The Living Dead at Manchester Morgue (1974)

One from the re watch pile…

The Living Dead at Manchester Morgue (1974)

Film: As with all film fans, there are ‘Holy Grails’ on my mental checklist of ‘need to sees’ and before I had seen it, this was one of mine. This film, The Living Dead at Manchester Morgue, is also known as Let Sleeping Corpses Lie (which is more or less a translation of the Italian title “Non si deve profanare il sonno dei morti” which literally means “You must not desecrate the sleep of the dead”) and Don’t Open the Window. I had these three films on my list, and for some reason I was ignorant of the fact that they were one in the same film.

Imagine my joy when I found out they were one and the same.

The Living Dead at Manchester Morgue tells the following tale: George (Ray Lovelock) is an antiques dealer who enjoys his weekends in the country, away from the hustle and bustle and pollution of the big city. One weekend on his way to his retreat, he has a small accident with the gorgeous Edna (Christine Galbo) who is on the way to assist her brother in law Martin (Jose Lifante) in an intervention with her heroin addicted sister, Katie (Jeannine Mestre). Unfortunately his motorbike is wrecked, and so Edna offers to take him to where he has to go in her car.

Typically they get lost, and George stops to ask for directions at a farm that is using a revolutionary pest control technique that has a disturbing side effect: it brings the dead back to life! Whilst George is away from the car, Edna is attacked by one of the living dead, and so begins a descent into madness that finds corpses returning to eat the living, babies showing deadly signs of cannibalism and the local constabulary, led by a hardnosed old-school inspector (Arthur Kennedy) thinking they are a pair of homicidal hippies!

One of the things I really like about this film is what a misogynistic, sexist arsehole the male lead, George (Ray Lovelock) appears to be. He is a condescending, self assured jerkoff, and honestly I can’t tell if he is representing men of the era accurately, or if he is a parody akin to what was seen in something like the MUCH later film The Editor.

Now the female lead is one I really like. Christine Galbo plays her role of Edna like a more realistic Barbara from Night of the Living Dead. She is definitely in shock, but almost completely avoids the dumb-founded catatonia that made Barbara a frustrating piece of furniture to be thrown around by the male protagonists.

Actually I felt this film owed a lot to Night of the Living Dead, and not just due to its walking dead, its machismo fuelled male lead or weak-ankled female lead. There is an all over sense of impending doom, and the more cynical of us might just say the ending is a blatant copy of Romero’s B/W film.

The script, by Sandro Continenza, is both retro and revolutionary at the same time. It has hippie-hating cops and the women are of the shrinking violet variety, but it also looks at ‘new’ clean pest-rid technologies. It’s anti-pollution, looks briefly (and amusingly) at heroin addiction and demonstrates a high level of environmental awareness.

An absolute cracker. It precedes George Romero’s ideas of the dead’s instincts presented in Dawn of the Dead by several years, and its anti-pollution, pro-eco stance is well ahead of its time. As for Blue Underground’s disc, well it is chock-a-block full of more extras than you could shake a grave marker at. I never thought I would see a film to rival Romero’s Dawn of the Dead, and while I still may not have, this comes real close

Score: *****

Format: This review was performed on the Blue Underground, two-disc Set from about ten years ago. The DVD has a delightful image: bright, vibrant, detailed, and is presented in 1.85:1 widescreen. The cover claims the image has been remastered in Hi Definition from the original camera negative, and I am guessing it is that process which gives it…ahem… new life. The film is presented in a choice of 5.1 Dolby Digital Surround, Dolby Surround 2.0 and Original Mono. I reviewed this as 5.1 and was impressed by the quality. Of course, the voices do not always match the speaker’s lips but this may be due to dual language tracks rather than a fault of the disc mastering.

Score: ***1/5

Extras: This being a 2 discer means we are treated to a coffin full of extras.

Disc 1 treats us to the International trailer (which identifies the film as The Living Dead at THE Manchester Morgue, but gets away with it by providing a COOL music track), the U.S. trailer (under the title of Don’t Open the Window, and is one of those SEE!!! HEAR!!! Type trailers), TV Spot (another US trailer for Don’t Open The Window), Radio Spots (a collection of radio adverts with a collection of posters played over the screen…excellent) and Poster and Still Gallery (a collection of pixelated pictures and posters and stills from the film).

Disc 2 has a great series of featurettes:

Back To the Morgue – On Location With Jorge Grau sees director Grau revisit locations in Derbyshire and Manchester and talk about the production, location and filming of the movie. The revisitation of Southgate hospital shows it to be a condemned building…shame but the visit to the graveyard is fantastic (especially to a grave yard explorer like me) as it is the graveyard that contains the grave of Robin Hood’s Lieutenant Little John!! The visits are accompanied by amusing reminiscences from Grau. A favourite would have to be his justification of having the streaker in the opening part of the film; while he admits it wasn’t in the script, he believed it was ‘suggested’ by the scriptwriter.

Zombie Fighter – Interview with Star Ray Lovelock is an interesting interview with the actor where he basically recounts his career.

Zombie Maker – Interview with Special Effects Artist Gianetto De Rossi is an interesting look not just at the effects of this film and the effect’s artist’s body of work, but also a brief history of effects artists in European cinema.

2000 Interview with Jorge Grau is a more personal interview with Grau, and he discusses his life and influences, and the making of the film.

Score: *****

WISIA: It’s an amazing zombie film and well worth repeated viewings!

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