Release Date(s)1974 (June 7, 2022)
Studio(s)Star Films/Hallmark Releasing/Filmways (Synapse Films)
- Film/Program Grade: B
- Video Grade: A-
- Audio Grade: A-
- Extras Grade: B-
For horror fans of a certain age, The Living Dead at Manchester Morgue (aka Let Sleeping Corpses Lie) is one of the seminal home video gutmunchers of its era. It’s also unlike many of its counterparts in that it has dramatic and science fiction twists to it that are more akin to Night of the Living Dead than Dawn of the Dead, the latter of which wouldn’t be released for another few years. It has all of the zombie mayhem you would expect, especially from a Spanish/Italian co-production, but the story and its execution are a little less straightforward than one might expect.
George (Ray Lovelock) is traveling the English countryside when he has a minor traffic collision with a woman named Edna (Cristina Galbo). Having to leave his motorcycle behind for repairs, she agrees to give him a ride to where he’s going, though she must stop and check in on her sister, a drug addict who’s been out of contact with her for some time. Along their route, they discover men out in a field with large pieces of machinery, which produces high levels of radiation in order to kill insects that are affecting the agriculture of the area. This inadvertently (unbeknownst to anyone) raises the dead, which begin stalking the area, gruesomely killing and eating unlucky victims. Seen as outsiders who may be involved with these murders, George and Edna are hounded by a stubborn police inspector (Arthur Kennedy). As the murders continue, they attempt to prove themselves innocent by finding find out what is causing this chaos.
Directed by Spanish writer and filmmaker Jorge Grau, The Living Dead at Manchester Morgue is more interesting than many of its Italian (and Spanish) counterparts in that the police never believe for a minute that dead people are getting up and killing anyone, blaming it instead on the living. It’s also fascinating that it’s a man-made device that’s causing all of the mayhem, whereas in many zombie films, the how and why of the zombies is unknown. In some ways, it gives the story a little more teeth in that we’re rooting for the protagonists, but at the same, the inspector is obstinate to a total fault. Sequences involving the zombies attempting to break into a church to kill those inside are among many of the memorable moments, as are the makeup effects, which were created by special effects maestro Giannetto De Rossi, who had a long and varied career that includes Lucio Fulci’s Zombie, Rambo III, Dragonheart, and High Tension, among others.
The Living Dead at Manchester Morgue was released worldwide under a number of different titles in various languages, including Zombi 3, The Living Dead, and in the US as Don’t Open the Window, a nonsensical title from an era when a film about the rape of two young women and their parents exacting revenge could be called The Last House on the Left (which the film was double-featured with during its initial run state-side). Today, the film still holds up relatively well because of how aggressive and different it is in comparison to many of its more popular peers.
The Living Dead at Manchester Morgue was shot by director of photography Francisco Sempere on 35 mm film, finished photochemically, and presented in the aspect ratio of 1.85:1. Synapse Films has performed a 4K scan and restoration of the original camera negative exclusively for this release and their previous Limited Edition release. It’s an excellent upgrade that can only be improved upon in Ultra HD. Grain ranges from heavy to moderate, and appears a bit noisy in a couple of areas, but is otherwise organic. High levels of detail are on full display, but there’s also a minor softness due to the original materials. Yet, it’s the sharpest and cleanest presentation of the film thus far. The color palette is awash with healthy flesh tones and lovely country greens and browns, as well as stark swatches of red and blue. The zombie carnage is particularly potent. Blacks are deep, maybe a tad too deep as detail is sometimes lost in clothing, but contrast is otherwise ideal. It’s a stable and robust presentation overall.
Audio is included in English 5.1 and 2.0 Mono DTS-HD Master Audio with optional subtitles in English SDH. For this release, Synapse Films has newly-created the 5.1 stereo surround mix, restored the original English theatrical mono mix, and included newly-translated English subtitles. The 5.1 takes obvious advantage of panning, ambience, and low frequency activity, stuffing the subwoofer with rumbling moments for the score and sound effects while passing cars and countryside atmospherics are given more attention. It’s essentially the same elements found on the mono track, but broadened for a fuller experience, which is preferable. The mono is the tighter option, obviously, but the dubbed dialogue comes through strong on both tracks.
