Let Sleeping Corpses Lie
Vital Stats: 1974; directed by Jorge Grau; a.k.a Don't Open the Window, The Living Dead at Manchester Morgue, and at least a half-dozen other titles
The Rundown: Edna (Cristina Galbó) is just trying to pay a visit to her junkie sister's countryside home. With her sister about to be forced into a clinic to dry out, things are stressful enough as they are, but running over a motorcycle owned by a smarmy art dealer (Ray Lovelock) who tags along for the rest of her trip...? Bad. Timing her visit to coincide with the corpses of the recently dead being reanimated by an experimental ultrasonic bug zapper, then having a gruff, embittered sergeant (Arthur Kennedy) undeservedly accuse her and George of a slew of murders? Worse.
Zombie Count: Not that many -- maybe eight or nine total -- but yes, these are the flesh-eating, ravenous undead.
How Long Until Someone's Eaten? The first zombie rears his head around fifteen minutes in, and the body count starts ticking near the 25 minute mark. The first remotely gory kill comes a little over an hour in.
Best Gory Moment: A zombie tears off one of the breasts of a receptionist at the hospital.
The Short Answer: Highly Recommended.
The Longer Version: Let Sleeping Corpses Lie isn't a movie that pits a handful of characters against hordes of the undead. It's not an action movie in disguise, and it has a plot that exists for more than a reason to string together a bunch of gruesome special effects. It's a slow burn, one that might turn off zombie fans who prefer something more consistently visceral, but Let Sleeping Corpses Lie is by far my favorite movie in this set.
The first two-thirds of the movie play more like a murder mystery than a typical horror film. There's only a single zombie for the majority of its first hour, he's barely seen during that time, and his one and only kill in the first fifty minutes or so isn't particularly grisly. The film's emphasis is more heavily placed on establishing mood and atmosphere rather than just splattering barrels of grue across the screen, and it succeeds. The pacing is deliberate for much of the film but doesn't limp along like one of Grau's zombies -- despite the smaller number of the undead than usual, Let Sleeping Corpses Lie is never boring. There are a number of very tense setpieces, the story is more thoughtfully constructed than most zombie movies, and its social commentary is handled fairly deftly. Having the authorities refuse to even consider the possibility that the dead are awaking is also a nice touch, maintaining that us-against-the-world mentality of Night of the Living Dead (a movie from which Let Sleeping Corpses Lie draws quite a bit) while taking it in a different direction. I liked both the story and its execution, and Ray Lovelock and Arthur Kennedy stand out among the rest of the cast with the compellingly unlikeable characters that they draw. Although the first hour or so isn't overflowing with the sort of splatter that gorehounds crave, the last thirty minutes have zombies chomping on the innards of enough people to satisfy.
The pace of Let Sleeping Corpses Lie might not appeal to some zombie fans, but to me, it's the most compelling reason to pick up this set. Not only is it a considerably above-average zombie movie, but the original DVD is out of print, leaving this Fright Pack as the only way to get it for the time being.
Hell of the Living Dead
Vital Stats: 1980; directed by Bruno Mattei; a.k.a Night of the Zombies, Virus, Zombie Creeping Flesh, and too many other titles to list
The Rundown: A virus engineered to turn people into zombies is unleashed during an industrial accident and...y'know, turns people into zombies. A female reporter, her New Age keyboardist cameraman, and a handful of members of an elite SWAT team find themselves stranded together in a hostile jungle teeming with the living dead.
Zombie Count: Lots and lots and lots. Yup, they eat flesh. Yup, anyone they bite turns into a zombie. Yup, a head shot'll do it.
How Long Until Someone's Eaten? About eight minutes in. Less, if you count a particularly vicious rat.
Best Gory Moment: One character has her tongue ripped out, then a zombie shoves his hand through her mouth and pushes out her eyeballs from the other side.
The Short Answer: Skip It.
The Longer Version: Y'know, if you're a lazy reviewer like me, a bad movie with the word "hell" in the title opens up so many opportunities for bad puns that it's hard to know where to start. Hell of the Living Dead is an awful, awful movie, and if I hadn't already suffered through the strikingly similar Zombi 3, I'd be tempted to say it's my all-time least favorite zombie flick. It's a pretty shameless knockoff of Dawn of the Dead, including its focus on a reporter, opening with an assault by a SWAT team, rehashing some of the same music...even down to the blue zombie make-up. It'd be one thing if Hell of the Living Dead ripped off Dawn... and did it well, but it doesn't. It really, really, really doesn't. Badly written. Poorly acted. Ineptly paced. Zero suspense. The movie's predicated on stupid people doing stupid things to move forward. A big stack of random documentary stock footage is tossed in for no conceivable reason. The female lead bafflingly strips down to a leafy loincloth to make nice with villagers. There are a lot of zombies, and there's a lot of gore, but Mattei never bothers to do anything particularly interesting with them. Cheap looking, unimaginative, boring, and repetitive.
