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Concerning the adventures of two strangers, George and Edna, exploring the English countryside, who happen upon a few flesh-craving ghouls. It seems the freshly dead (and newly born) are being driven to violence by a device meant to destroy crop-eating insects by attacking their tiny nervous systems. The insects are expected to psychotically eat themselves into oblivion. The unlikely duo is trailed by a fascist, old world cop who’s convinced of the ‘dirty hippies’ direct involvement in the zombie related deaths.

Living Dead at Manchester Morgue, The
2008 Blue Underground


Living Dead at Manchester Morgue, The
2000 Anchor Bay


The Living Dead at Manchester Morgue (previously released by both Blue Underground and Anchor Bay as Let Sleeping Corpses Lie, and aka: Non si deve profanare il sonno dei morti, Breakfast at the Manchester Morgue, and Don't Open the Window) is an early Spanish/Italian co-produced entry in the post-Romero Euro-zombie lottery. The film stands apart in the greater zombie pantheon for being released as an answer to Night of the Living Dead rather then Dawn of the Dead. By these means this underappreciated film was a head of the exploitation curve. When its age is taken into account its by-the-numbers Dawn-rip style is surprising. The film looks and acts as if it were made five or six years after it was initially released.

Manchester Morgue is one of those rare low-budget ‘70s era horror films that are much better then it has any right being. The film puts itself ahead of the pack early with gorgeously green countryside photography and a unique use of stereo sound. The credits roll over stolen shots of our hero George (played by Autopsy star Ray Lovelock) rocketing though Manchester street on his way out of town for the weekend, timed wonderfully to a shockingly good main title song. At one corner George witnesses a young lady fling off her clothing and run naked across the street waving a peace sign. This is our first glimpse of director Jorge Grau’s political undertones.

Many of the post- Dawn of the Dead Euro-rips picked up on a few of the environmental implications of Romero’s overtly political film, but the social meaning is largely ignored in favour of haunting and violent images (in the best cases), and relentless sleaze (in the worst cases). Grau’s film apes the more deeply rooted politics of Night of the Living Dead, which was not as overtly political a movie. Immediately we begin to identify with George and Edna, but not because either one is particularly heroic (George is downright snide), but because the rest of the characters treat them like pariahs the second they drive into town. The police inspector (played by the familiar but not particularly popular Arthur Kennedy) has it in for George the minute he lays eyes on him, and outwardly ignores the facts of the case around him in hopes of gunning the ‘long haired faggot’ down (which is of course, a much more obvious point then the somewhat ambiguous one Romero made at the end of NOTLD.

Living Dead at Manchester Morgue, The
2008 Blue Underground


Living Dead at Manchester Morgue, The
2000 Anchor Bay


The scientific explanation for the re-animation of the dead is strictly sci-fi logically speaking, but surprisingly clever given the amount of zombie films that explain their plague through biological or radioactive means (even Night of the Living Dead alluded to radiation). The sonic resonance theory also points to a substantial environmental slant to assist the ambitious flesh eater flick’s already obvious social currents.

The plot is standard fair, though again, it does pre-date many of the genre’s clichés. From NOTLD Grau takes a few scenes of people locking themselves into buildings to avoid zombies, the bringing together of strangers that must count on each other to avoid being slaughtered, and a general sense of nihilism. From the Universal classics and the Hammer updates (not to mention his countryman Armando de Ossorio) Grau borrows some old fashion shadow and fog set ups, and a staggeringly witty sense of humour. The acting and dialogue here is far beyond the norm for the type and era, thanks in large part to some clever and natural script. There are huge lapses in continuity and logic, especially when it comes to the speed at which some of these zombies seem to travel (sometimes covering vast expanses of countryside in mere minutes, other times lumbering like mudskippers), but it’s very easy to overlook these issues in favour of style and mood.

The film’s use of gore effects is also quite clever. Grau doesn’t blow his load early like so many Italian exploitation mongers that followed in his footsteps, he chooses to steadily up the violence quotient and the graphic nature of the effects as the film proceeds. The mostly well executed effects pre-date Tom Savini’s industry changing work on Dawn of the Dead, and though the zombies themselves aren’t particularly rotten, scenes of gut-munching carnage are convincing and gross.

Living Dead at Manchester Morgue, The
2008 Blue Underground


Living Dead at Manchester Morgue, The
2000 Anchor Bay


Video


A fan’s initial reaction on finding this re-titled re-release will probably be of scepticism, and rightfully so. Blue Underground has been re-releasing Anchor Bay horror discs for some time now, and in almost every case they’ve done nothing to update the extras or transfers. A few years back Blue Underground re-released Anchor Bay’s Let Sleeping Corpses Lie disc, and didn’t change a thing, fortunately for Bill Lustig’s reputation this release is an undoubtedly new one.

The first thing to notice is the alternate credits (see my screen caps for a comparison). Though the music, credits, and some optical effects are all pretty cool, the title itself looks hand drawn and entirely out of place. It appears to be a distributor added title card, something that was very popular in the grindhouse era.

