John Russo is a living legend in the horror genre, with his penning of the screenplay NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD with George Romero and novel by the same name. He has a written over twenty books, several screenplays, and is an accomplished actor and director. Though many attribute him as being the father of the zombie genre which we all have come to know and love, DEALEY PLAZA is a departure from Mr. Russo’s standard modus operandi.
In DEALEY PLAZA, you won’t find any brain eating zombies or undead ghouls coming for you in the shadows, but what you will find is a piece of cleverly crafted historical fiction that has its roots interwoven in true historical facts/events that defined the later part of the twentieth century.
DEALEY PLAZA is centered on a group of young adults who must grow up during some of the most turbulent times in recent history. It is a story that begins in the year following the John F. Kennedy assassination, in which some college friends and army buddies – all conspiracy buffs – decide to go to Dealey Plaza in Dallas, Texas and film a documentary about the JFK event during a college break. After the filming concludes, there are still a few days left of the break before the crew has to head home. With this extra time, two of the friends decide to go to Mexico to party and the other members of the group decide to go to Mississippi to attend a civil rights rally that is happening around the same time.
The group that went to Mississippi is ambushed because part of the party is black and we get a firsthand glimpse at what it was like to be black and live in the 60’s in the south, during a time that segregation still existed and animosities were high. Two blacks and two whites were killed, and a young mother named Lori McCoy barely survives with her small child. The woman and child escape by hiding in the back seat of the car while the ambush takes place and then making a getaway as the attackers are preoccupied with the others.
This event triggers a chain reaction that starts a ‘cat and mouse’-type thriller where Lori is pursued by the radicals at different points in her life when they find out where she lives. One of the friends who went to Mexico – Frank Williams – begins a career in law enforcement and becomes an FBI agent who dedicates his life to hunting down the killers and protecting his friends.
DEALEY PLAZA is a coming of age story and one of the most intensely violent books I have ever read. That being said, I think that every person should read it just to ground themselves on what hate really is and the effects of hate crime and violence on those whose lives it touches. It also provides the reader with a unique psychological insight into guns and violence, and the consequences of radicalism.
DEALEY PLAZA is, I believe, a definitive literary masterpiece. Much as Charles Dickens defined the pulse of what it was like living in the time of the French Revolution with his book, A TALE OF TWO CITIES, Mr. Russo skillfully captures the turbulence of America in the years following the Kennedy assassination. DEALEY PLAZA teaches history in such an entertaining way, that a scholar (student) might get a better education reading this book than some of the American history textbooks that are out there… at least it wouldn’t be as boring.
Although Mr. Russo will undoubtedly always be known for fathering zombie fiction with NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD, DEALEY PLAZA is arguably Mr. Russo’s best work yet. This one will make you think – and remember when – the world changed starting around what happened at Dealey Plaza.
Watch the trailer: