The Special Page

On this month's Special Page:

A brand new interview with John Russo


Mark Lukens
Joe R. Lansdale
Douglas Clegg
Simon Clark
Dale Kaczmarek
Owl Goingback
Paul Tremblay

John Russo interview for The Horror Zine

Interview by Jeani Rector

john russo

Q. You are probably known best for being a co-writer of the original “Night of the Living Dead,” released in 1968. Not many know that you were the one who pitched the idea to George Romero, and then George came back to you with 40 pages of script from your idea. From there, you two worked together on the final screenplay. What gave you the original idea, as back then, zombies were not yet a popular subject?

A.  The way the concept and script evolved is a long story, but I can try to tell it in an abbreviated fashion. 

I came up with the suggestion that ten of us, meaning the five of us who worked together at The Latent Image, plus five of our friends and associates, should come up with $600 apiece to try to get a movie off the ground.  I said we ought to be able to make a much better horror film than the el cheapo ones that we were laughing at on Bill Cardille's late-night show, Chiller Theater. 

George Romero and I beat some ideas around, since we were the two writers in our little film company, and I said that whatever we do should start in a cemetery because people find cemeteries spooky.  I started working on a script that involved aliens from outer space coming to earth to kill people and eat their flesh.  Meantime, George wrote about 30 pages or so of a story that opened in a cemetery, and it was in essence the beginning of what became NOLD.  I read it and liked it and told George it had all the right kinds of suspense and twists and turns, but when I asked him who was chasing the girl, he said he didn't know.  I said it seemed to me they could be dead people.  He said that was good.  So I asked him what they were after, and again he said he didn't know, so I said, "Why don't we use my flesh-eating idea?  He said that was good.  And I think it's perfectly clear that without those two key ideas that I came up with, you wouldn't have NOLD or any of the zombie films that have come after it.

I re-wrote George's story, putting it in screenplay format, then I went ahead and wrote the rest of the script on my own, because George was involved in a commercial film project, and I didn't want our feature film to die before it even got started.  Most of the main ideas in the rest of the script were also mind, and that's why I have top billing as screenwriter.

Q. George Romero passed away in July of 2017. How did you cope with the loss of your friend?

A.  Well, George and I sometimes had our differences but we never screamed and yelled at each other and we remained friends and even worked on a few more projects together till the day he died.  I broke down at his funeral in Toronto.  I can never forget George and I keep thinking about him.  When he and Russ Streiner and I would get together and have drinks, etc., we would laugh our butts off.  And we were on the same length regarding cultural and social issues and the like, including that we were all anxious to get rid of Trump.

Q. You have written many screenplays on your own, without George Romero. Of your own films, which is your favorite and why?

A.  Well, I think one of my best low-budget films is THE MOB BOSS AND THE SOUL  SINGER, starring Chuck Corby, Debbie Rochon and Bruno Sammartino.  It's the story of an R&B band struggling for 30 years to try to make it in the biz, and getting victimized by the shylocks, the mob and even their own wives.  Then they get a chance to steal half a million bucks from the mob boss -- and people start to get killed -- but it still has an upbeat ending after the "right assholes" are the ones who get bumped off.  It has great music by Chuck Corby and Quiet Storm.

I guess my favorite, though, right now at least, is MY UNCLE JOHN IS A ZOMBIE!  I got to play the lead character, it was great fun working with talented people like Robert Lucas and Gary Vincent, and I wrote two of the main songs -- and I sing two of them -- as a zombie!  And the movie is a crowd pleaser and is getting excellent reviews.  It's in worldwide distribution, including streaming, by ITN.  You can go to the website and buy a DVD.

Q. To add to your long list of accomplishments, you have directed at least fourteen films. You have acted in twelve, and produced at least twelve. How are you able to change this may hats?

A. I have kept going, writing, producing and directing books and films -- and constantly learning and widening my scope.  I can do some things, like acting, far better than I could have done them years ago.  I think if you keep learning and growing, instead of letting yourself stagnate, you can discover and develop a wide range of talents, some of which you didn't know you had.

Q. You are also a novelist, having written twenty or more books so far. What are the differences between novel writing and screenwriting?

A.  Of course novels are larger and require more detailed plot and character development, generally, than do screenplays.  The work is more intensive.  I can write a screenplay sometimes in 30 days, if I have to. But even a short novel of 50,000 or so words cannot usually be completed in less than three months -- usually it takes double that.

Q. I met you in person here in Sacramento when we both attended Sinister Creature Con at the Scottish Rite temple a few years back. You were surrounded by fans. How often do you accept convention requests for your appearance, and do you find them exhausting or energizing?

A.  I love doing the conventions and interacting with fans, and it helps me keep in tune with what they like and where they are coming from. Prior to the Covid pandemic I was doing 15 or 20 personal appearances each year, and I had about that many good ones lined up that have now been postponed, cancelled or re-scheduled.  They are a grind, mostly because I will almost always party half the nights away.  But they are energizing, not exhausting. 

Q. What attracted you to the horror genre? Did you read books and go to movies in that genre as a child?

A.  I saw every movie, just about, that came into my small town, Clairton, PA.  We had three theaters in those days, and the pictures changed twice a week, and often they were double bills.  I liked the horror films, even though many of them were B-movie Hollywood grind-outs.  Usually I was disappointed.  That's why, when we were making NOLD, Russ, George and I wanted to make something that gave the horror fans what they wanted.

Q. Where do you see the future of horror going? Will zombies stay on top, or will something new take the spotlight?

A.  I don't spend a lot of time contemplating the future of horror, I just spend a lot of time trying to come up new, exciting ideas and develop them to the best of my ability. 












See John's new music video, EVE OF DESTRUCTION, on YouTube HERE

About John Russo

john russo

With twenty books published internationally and nineteen feature movies in worldwide distribution, John Russo has been called a “living legend.” He began by co-authoring the screenplay for NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD which has become recognized as a “horror classic.”

His books on the art and craft of movie making, such as HOW TO MAKE EXCITING MONEY MAKING MOVIES, have become bibles of independent production. Quentin Tarantino and many other noted filmmakers have stated that Russo’s books helped them launch their careers.

John Russo wants people to know he’s “just a nice guy who likes to scare people” — and he’s done it with novels and films such as RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD, MIDNIGHT, THE MAJORETTES, THE AWAKENING and HEARTSTOPPER. He has had a long, rewarding career, and he shows no signs of slowing down. Recently his screenplay for ESCAPE OF THE LIVING DEAD was made into a five-part comic book released by Avatar to great acclaim; it made the Top Ten of Horror Comics nationally and spawned two graphic novels and ten sequels.

Russo’s latest novel DEALEY PLAZA was published by Burning Bulb Publishing, which has also published Russo’s novels THE ACADEMY, THE AWAKENING, THE BOOBY HATCH, LIMB TO LIMB, LIVING THINGS and NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD. His short story Channel 666 appears in THE BIG BOOK OF BIZARRO and John was a contributing editor on the Burning Bulb hit anthology RISE OF THE DEAD.

He is also slated to direct two movies: a remake of his cult hit, MIDNIGHT, and a brand new take on the “zombie phenomenon” entitled SPAWN OF THE DEAD.

His popularity among genre fans remains at a high pitch. He appears at many movie conventions each year as a featured guest, and he considers his appearance at the Orion Festival, hosted by Kirk Hammett and METALLICA, one of the highlights of his career.

uncle john