Let Sleeping Corpses Lie aka The Living Dead at Manchester Morgue (1974)
For all intents and purposes, this was the first time I watched The Living Dead at Manchester Morgue (1977), the name of the movie on the Synapse Films Blu-ray. (It’s been known by many others, including Let Sleeping Corpses Lie, which is what IMDb calls it.) I have history showing that I awarded it six stars at one time, but I have no memory of seeing it. As my taste for Eurohorror has developed over the years, I now think it’s better than that.
Of all the zombie films out there, this one most reminds me of Night of the Living Dead, and that’s not a criticism. Its driving plot about “the Inspector” (Arthur Kennedy) pursuing George (Ray Lovelock) and Edna (Cristina Galbo) because he thinks they’re responsible for a series of killings evokes the misunderstanding at the end of Night of the Living Dead in which, spoiler alert, an innocent human is shot and killed because he’s assumed to be a zombie.
The two films are also similar in their matter-of-fact presentation of the zombies. There’s not much suspense building with their appearance; they’re just suddenly there and then, oh, there’s more of them. Let Sleeping Corpses Lie is not actually as gory as you might think. While it shares with Night of the Living Dead some of the graphic depictions of zombies feasting on human organs, those scenes are less frequent. The difference, of course, is that this one is in color.
Let Sleeping Corpses Lie is clearer with its explanation or origin of the zombies. The “Agricultural Department Experimental Section” is testing equipment that will destroy “insects and parasites” with ultrasonic radiation (no chemicals.) It drives ants mad and they attack each other. As the range of the machine spreads, we learn that babies are born with aggressive behavior and, of course, if “it worked on the babies, why not them (dead bodies)?”
The twist is that there’s also a reason that the zombies kill. They can bring other dead bodies to life by transferring blood. Why, it’s as simple as one of them wiping its hands on a bloody wall, then dotting the eyelids of a corpse with the sticky red fluid to revive it. While the overall setting is the countryside, the plot provides several opportunities for the currently living to be confined in small spaces with the formerly dead.
This is all well and good, but there’s a directorial style applied by Jorge Grau that raises Let Sleeping Corpses Lie to another level. Sometimes, the camera slowly pans across the scene at an interesting angle. It’s also supposedly his own voice that supplies the growling, moaning, and groaning of the zombies that provides much of the film’s soundtrack. It’s pervasive, almost like ambient sound… and it’s very unsettling.
The film is distinctly 1970s with an ecological layer on top of it (and suggestion of a satanic cult.) It opens with George closing his shop in the city, then driving through grungy industrial areas, listening to news of a “project for survival,” before reaching the lush, green country. I also noticed that a city scene with people packed into a bus stop makes them look like… well, zombies. Is it a movie with a message? I suppose it could be. But it’s also just plain scary.
Written by Sandro Continenza, Marcello Coscia
Directed by Jorge Grau
Starring Cristina Galbo, Ray Lovelock, Arthur Kennedy
RT 95 min.
Released Nov. 28, 1974 (Italy), June 1, 1975 (US)
Home Video Blu-ray (Synapse Films)
Rating 7 possessed children (out of 10)