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August 2010

The Living Dead At The Manchester Morgue

cast: Ray Lovelock, Cristina Galbo, Arthur Kennedy, Jeanine Mestre, and Jose Lifante

director: Jorge Grau

90 minutes (18) 1974
widescreen ratio 1.85:1
Optimum DVD Region 2 retail

RATING: 7/10
review by Mark West

The Living Dead At The Manchester Morgue

George (Ray Lovelock), a hip young antiques dealer - who sounds like a cross between Mick Jagger and Michael Caine, is on his way from Manchester to Windermere to help friends sort out an old house. On the way, his Norton bike is accidentally damaged by Edna (Cristina Galbo), who agrees to drive him to Windermere, but then asks him to accompany her to Southgate, to see her sister Katie. On the way, lost, George wanders up to a farm field where the Department of Agriculture is trying out an experimental machine, which uses ultra-sonics and radiation to cause insects to kill each other.

Whilst waiting, Edna is attacked by a tramp but manages to escape. They find their way to her sisters - Katie (Jeanine Mestre) is a recovering heroin addict and her husband Martin (Jose Lifante) a photographer - only to discover that the tramp has got there before them and killed Martin. The police roll up, led by a tough talking Irish sergeant (Arthur Kennedy) and with two plus two making five; George and Edna find themselves under suspicion.

To say much more would be unfair, but suffice it to say, you won't be disappointed. I've been aware of this film, without actually knowing what it was about, for a long time. A casualty of the first DDP 'video nasty' list, back in June 1983, this has gained a lot of notoriety but now, having watched it for the first time, I wish I'd seen it much earlier.

The Living Dead At The Manchester Morgue (aka: Non si deve profanare il sonno dei morti) isn't a video nasty, let's get that clear from the off. The cinematography is beautiful, with bright vivid colours and a crisp image capturing the beautiful English (and Italian) countryside. The pace is nicely done - it's leisurely, but combined with a wonderfully creepy Brit atmosphere, it works perfectly and is never slow. The acting (though most of it is perfunctorily dubbed) is good and you sympathise with the characters from the off. The sound design is unusual but spot on - moans and groans and heavy breathing for the zombie attacks and a piercing, unpleasant sound for the radiation device.

The locations are well chosen - the countryside isolated but in bloom, with village pubs and hotels and small garages the order of the day. When George is seen leaving Manchester, the pedestrians he sees are presented as odd from the off - people staring vacantly into camera or at their surroundings (even when, for some reason, a brunette decides to streak across a junction), with others walking along wearing face masks to protect against the pollution. In fact, considering the pollution shown in the city, and use of that Department Of Agriculture radiation device, this might be viewed as one of the first eco-horror films made.

The film really kicks into gear when George and Edna make the connection that the man who hassled her and killed her brother-in-law was actually a local tramp that died the week before. They go to the cemetery, to check on his grave and realise that things have gone very wrong indeed. There's a very tense, well made confrontation in the church basement and, once a policeman arrives, a stand-off in the vestry. The tension mounts, the gore starts and it's a thrilling sequence.

Those aforementioned gore effects, by the esteemed Gianetto De Rossi, are well worked for a film of this vintage and include a shot to the head, numerous clubbings to various heads, at least one clear disembowelment, a zombie being run over, an eye-gouging, removal of a breast and several (really rather grim) immolations. I don't know how cut this version is, but for an early 1970s film, this is pretty intense.

The film is also blessed with a wonderfully downbeat ending - you hope for it, as the film wears on, but it's certainly not something you'd expect to see. And that, perhaps, is the attraction of the whole film. Its inclusion on the nasties list gives it a reputation, a certain cachet for being a gore-fest about zombies in the Lake District but it's so much more than that, so much better than that (though it is a gory film about zombies in the Lake District, don't get me wrong).

Apart from thinking it should have stuck with alternative title 'Let Sleeping Corpses Lie' (which at least makes sense), since nobody goes anywhere near to the Manchester Morgue, this is a fantastic film that is well worth seeking out.

The only extra on my screener copy was a trailer - almost four minutes of groovy music and a run through most of the set pieces (including gore). Perhaps best not to watch that before you watch the film.

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