Neil Young’s Film Lounge – The Living Dead at the Manchester Morgue
THE LIVING DEAD AT THE MANCHESTER MORGUE
alternative titles include : No Profanar el Sueno de los Muertos (Spain) / Non si Deve Profanare il Sonno dei Morti (Italy) / Dont Open the Window (USA) / Let Sleeping Corpses Lie
Spain/Italy 1974 : Jorge Grau : 93 mins
ONE-LINE REVIEW: Cheerfully brazen Euro-gore twist on Night of the Living Dead makes the most of some remote English locations, but is let down by a heavy-handed political subtext not to mention the heros silly dubbed voice.
I hope you get very scared and that you suffer profoundly Jorge Grau.
Trendy antique-dealer George Meaning (Italian star Ray Lovelock) heads off to the countryside for a quiet weekend. After a motorbike mishap, he falls in with Edna (wooden Cristina Galbo), who’s travelling to visit relatives. When Edna is attacked by a glassy-eyed tramp (striking Fernando Hilbeck), its the first sign that something is very wrong the tramp has been dead and (supposedly) buried for a week. Investigating further, George discovers that the governments Agricultural Department has been conducting experimental ultrasound tests in the area designed to destroy insects and parasites by messing up their nervous systems. But the tests have the additional effect of bringing the recently dead to murderous life, and the zombies soon leave a bloody path of havoc in their wake. The police prefer a more rational explanation for the murders, however, and the hippyish George appeals to the cop in charge (Arthur Kennedy) as a suitable suspect
Like every good Euro-horror, the breezily unapologetic Night of the Living Dead rip-off known by its Spanish director as No Profanar el Sueno de los Muertos (literally Dont Disturb the Dream of the Dead) has been released under a confusing plethora of different titles. But its as The Living Dead at the Manchester Morgue memorably juxtaposing the lurid and the mundane – that the film has attained cult status. So its somewhat baffling to see the enterprising Anchor Bay company choosing Let Sleeping Corpses Lie for the long-overdue DVD release, relegating the better-known Manchester Morgue tag to small print on the front of the box.
Perhaps its because, famously, there is no Manchester morgue in The Living Dead at the Manchester Morgue we see Manchester, and a morgue, and a van marked Manchester Mortuary. But the re-animation is precisely confined to a five-mile radius that includes the fictional backwater of Southgate. Then again, in a way its somehow appropriate that a Spanish-Italian co-production, featuring an almost entirely Spanish and Italian cast and crew, with most of its interiors shot in Madrid but explicitly set and largely filmed in the UK should spawn decades of geographical confusion.
Some commentators, for instance, think that the striking opening sequence showing a dystopian seventies inner-city Britain, choked with fumes, strewn with litter, caked with grime is set in London.
But Graus shots of Manchester cathedral, Deansgate and John Dalton Street (however fleeting) reveal the exact location of Georges trendy boutique. We follow him as he takes off through the mean city streets past a population so desensitised they don’t bat an eyelid when a buxom streaker runs naked in their midst and out into the open countryside. But what countryside, exactly?
Nearly all sources routinely locate the films action in The Lake District. And we see a road-sign indicating the junction of the A5075 and the A590 just outside Levens, Cumbria, a county that is indeed dominated by the Lakes picture-box scenery. But while Levens itself isn’t part of the Lake District, its as close as the movie ever gets. The main action unfolds in the much less tourist-infested Peak District specifically around Castleton, Hathersage and Dovedale, in Derbyshire.
Hathersage is cited by Grau in the interview that’s part of the Anchor Bay DVDs extra features (the subtitle reads Attersedge) as the location for a memorable sequence that foreshadows the climax of John Carpenters The Fog (1979). Attacked by the living dead in a graveyard, George holes himself up in the nearby church, along with a local bobby. When the cop makes a desperate sortie for help, he’s soon downed by the zombies who proceed to disembowel him and devour his entrails in one of the films numerous surprisingly hardcore moments of convincing gore.
But while the sympathetic coppers sacrifice is explicitly heroic, Graus instincts as he confesses in the DVD interview are very much anti-authoritarian. His mistrust of men in uniform is understandable given the fact that he was living under General Francos Fascist dictatorship at the time. On one level, Manchester Morgue is of course a sensationalist piece of standard exploitation horror but Graus political subtext is fairly hard to miss. The disastrous pest-control scheme is a government initiative (best of luck to them, incidentally, if they believe that insects even have such a thing as a central nervous system) and then there’s the full-bore reactionary caricature that is Kennedy, who gets to snarl more than his share of the scripts most heavy-handed dialogue.
Generally fed up with modern societys permissive rot, Kennedys cop sees George as the epitome of all that’s wrong with the world, taking his long hair and faggot clothes as a personal affront. As a sympathetic representative of the swinging Seventies, however, George is no Peter Fonda. When first glimpsed, he’s pottering around his antique shop, kitted out in tie and cardigan. And though he soon takes to the highways on his motorbike, resplendent in leather coat and shades, this Maurice Gibb lookalike blows his cool as soon as he opens his mouth.
Dubbed into English, Georges voice makes him sound like a camp, creepy square a sardonic mixture of Michael Caine, Kenneth Williams and Peter Cooks E L Wisty. Hes quite staggeringly unsympathetic towards Edna, and its only when the even more unappealing the cop appears on the scene that George emerges as any kind of likeable action hero though this says more about the cop than his bete noire as he turns machine-breaking Luddite.
Georges voice manages to damagingly undercut the films more disturbing elements the zombie attack sequences may be unexpectedly extreme in their violence and gore, but even more shocking is their aftermath, in which the hollow-eyed nosferatu placidly munch on the internal organs of their victims. And having them revive their fellow corpses by means of smearing blood on the eyelids is a nice, quasi-religious touch (even if it isn’t developed to any significant degree though George does comment its not my fault if Christ and the saints aren’t in fashion!) While the whole plot is quite engagingly loopy, it does hang together more coherently than youd expect, given some of the wilder convolutions of Graus imagination.
There may not be anything in his directorial contribution to match the striking originality of his location choices, but the Peak District backgrounds do ensure that Manchester Morgue is always interesting to look at and Grau, largely resisting the urge to indulge in then-trendy zooms, does through in the odd effective arty touch, like a vicious nocturnal murder illuminated by the intermittent glare of an automatic camera flashbulb. But while it may be easy on the eye, the film is often tough on the ear supposedly this is the first horror film made in full stereo sound, and Grau does his level best to push the new technology as far as it will go. He crafts an elaborate cacophony of throbbing heart-beats, electrical distortions, animal groans and corpse-rattle sighs but, typically, can’t resist padding out the score with a generous helping of standard-issue seventies cheese.
15th July 2002
(seen on DVD, 9th July 2002)
by Neil Young