Saturday, 21 March 2009

The Living Dead at Manchester Morgue

Jorge Grau's magnificent film, Non si deve Profanare il Sonno dei Morti, or more widely known as The Living Dead at Manchester Morgue, a Spanish Italian production, was made in 1974 and is part of the first wave of zombie films inspired by George Romero's 1968 horror Night of the Living Dead. The story set in the English countryside, concerns a mismatched couple George, and Edna who become mixed up in a spree of murders, caused by zombies returning to life...


Comparisons with Romero's landmark film are inevitable, but refreshingly Manchester Morgue is not strictly locked into the zombie conventions set by Romero and John Russo. An intriguing notion which seems like it strayed from a Hammer film, has the creatures extend the zombie plague by rubbing blood on the eyelids of the dead who in turn rise up to kill. Also, unlike Romero's film which vaguely explained the zombie phenomena as a consequence of a satellite returning to Earth and raining down a deadly Venusian radiation, the writers of Manchester Morgue had a more ecological concept in mind. The film's opening sequence before the story begins proper is a montage of city streets filled with rubbish, and commuters hurrying to work wearing smog-masks. The film suggests that a new experimental ultrasonic device for killing agricultural pests may be responsible for the zombie plague, reanimating the nervous systems of the dead, but one might infer that the it may be Nature itself that is rebelling against mankind for its constant interference, and in a sense the film draws a parallel with Deliverance, which had mountain men emerging out of the woods like ancient forest spirits seeking revenge on the four businessmen for the damming of the river by the power company.


And while the film takes a dim view of city living, the countryside may be no better, as the film captures the Peak district of England, as a dark, damp claustrophobic place. Certainly the film belongs to a lineage of films which took a sinister view of the British countryside, films like Witchfinder General, Straw Dogs, The Wicker Man and Blood on Satan's Claw. Also adding some chills to the film is the terrific sound design, the creepy experimental score, and some rather unnerving electronically treated bird calls. The film is well cast, with cult actor Ray Lovelock appearing as the leading man, and co-star, Cristina Galbó who appeared in What Have They Done to Solange? Also appearing in the film is Arthur Kennedy who plays a bigoted fascist detective. The English dub struggles with the various regional accents but Arthur Kennedy's voice is especially grating, being a rather horrible Oirish accent!

When the film was released in 1975 it was quite noteworthy for its gore (courtesy of Giannetto De Rossi) and by 1984 it was still strong enough to attract the attention of the DPP who removed the film from video shops across the UK, and was given the status of video nasty. The film was re-released some 18 months later with cuts to some of the stronger zombie carnage. It’s a testimony to the film's quality that it still remained hugely watchable in spite of the cuts. My copy of Manchester Morgueis the old Anchor Bay DVD edition, which is thankfully uncut (and known as Let Sleeping Corpses Lie on the print). However this edition has since been made obsolete by Blue Underground's stellar 2-disc edition which needless to say is highly recommended to fans of European fantasy cinema.

2 comments:

  1. I think I was just commenting on this over at the Nostalgic Attic - or maybe it was the Oak Drive-In? In any case - this was on a Top Ten Horror Movies list sent to me by a young British man answering my request for same in my Fangoria subscriber ad way back when. He was my furthest away respondent - and we became pen pals for many years (we've since lost touch, sadly - all the more so for all this ease of staying in contact through technology.) He made this movie sound so good - and now, something like 35 years later - I still haven't seen it. I am working to change that - will keep you posted!

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  2. Craig, that is an impressively long time to wait to see a film, I hope it works out ! I think you will enjoy it though, it’s made with lots of skill and style it really doesn’t belong with the later Italian zombie films (much as I like them!) despite being often lumped in with them. Okay, I won’t say anymore in case I’m building it up ! Isn’t that funny about being in touch with people ? I’ve recently started a Facebook account and have been gathering friends but I still feel very disconnected in a way... It’s a weird phenomenon. But yeah, be sure to let us know how you get on with the film !

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