Jorge Grau's 1974 zombie opus, The Living Dead At Manchester Morgue was originally released on DVD back in the glory days of Anchor Bay Entertainment's Euro-Horror binge under the alternate title of Let Sleeping Corpses Lie. The disc eventually went out of print a few years later. Blue Underground re-released that same disc last year and have since gone back to the well one last time with a new two-disc special edition that blows away all prior DVD incarnations of the film.
A man named George (Ray Lovelock) leaves the city on his motorbike to get away to his country home for a few days of rest and relaxation. When he stops for gas, a cute girl in an Austin Mini named Edna (Christine Galbo) backs into his bike and does some damage to the wheel. The mechanic says he won't be able to fix it until Monday and so George insists that Edna drive him to the country and she obliges. On the way they pass a farm field where a big truck is using radio waves to eliminate pests. George, an environmentalist at heart, is curious about this.
When they come to a part of the road that looks impassable, George gets out to wander around while Edna stays with the car. While she's alone, a crazed and sickly looking man attacks her. By the time George arrives back at the car, however, the man is gone. The pair decides to head to Edna's sister's house but when they arrive, that same crazed man is in the process of attacking the man she lives with. The cops, lead by a fairly fascist detective (Arthur Kennedy) suspect that George and Edna are involved and order the two of them to stay in town while the investigation is underway. Unfortunately for all involved, the recently deceased are rising from their graves with a hunger for human flesh!
Suspenseful and very tense, The Living Dead At Manchester Morgue holds its own alongside genre giants like Romero's Night Of The Living Dead and Lucio Fulci's Zombie but, like Jean Rollin's Grapes Of Death (a film it shares some themes with) it doesn't seem to get the recognition that it deserves. Grau directs the film with style and skill, moving the action along at an appropriate pace ensuring that we get enough character development to matter but not so much as to overshadow the action and carnage. Once the zombie attack begins and the sub-plot with Kennedy's character really picks up, the film will have you on the edge of your seat.
On top of a smart script with some interesting political overtones, the film also benefits from three solid performances. Christine Galbo is good as the 'damsel in distress' but the real chemistry in the film is between Kennedy and Lovelock, two polar opposites in society who make no false pretense as to their feelings towards one another. Add to this some fantastic gore effects from Giannetto De Rossi and an amazingly eerie score courtesy of Giuliano Sorgini and The Living Dead At Manchester Morgue comes up a winner. It's a smart, stylish and scary zombie movie that holds up just as well in this day and age as it probably did when it was first made in 1974.
Those familiar only with the opening on the Anchor Bay DVD might be taken aback by the alternate opening scene here (which includes a rather strange looking and possibly video generated title card) but the Manchester Morgue beginning belongs with the film in its own way and it's nice to see it here even if the Let Sleeping Corpses Lie opening should have been included with the supplements.
This new high definition transfer of The Living Dead At Manchester Morgue leaves the previous Let Sleeping Corpses Lie release from Anchor Bay Entertainment (and it's subsequent re-issue from Blue Underground) in the dust. The colors are much more natural looking and the image has been cleaned up quite a bit. There's a fine coat of grain that dances around in the background but it's not distracting and there are only occasional instances where you'll notice only the minutest instances of print damage. Skin tones look great, detail is very solid in the foreground and the background even during darker scenes, and overall Blue Underground has done an excellent job in this department.
Blue Underground includes three English language audio options on this disc - Dolby Digital Mono, Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo Surround, and Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound. Purist will opt for the mono mix and it sounds fine but those who aren't opposed to remixing should enjoy the 5.1 track as it does a very nice job of spreading out some directional effects during a few key scenes and in giving the score considerably more presence. Dialogue sounds nice and clear and there aren't any problems with hiss or distortion to notice on any one of the three audio options provided here.
The first disc contains an international theatrical trailer and a North American theatrical trailer (under the Don't Open The Window alternate title, both in anamorphic widescreen. Also on the first disc is a US television spot, a couple of radio spots, and a still gallery of promotional photos and theatrical poster art. Not listed on the packaging but present on the disc is a video introduction from director Jorge Grau who tells us that he wants us to suffer while watching the movie!
The second disc is where the best of the supplements can be found, starting with the forty-five minutes featurette, Back To The Morgue where the film's director takes us on a modern day tour of the locations where the film was shot. We not only get a look at the countryside area where some scenes were shot but also the town where much of the film takes place. The building that was the hospital is now condemned but many of the locations look very similar to how they appear in the movie and don't look to have changed all that much. Grau comes across as a sharp and likeable guy with a good sense of humor and it's a lot of fun to let him play tour guide on this featurette.
Up next is the sixteen minute Zombie Fighter featurette in which Ray Lovelock sits down in front of the camera to talk about his experiences on the film. Lovelock talks about how he got his start doing commercials before moving to feature films, and how he wound up singing in a band with Tomas Milian! From there he talks about a few of his films before zoning in on Morgue where he shares his thoughts on the film and on the people that he made the movie with. He claims to have very fond memories of making the movie and states that everyone worked 'in harmony' though he does mention that Galbo seemed sad during the film.
Zombie Maker is a seventeen minute interview with legendary special effects expert Giannetto De Rossi, the man who was responsible for the zombie make up used in the picture. De Rossi gives us a quick overview of his career and explains how he started working in the film industry thanks in no small part to the efforts of his father. From there he talks about a few of the movies that he worked on, such as Fulci's Zombie for which he remains best remembered. From there he goes on to discuss working on Grau's movie and he explains some of the techniques that he used and why he chose to use them. He talks about working with his brother-in-law on the film and about the difficulties of creating the 'zombie eyes' that are used in the picture.
Last but not least is a twenty minute interview with Jorge Grau, shot in 2000 and carried over from the older Anchor Bay DVD release. Here the jovial director, at the age of seventy years old, talks in detail about the picture he remains best known for. He talks about how he was sold on the picture ('It's like Night Of The Living Dead - only in color!') and about how he wanted a certain sense of realism for the picture. He also does a good job of elaborating on Kennedy's character, explaining why he's so bitter in the film and why he wanted the character played that way.
Both disc feature some nice animated menus and the first disc contains chapter selection. The two discs are housed inside a keepcase that fits inside a slipcase containing identical (and spoiler filled) cover art. A Blue Underground catalogue can be found inside the case as well.
The noticeably improved transfer and the wealth of extra features make this one worth the double dip for fans of the film. Horror movie buffs who don't already own a copy of the previous releases should do themselves a big favor and pick up Blue Underground's fabulous two-disc special edition release of The Living Dead At Manchester Morgue a.s.a.p. - highly recommended!
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.