow zoom on the baby's eyes freeze framed with an odd light inside them, as eerie music fades up.