Russo, John A. 1939–
Russo, John A. 1939–
PERSONAL: Born 1939; married; children: one daughter.
ADDRESSES: Home—Pittsburgh, PA. Agent—c/o Author Mail, Barclay House Books, 35-19 215 Pl., Bayside, NY 11361.
CAREER: Novelist, screenwriter, director, producer, and actor. Latent Image, Pittsburgh, PA, maker of advertising films, c. 1960s; John Russo's Movie Academy, Pittsburgh, lead instructor. Director of video Scream Queens Swimsuit Sensations, 1992; producer of film There's Always Vanilla (also known as The Affair), 1971; executive producer of film Children of the Living Dead, 2001. Appeared in films, including (as Washington military reporter/ghoul in house) Night of the Living Dead, 1968; (as coroner) The Majorettes (also known as One by One), 1986; (as himself) Drive-in Madness! (also known as Screen Scaries), 1987; The Inheritor, 1990; (as himself) Night of the Living Dead: 25th Anniversary Edition, 1993; (as a detective) Santa Claws (also known as 'Tis the Season), 1996; (as voice of Bud Sweeny) I Married a Strange Person!, 1997; (as himself) The Dead Walk: Remaking a Classic, 1999; and (as himself) UnConventional, 2004. Appeared in television miniseries, including (as honor guard) House of Frankenstein 1997, 1997, and (as himself) Clive Barker's A-Z of Horror, 1997. Editor of Scream Queens Illustrated.
(As John A. Russo; with George A. Romero; and editor) Night of the Living Dead, Continental Distributing, 1968.
(As Jack Russo; with Rudy Ricci) The Booby Hatch (also known as Dirty Book Store and The Liberation of Cherry Janowski), 1976.
(And director) Midnight (based on Russo's novel of the same name; also known as Backwoods Massacre), 1981.
(As John Russo; and producer) The Majorettes (based on Russo's novel of the same name; also known as One by One), 1986.
(With Jeffrey Delman, Evan Dunsky, and Thomas Rendon) Voodoo Dawn (based on Russo's novel of the same name; also known as Strange Turf), 1990.
(With George A. Romero; and producer) Night of the Living Dead (remake), 1990.
(And director) Midnight 2: Sex, Death, and Videotape, 1993.
(And director) Heartstopper (based on Russo's novel The Awakening; also known as Dark Craving), 1993.
(And director) Scream Queens' Naked Christmas, 1996.
(As John Russo; and director and producer) Santa Claws (also known as 'Tis the Season), 1996.
(And director) Saloonatics (video), 2002.
NOVELS; AS JOHN RUSSO
Return of the Living Dead, Dale Books (New York, NY), 1978, reprinted, Commonwealth Publications, 1997.
The Majorettes, Pocket Books (New York, NY), 1979.
Midnight, Pocket Books (New York, NY), 1980.
Limb to Limb, Pocket Books (New York, NY), 1981.
Black Cat, Pocket Books (New York, NY), 1982.
Bloodsisters, Pocket Books (New York, NY), 1982.
The Awakening, Pocket Books (New York, NY), 1983.
Day Care, Pocket Books (New York, NY), 1985.
Inhuman, Pocket Books (New York, NY), 1986.
Voodoo Dawn, Imagine (Pittsburgh, PA), 1987.
Living Things, Popular Library (New York, NY), 1988.
(With George A. Romero) Day of the Dead (novelization of film screenplay), Simon and Schuster (New York, NY) 1988.
Hell's Creation, Commonwealth Publications, 1995.
NONFICTION; AS JOHN RUSSO
The Complete Night of the Living Dead Filmbook, preface by George A. Romero, Harmony House (New York, NY), 1985.
Making Movies: The Inside Guide to Independent Movie Production, Delacorte Press (New York, NY), 1989.
Scare Tactics: The Art, Craft, and Trade Secrets of Writing, Producing, and Directing Chillers and Thrillers, Dell (New York, NY), 1992.
How to Make and Market Your Own Feature Movie for $10,000 or Less, Barclay House (New York, NY), 1994.
Also author of The Filmmaker's Guide to Producing Low-Budget Independent Motion Pictures.
ADAPTATIONS: Night of the Living Dead was adapted as a sixty-minute audiocassette, Simon and Schuster Audioworks, 1988.
SIDELIGHTS: John A. Russo is a master of the horror genre in two media: novels and films. His best-known work is Night of the Living Dead, the classic 1968 horror film for which he wrote the screenplay. Although modern filmgoers might find the film more campy than scary, at the time it was first released it was groundbreaking. "Night of the Living Dead may not have the heft of art," Caryn James commented in the New York Times, but "without those zombies, there might not be a Jason on Friday the 13th or a Freddy Krueger on Elm Street: killers who became powerful forces in the movie industry, and who obviously touched some dank, sinister part of the mass imagination."
