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Living Dead at Manchester Morgue, The
Release Date(s)1974 (October 27, 2009)
Studio(s)Star Films (Blue Underground)
When George A. Romero made Night of the Living Dead back in 1968, I’m sure he had no idea that zombies would become the go-to monsters of choice for the next forty years. And while I’m personally a little tired of them, it’s easy to understand their appeal. They’re a relatively believable threat (I’ve never actually met a vampire but I’ll bet we’ve all seen a dead body or two). You can out-think and out-run them but their primary strength lies in numbers. They can be easily transplanted to any location you care to shoot a film in, from Pittsburgh to Haiti to the ends of the Earth. And they’re a blank slate for filmmakers to get across virtually any theme or message.
Spanish director Jorge Grau staged some memorable undead anarchy in the UK with The Living Dead at Manchester Morgue. Ray Lovelock stars as an antiques dealer on his way to meet up with friends for the weekend. His motorcycle is hit by Christine Galbo, on her way to visit her heroin-addicted sister. Galbo offers him her car if he’ll just drop her off at her sister’s place first. But unbeknownst to either of them, the dead have begun to rise again thanks to an experimental agricultural device that kills insects and parasites via radiation and ultrasound. Interestingly, while Lovelock and Galbo become zombie killers, no one else is ever around when they’re being attacked, so detective Arthur Kennedy thinks he has a couple of hippie devil-worshippers on his hands.
If any of this sounds familiar, you may have already seen this movie under one of its many, many other titles (when I first saw it, it was called Let Sleeping Corpses Lie). And while I wouldn’t go so far as to call this a classic, it’s certainly a fair amount of fun. The UK locations are gorgeous and the makeup effects are effectively bloody. Grau’s ecological theme is ahead of its time and could probably have been expanded on a bit. It’s mentioned that the agri-machine affects primitive, undeveloped nervous systems, resulting in not just reanimated corpses but also a rash of psychotically aggressive babies. It would have been fun to see the psycho-tot subplot exploited more but you can’t have everything. Still, it’s an entertaining enough movie with an impressively downbeat ending. I’m shocked no one has ever bothered to make Return to Manchester Morgue.
Blue Underground continues to re-release its greatest hits on Blu-ray with this impressive disc. The movie looks great and appropriately grainy for a film of this era. The colors are vivid, especially the green hills of England. The 7.1 DTS-HD remix opens the sound up a bit but the original mono soundtrack is also included, if you prefer. Extras include a 45-minute tour of the original locations with director Jorge Grau offering anecdotes about the production, a 15-minute interview with star Ray Lovelock, and a 15-minute interview with special effects artist Giannetto De Rossi. All of these are well-done and quite interesting. Ported over from the old Anchor Bay release of Let Sleeping Corpses Lie is a brief video introduction from Grau and an interview with the director from 2000. The disc also includes two trailers, radio and TV spots and a gallery of poster art and stills.
For zombie-lovers, The Living Dead at Manchester Morgue offers a nice blend of the controlled suspense of Romero’s Night of the Living Dead and the ultragore of Lucio Fulci’s Zombie. There’s quite a bit going on in this movie and I’d have liked to see some of it developed more. But that’s not a bad problem to have. It’s far better to have too many interesting ideas than not enough.
- Dr. Adam Jahnke