Besides the alternate credits and title, the film itself has been thoroughly cleaned and remastered. Though I complained of Blue Underground’s over cleaning and over lightening of Fulci’s Zombie, I happen to be very impressed and satisfied with this particular revamp. Details have improved exponentially (see the comparison between the tomb escape, in the original release you can’t even see the girl), but unlike the Zombi 2 release this hasn’t effected the frame's overall darkness. If anything blacks are now blacker. Grau’s use of shadow to cover the shortcomings of certain gore effects is still effective with one exception, but the set and landscape details are now as rich as they likely were on a first run theatrical viewing.

Living Dead at Manchester Morgue, The
2008 Blue Underground


Living Dead at Manchester Morgue, The
2000 Anchor Bay


Colour correction has also been a problem for past Anchor Bay and Blue Underground releases (see the newly blue-tinted Halloween release), but this time the readjustment seems to be accurate. The greens of the English countryside are intense, the reds of flowing blood and glistening intestines are potent, and flesh tones now appear more ‘fleshy’. There is very little compression noise or edge enhancement, and artefacts are scarce, though grain is present, adding some texture and age to the print.

Audio


The 5.1 Dolby Digital audio track is more or less the same as the older releases, with perhaps a bit more depth to the track separation (though it may have just been my imagination). Manchester Morgue is one of the few early genre B-movies to really involve itself with stereo sound design. The back of the DVD box lists an ‘Original Mono’ track, but I was made to understand that the original track was, in fact, stereo based. Regardless, this wacky use of abstract sound design (the zombies are often represented with an intense moog-like sound effect and really loud moans) lends itself very well to digital retooling.

The overall effect is rather natural, though not something that would be mistaken for a modern soundtrack. Fortunately there haven’t been any sound effects added to fill out the channels (ala the more recent releases of Sergio Leone’s Spaghetti Westerns), even if the majority of the track is low-key and dialogue based. There’s a tinge of hiss to some of the dubbed dialogue tracks, and occasionally sound effects sound a bit tinny, but this is the best state of the art representation you’re going to find without robbing the film of some of its natural and rustic charms. The soundtrack, by the way, is also fantastic, including an unfairly catchy title track.

Extras


Disc one of this new two disc set features the same TV spot, radio spots, and slideshow gallery that accompanied the previous Anchor Bay and Blue Underground releases. Joining them this time is a U.S. Trailer and an international trailer. The rest of the extras are found on the disc two.

Living Dead at Manchester Morgue, The
2008 Blue Underground


Living Dead at Manchester Morgue, The
2000 Anchor Bay


The second disc extras consist of four interview featurettes. The first, ‘Back to the Morgue’ is a forty-five minute journey through the filming locations with director Jorge Grau. Grau is interviewed in Spanish as he walks around the busy spots (so busy that the traffic just about drowns out his words). Manchester was chosen for practical reasons rather then stylistic ones, though the polluted state of the city helped his environmental subtext. Fortunately the interview goes beyond the realms of the film’s locations, which gets really old, and moves onto the filming process, the special effects, etc. Forty-five minutes is a little trying, but focus is more or less maintained throughout.

Next is a sixteen minute interview with Star Ray Lovelock, who in true Blue Underground tradition doesn’t just cover his work in Manchester Morgue, he more or less runs down his entire career. Lovelock (speaking in Italian with subtitles) has good recall, and has mostly fond memories of his work to share, along with nice things to say about the other actors and Grau. It sounds cruel, but it’s really too bad that Blue Underground didn’t interview the guy that dubbed Lovelock’s English dialogue. Though Lovelock has the look, his dialogue is the thing that sticks the performance above the average B-grade gut-muncher in my book.

This brings us to a seventeen minute interview with effects make-up artist Giannetto De Rossi, who also runs down a brief synapse of his entire career. De Rossi’s was the man behind the gruesome excesses of Lucio Fulci’s Zombie and the slightly more tame goop found in Lynch’s Dune. Because Blue Underground owns part of the distribution rights of Zombie (though they released it as Zombi 2), a lot of the interview focuses on his work on that film. For some reason the interview covers the Zombie stuff before the Manchester Morgue stuff, even though Grau’s film predated Fulci’s by several years. Though primitive by modern standards, De Rossi’s work always carries the ability to disturb, as seen in his ‘come back’ feature, Alexandre Aja’s Haute Tension.

The extras end with a 2000 interview with Grau that was part of the original DVD release. The twenty minute interview is better then the new set visit, but interestingly enough doesn’t cover too much of the same material. Though a little bland, this interview is the closest we get to a commentary track or making of documentary, and it does cover all the bases, if not briefly.

Living Dead at Manchester Morgue, The
2008 Blue Underground


Living Dead at Manchester Morgue, The
2000 Anchor Bay


Overall


The extras aren’t worth the re-purchase in my book, but the digital remastering is top notch. The Living Dead at Manchester Morgue (or if you please Let Sleeping Corpses Lie) is a must see for zombie fans, and the previous releases all seem to be out of print (including the outlandish ‘tin box’ release), so this double dip doesn’t seem overtly based in consumer gouging.


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