In the opinion of some critics, Night of the Living Dead draws on the conflicted feelings many Americans held during the cold-war era. As Daniel Kraus wrote for Salon.com, "The figure of the zombie was the perfect open-ended metaphor" for the discomfort and helplessness Americans felt in the face of the horrors they saw their own government and fellow Americans perpetrating; "You didn't know who they were, where they were or how many there were, only that they were coming at you from all sides, and some of them looked just like you." In the film, the dead are brought back to life as flesh-hungry zombies by the accidental release of radiation. The film opens with brother and sister Johnny and Barbara visiting their father's grave. When the zombies start arising, Johnny is killed, but Barbara manages to reach a farmhouse where a group of people are preparing to make a stand. Throughout the rest of the film, the humans are picked off one by one, until only one lone survivor is left.
Night of the Living Dead was made for a mere 114,000 dollars, mostly by people who had never made a film before; it was the first film Russo and co-writer and director George A. Romero had written and the first feature film Romero directed. It was also shot in black-and-white at a time when color films were becoming dominant. The first few distribution companies to which Romero and Russo pitched it declined to take it. Yet when the film finally was distributed, it quickly became a cult hit, grossing over 12 million dollars by 1979.
Russo went on to write the screenplays for many more horror films, penning several of these—Midnight, The Majorettes, Voodoo Dawn, and Heartstopper—as novels and then adapting them for the screen. The film Voodoo Dawn, like Night of the Living Dead, features an army of zombies, this time intentionally raised by a voodoo priest who preys on migrant farm workers. This film's "gory finale packs a horrific punch," according to AllMovie.com contributor Cavett Binion. A contributor to the St. James Guide to Horror, Ghost, and Gothic Writers also praised the novel version of Voodoo Dawn, calling it "the most atmospheric and frightening of Russo's novels."
Midnight and The Majorettes, more conventional horror novels and films, feature fully human, psychopathic villains. In Midnight a young hitchhiker named Nancy and the two thieves who offer her a ride are all kidnapped by a family of Satan worshipers who want to use Nancy for their Easter Sunday sacrifice; in The Majorettes a serial killer is preying on one high school's cheerleaders and baton twirlers.
Russo's films Santa Claws and Scream Queens' Naked Christmas interlock in a way not usually seen in the film industry. The former film is a satire of the "scream queen" subgenre of horror films, which combine gore with titillation. The villain, Wayne, has moved in next door to a "scream queen"—an actress in such horror films—named Raven. Wayne, an obsessive psychopath, literally idolizes Raven: he has an altar to her set up in his house, complete with a life-sized bust. Wayne ingratiates himself with Raven, even joining her family when they go Christmas carolling and babysitting her two daughters. Meanwhile, his alter ego Santa Claws, a slasher in a Santa suit who gift-wraps his victims after murdering them, kills Raven's co-workers at Scream Productions. Scream Queens' Naked Christmas is the film-within-a-film that Raven and the others at Scream Productions are supposedly making while the events of Santa Claws occur. The "scream queen" films form "a disturbing subgenre," Robert Firsching noted on AllMovie.com, "and it is comforting to see that [Russo] understands its potential downside" and addresses it.
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
St. James Guide to Horror, Ghost, and Gothic Writers, St. James Press (Detroit, MI), 1998.
New York Times, October 19, 1990, Caryn James, "The Zombies Return, in Living (or Is It Dead?) Color" (review of Night of the Living Dead remake), p. C17.
AllMovie.com, http://www.allmovie.com/ (March 31, 2005), Lucia Bozolla, review of Night of the Living Dead; Clarke Fountain, review of There's Always Vanilla; Eleanor Mannikka, review of Midnight; Brian J. Dillard, review of Return of the Living Dead; Dan Pavlides, review of The Majorettes; Cavett Binion, review of Voodoo Dawn; Robert Firsching, review of Night of the Living Dead (remake); Sandra Brennan, review of Heartstopper; John Bush, review of Midnight 2: Sex, Death, and Videotape; Robert Firsching, review of Santa Claws.
I Love Zombies Web site, http://www.zombiejuice.com/ (July 2, 2003), review of The Complete Night of the Living Dead Filmbook.
Internet Movie Database, http://www.imdb.com/ (April 21, 2005), "John A. Russo."
John Russo's Movie Academy Web site, http://www.movie-emporium.com/ (March 31, 2005).
Movie Madness! Web site, http://www.psychotronic.info/ (April 24, 2005), Brian Thomas, review of Santa Claws.
Pittsburgh Pulp Web site, http://www.pittsburghpulp.com/ (April 7, 2005), Mike Watt, "'I'm an Actor, But …': If What You Really Want to Do Is Direct, John Russo's Moving Making Workshop Opens the Door."
Salon.com, http://www.salon.com/ (October 28, 1999), Daniel Kraus, review of Night of the Living Dead.