Legendary film creator John Russo joins us this week to talk about his film career and to offer some tips for surviving a Zombie Pandemic in our new column, REAL TALK.

I have always been a lover of cinema and watching the horror film NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD completely changed my life. I not only appreciated and loved what the horror genre offered, but in my own way, I related to it. The games and films I came to enjoy were more than entertainment, but symbols of the excessive darkness and oppression that existed around me. NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD was where my love of horror films started, and it showed how people could face death and their fears straight on and either succumb to or overcome the darkness trying to engulf them.

In my many years as a journalist, I wrote for popular magazines such as FANGORIA and was able to meet a lot of the film stars I grew up admiring. However, it was when I met JOHN RUSSO, co-creator of the NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD, that I could finally cross off the top thing on my bucket list. Over the years we became very close friends, and he taught me a lot about the world through his unique perspective and wisdom.

The CDC has ran a campaign for awhile now about zombie prepareness and provides kits to the public on how to prepare for such an emergency. So I decided to talk with the man who helped create the zombie genre, John Russo, and to see what tips he might have for preparing for a Zombie Pandemic.

Pictured: Russ Streiner, George Kosana,
Amanda Dyar, and John Russo

AMANDA DYAR: John, thank you for taking the time to speak with us. Can you tell us a little bit about yourself and your work?

JOHN RUSSO: Well, I’ve been writing, producing and directing movies for a long time, and I’ve also written over 20 books, most of them terror-suspense novels such as MIDNIGHT, THE MAJORETTES, LIVING THINGS and THE AWAKENING. I’m currently writing THE PLAGUE OF THE LIVING DEAD (working title).  But my best book is DEALEY PLAZA, which is a horror novel in the sense that it reflects upon the nearly 60-year history of mass violence still going on in American; it has 22 four- and five-star reviews and really should be made into a mini-series.  

AMANDA: How did you get into the entertainment industry? And when did you know that you wanted to be a writer and be involved in making movies?

JOHN: I started trying to become a writer while I was still in high school and about to graduate and didn’t want to go to work in one of the local steel mills.  I wrote a very short mystery and tried to start a novel, but I didn’t have the skills yet.  I kept on writing in my spare time in college, and again when I was about to graduate with a degree in English education, the thought of working for someone else didn’t appeal to me.  I finished a novel about my wild, crazy college days while I was doing my student teaching.  But the novel never got published.  Writing it taught me a lot, though, and brought me a couple steps further toward become good at it.  Meantime, when I was a freshman I met George Romero, who had come to Pittsburgh to enroll in Carnegie Tech as a fine arts major.  He was terribly enthused about making movies, and I caught the disease.

AMANDA: How did you come to know George Romero and how did the Night of the Living Dead movie come about?

JOHN: I joined George Romero and Russ Streiner in their little company, The Latent Image, almost as soon as I got out of the army.  By this time I was in love with making feature movies and we all believed we had a great amount of talent and we had to learn the whole art and craft of it from scratch.  We started making TV spots, etc., to earn money and build up our studio and equipment, which took many years and lots of hard work with little sleep, and with starving half the time and sleeping on the studio floor.  We won a lot of awards but our clients were fickle.  Finally we bought an old 35mm camera, and I said we ought to get ten of us together and make a cheap horror movie.  That was the start of NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD.

AMANDA: You wrote the novel based on Dan O’Bannon’s script for Return of the Living Dead. The film is about two bumbling employees at a medical supply warehouse who accidentally release a deadly gas into the air; the vapors then cause the dead to rise again as zombies. Tell us a little bit about your novel and how it differs from the film?

JOHN: The novel RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD follows the script closely and has that same mix of horror and comedy, but a lot more of it and a lot more backstory.  Dan liked it a lot, and I really liked the movie.  I didn’t work on the movie, and I’ve only seen parts one and two.

AMANDA: One of the most memorable scenes from the film was the “Send more paramedics” part where the undead actually talk. How was this scene written differently than the one in your novel?

JOHN: Well, the script was written first, and I was writing the novel based on the script even while the movie was being shot.

AMANDA: You have years of research and writing under your belt when it comes to the undead. If we ever have an outbreak of a virus that brings the dead back to life, what would be your advice to emergency personnel on call that day?

JOHN: If I paid attention to the movie, I’d tell them, “Don’t come!”

AMANDA: Tell us a little bit about your latest project, My Uncle John is a Zombie and how did the idea for it came about.

JOHN: When I was in San Francisco as a special guest of Kirk Hammett and his Fear Fest Evil, the EPIX TV channel was doing a series of TV spots to promote their slate of zombie flicks, and their producer asked me to appear in one of the spots.  They filmed about eight of them with different horror celebrities, including me, and the producer texted my good friend Robert Lucas that I had “knocked it out of the park.”  So people thought my spot was the best one and very hilarious. I was made up as a zombie, telling the world how I became one.  You can see the spot on my website.  I thought that since people loved it so much, I should write a full-length script, MY UNCLE JOHN IS A ZOMBIE!, and I should play PLAY UNCLE JOHN. We also have a site called myunclejohnisazombie.com where you can learn all about it.

AMANDA: To prepare for the zombie outbreak, what supplies would you suggest people include in their emergency kit?

JOHN: If there’s a zombie outbreak, don’t arm yourself, just try to become friends with them.  The best way to do that is to become one yourself.  So allow yourself to be bitten, but not devoured.

AMANDA: Where would you and your family regroup (the mall, gun shop, etc)  in case zombies invaded your home and what would your evacuation route consist of?

JOHN: Under a zombie attack, I would flee to the nearest bar and abandon my family and friends.  But don’t tell them I said that.

AMANDA: Lastly, what would be your most important tip for staying safe and alive during a zombie outbreak?

JOHN: To stay safe and happy during a zombie attack, get drunk.  Or else wake up.  It’s not really happening, and zombies don’t really exist.  So don’t yield to blind belief in zombies, religion or Donald Trump.

Stay tuned over the coming weeks–we will be giving away some autographed memorabilia on our social channels!

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