Synapse Films’ standard release of The Living Dead at Manchester Morgue comes in a black amaray case with a Synapse Films 2022 product catalog and an insert featuring artwork from the Italian theatrical poster. The following extras are included, all in HD:
- Audio Commentary with Troy Howarth
- Audio Commentary with Nathaniel Thompson and Bruce Holecheck
- Catalonia’s Cult Film King (88:58)
- The Scene of the Crime (15:24)
- Giannetto De Rossi Q&A (42:29)
- International Theatrical Trailer (3:51)
- Don’t Open the Window US TV Spots (2 in all – :57)
- Don’t Open the Window US Radio Spots (2 in all – 2:07)
Author and Italian horror film historian Troy Howarth takes up commentary duties for the first track, proclaiming it to be his favorite, delving into the careers of the cast and crew, and covering the history of zombie films. The second audio commentary featuring film historians Nathaniel Thompson and Bruce Holecheck is a decent track, giving a little more background on various aspects of the film, although Holecheck appears to be reading from a prepared script, which clashes a little with the occasional repartee between he and Thompson. Nevertheless, it’s an educational track and makes a nice companion to Howarth’s track. Catalonia’s Cult Film King: A Documentary About Jorge Grau and His Manchester Masterpiece details the film at length, speaking to several participants, including academic Russ Hunter, documentarian Calum Waddell, film historian and author Kim Newman, film critic and author John Martin, critic and author Rachael Nisbet, makeup and special effects artist Giannetto De Rossi, composer Giuliano Sorgini, and film festival deputy director Mike Hostench. The Scene of the Crime and the Gianetto De Rossi Q&A feature separate discussions with the film’s special effects artist, both moderated by documentarian Eugenio Ercolani. Both seem to take place in Manchester during The Festival of Fantastic Films in October 2019, the former being an on-camera interview, the latter being a live Q&A with an audience. Closing things out is the film’s international theatrical trailer, as well as a pair of TV and radio spots for the film’s US theatrical release.
The Living Dead at Manchester Morgue has been released a number of times on Blu-ray and DVD over the years, and as such, a number of bonus materials are not included with this release. Missing from the previous Synapse Films Limited Edition Blu-ray is a DVD of the film; a 15-track CD soundtrack of Giuliano Sorgini’s score; a mini-poster featuring new artwork by Wes Benscoter; an 8-page insert booklet featuring liner notes by film scholar Nicholas Schlegel, restoration notes by Don May, Jr., and a CD track listing; a Synapse Films 2020 product catalog; and Steelbook packaging with a slipcover. The US Blue Underground Blu-ray and DVD releases included the Back to the Morgue: On Location with Jorge Grau documentary; Zombie Fighter, an interview with Ray Lovelock; Zombie Maker, an interview with Giannetto De Rossi; an interview with Jorge Grau; a poster and still gallery; and a short US trailer. It’s worth noting that this release also included a 7.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track, a 5.1 Dolby Digital Surround EX track, and additional Spanish and French subtitles. The Austrian X-Rated Eurocult Collection Blu-ray included an audio commentary with film historian Dr. Marcus Stiglegger, a still gallery, and the German theatrical trailer. The US Anchor Bay DVD included an introduction to the film by and an interview with director Jorge Grau. The Italian No Shame DVD release included separate interviews with Giannetto De Rossi, Ray Lovelock, and Jorge Grau; a set of Italian opening and end credits, British opening credits (I’m not entirely sure if these are the same credits found on the Synapse Films release or not), and a set of US opening credits.
Regardless of which release of the film you choose, The Living Dead at Manchester Morgue is still a strong piece of work. It may not jibe entirely with the Italian and Spanish horror and thriller productions of its day, but it’s still a respectable work. And Synapse Films’ Blu-ray release is currently the best way to experience it. Highly recommended.
- Tim Salmons