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DVD SAVANT

The Living Dead at Manchester Morgue
2-Disc Special Edition


The Living Dead at Manchester Morgue
Blue Underground
1974 / Color / 1:85 anamorphic widescreen / 93 min. / Breakfast at the Manchester Morgue, Fin de semana para los muertos, No profenar el seño de los muertos, Non si deve profanare il sonno dei morti / Street Date February 26, 2008 / 29.95
Starring Cristina Galbó, Ray Lovelock, Arthur Kennedy, Aldo Massasso
Cinematography Francisco Sempere
Production Design Carlo Leva
Art Direction Rafael Ferri
Film Editor Domingo García, Vincenzo Tomassi
Original Music Giuliano Sorgini
Written by Juan Cobos, Sandro Continenza, Marcello Coscia, Miguel Rubio
Produced by Edmonto Amati, Manuel Pérez
Directed by Jorge Grau

Reviewed by Glenn Erickson

Horror movies about zombies are more popular than ever. George Romero persists with new reiterations of his basic Living Dead formula, and the success of the grisly spoof Shaun of the Dead hasn't slowed down the zombie parade one bit. The first European to emulate the success of Romero's original Night of the Living Dead was the Spanish filmmaker Jorge (Jordi) Grau. His mostly Spanish and Italian crew made The Living Dead at Manchester Morgue in England, with American actor Arthur Kennedy in a major supporting role. Released under a number of different titles -- Breakfast at the Manchester Morgue, Let Sleeping Corpses Lie -- Grau's film still reigns as one of the best horror efforts of the 1970s. Anchor Bay released a good DVD in 2000, but Blue Underground's 2-Disc Special Edition is an improvement on all counts.

Synopsis:

Art dealer George (Ray Lovelock) becomes a reluctant traveling companion for Edna (Cristina Galbó) when she accidentally damages his motorcycle at a petrol stop. Detours and tragedies keep them from parting ways in the green countryside of Northern England. Edna claims to have been accosted by a man the locals say is dead. When she gets to her destination she finds that her sister appears to have murdered her photographer-husband and is blaming the killing on a similar zombie fiend. Finding nude photos and George's vaguely pagan-appearing statuette, the bitter local Inspector (Arthur Kennedy) labels the pair as longhair degenerate Satanists. More revivified corpses attack, giving the detective plenty of evidence to support his thinking. George connects the attacks to an experimental agricultural machine that agitates the nervous systems of insect pests with ultrasound waves, but his protests are treated as the ravings of a madman. He must flee both the kill-crazy Inspector and a horde of zombies, as the entire resurrected inventory of the Manchester Morgue closes in on him.

Told to simply remake Night of the Living Dead in color, Jorge Grau and his four writers concoct a logical nightmare scenario with likeable people acting sensibly in the face of a horrifying threat. As English horror films were considered more marketable, Grau's Italian and Spanish actors pass for English, with the help of excellent dubbing. The Living Dead at Manchester Morgue combines the best of two traditions -- dark gothic locations in green England, and Grau's less inhibited approach to screen horror.

Grau's zombies are a scary bunch of staggering, hungry ghouls. Based on morgue photos, some have big stitches and bandage swathings holding them together after autopsies. The first, very effective undead attacker is soaking wet, having just drowned the day before. Aggressive and persistent, Grau's zombies tear their victims apart with their bare hands. The only thing that stops them is fire.

The Living Dead at Manchester Morgue develops credible, sympathetic characters. The bickering among the humans isn't just filler between zombie attacks. Arthur Kennedy's Inspector can't be blamed for scoffing at George's claim that zombies are on the loose, but he unfairly concludes that long-haired Satanist 'faggots' are responsible for the murders of two of his policemen. He puts out a shoot-to-kill order on George, the only person who understands the growing zombie threat.

The zombies are scientific in origin; it is the intolerant Inspector and his reactionary 'Satanism expert' that think in terms of the supernatural. The corpses are being reactivated by radio waves from an experimental machine built to destroy agricultural pests. The radio signal affects only undeveloped nervous systems -- including the brain stems of the recently dead. The most disturbing scene has a newborn baby scratching a nurse's face after being affected by the anti-bug radio emissions. Unfortunately, just as the doctors formulate a theory, the corpses in their own morgue begin coming back to life.

Less successful is an opening sequence intended to express the idea that city dwellers have already been dulled to a near-zombie state. A female streaker runs through traffic, and nobody seems to notice. Rather than commenting on the condition of Modern Man, the nude woman is obviously there to add an exploitative opening to a movie that delays its first zombie attack for almost twenty minutes. At another juncture George and Edna watch as a zombie revives a corpse by anointing its eyes with living blood. The ritual goes against the quasi-rational explanation for the zombies, and momentarily blurs the film's interior logic.

The Living Dead at Manchester Morgue never has more than three or four zombies on screen, but they're used in highly effective horror set pieces. We share the claustrophobic dampness when our heroes are trapped in a church cellar, and the hospital cadavers that come to life are genuinely disturbing. Gianetto De Rossi's graphic gore isn't as mindlessly obsessive as that in Lucio Fulci's zombie and cannibal movies, and is all the more shocking for being used with discretion. Grau ends his picture with a variation on George Romero's no-prisoners nihilism, in a coda that dispenses some well-deserved zombie justice.


Blue Underground's DVD of The Living Dead at Manchester Morgue is from a different and better-looking element than Anchor Bay's previous disc (released as Let Sleeping Corpses Lie). The main title sequence is much less grainy, even though the title card has been unceremoniously slugged in. Colors are richer and less red ... the beauty of the English countryside provides a visual contrast to the zombie horror.

The first disc includes trailers, radio & TV spots and galleries of stills and posters displaying the film's many alternate titles. Disc two contains three new featurettes produced by the prolific David Gregory. Relaxed interviews with actor Ray Lovelock (in Italian, remember, his voice was dubbed) and makeup man Gianetto De Rossi are a lead-up to an hour-long piece in which director Grau revisits the Manchester-adjacent filming sites, 33 years later. Most of the locations are still there. The disc also includes the brief intro by director Grau, seen on the old Anchor Bay release.


On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor,
The Living Dead at Manchester Morgue rates:
Movie: Excellent
Video: Excellent
Sound: Excellent
Supplements: Trailers, TV & radio spots, art and still gallery; new locations featurette, Interviews with Ray Lovelock and Giannetto de Rossi; archival 2000 interview with Jorge Grau
Packaging: Keep case
Reviewed: February 17, 2008

Republished by permission of Turner Classic Movies.



DVD Savant Text © Copyright 2008 Glenn Erickson

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