Vital Stats: 1980; directed by Umberto Lenzia; a.k.a. City of the Walking Dead
The Rundown: An unidenitified cargo plane touches down at an airport and unleashes a small army of murderous, blood-crazed, zombie-like creatures that set about butchering everyone in town. As the military attempts to figure out the best course of action, newshound Dean Miller (Hugo Stiglitz) attempts to rescue his wife from the hospital where she works and whisk her away to an idyllic land where people aren't slaughtered by radioactive zombies.
Zombie Count: Technically none -- they're "contaminated men", but there are a bunch of 'em, and they attack people like zombies and can contaminate their victims too...more prone to stabbing than chomping, tho'. They're blood-drinkers, not flesh-eaters. Oh, and they can drive and use winches and stuff too.
How Long Until Someone's Eaten? The first assault comes just before the 9 minute mark.
Best Gory Moment: A woman gets her boob cut off. Zombies doing things to women's breasts is a recurring theme in this DVD set, and Lenzi has pretty much every woman in this movie with at least one boob hanging out at some point.
The Short Answer: If I were reviewing this DVD on its own...oh, wait, I did, back when I was even more rambling and pretentious than I am now...I'd say 'Rent It'.
The Longer Version: Nightmare City isn't a good movie by any stretch, but at least it's campy enough to still be kind of entertaining. Any scene without someone being massacred tends to be pretty dull, particularly the interminable sequences with the military fumbling aimlessly towards a course of action, and even the majority of the kills themselves are pretty bland. Stab, stab, stab, drink blood, stab some more. There's no logic behind anything anyone does. Major Holmes calls his wife and insists that she lock the doors and stay inside. She peeks out in the yard and sees a lawnmower trudging around by itself. Strange. She goes upstairs and sees a clay bust she's been working on with a bloody knife lodged inside it. Hmmm. The missus doesn't really seem all that bothered by the idea, but at least the zombies are polite enough to wait a few hours before getting around to killing her. One of my favorite sequences in the movie is set at a TV station. You can tell who the station employees are because, just like in real life, they're all wearing white lab coats, and they're taping a hysterically awful dance show with some of the ugliest thirty-somethings Italy has to offer, including one guy who looks frighteningly like Journey frontman Steve Perry. Nightmare City builds to a pretty decent climax set at an abandoned amusement park, but the cyclical ending that follows ruins everything. Kind of a fun watch, even if it's for all the wrong reasons.
City of the Living Dead
Vital Stats: 1980; directed by Lucio Fulci; a.k.a. The Gates of Hell, among others
The Rundown: The suicide of a priest in the sleepy town of Dunwich has started to open the gates of Hell, and in the moments leading up to All Saints Day, his spirit is butchering many of the townsfolk. A Scotch-soaked journalist (Christopher George) is led to Dunwich by the visions of the nearly-buried-alive psychic Mary (Katherine MacColl), and together, they must destroy the priest before he unleashes the army of the dead upon the earth.
Zombie Count: Low. There are only a few zombies, all of whom are only briefly glimpsed, for the vast majority of the movie. The first shot with more than one of 'em on-screen at once doesn't come until 76 minutes in.
How Long Until Someone's Eaten? There are a couple of deaths before this, but the first graphic kill comes a half hour in as a girl vomits up her innards and her lover has his brains yanked out of the back of his skull. 42 minutes until the first dead body takes a bite out of someone. First graphic shot of the flesh feast comes near the 80 minute mark.
Best Gory Moment: That double-shot of the vomitted guts and squished brain still wins.
The Short Answer: Recommended.
The Longer Version: City of the Living Dead is more of an apocalyptic ghost story than an out-and-out zombie movie. The story's not entirely coherent, and Fulci seemed to give up on an actual ending altogether, but it's one of the director's more effective, atmospheric films that I've seen. The sequence with Mary waking up in the coffin and nearly having a pickax plow through her head in a rescue attempt still unnerves me, even having seen it a couple of times. The double kill I'm now mentioning for the third time in this review (featuring a bit role by Dellamorte Dellamore director Michele Soavi) is one of several extremely memorable moments in the film, along with a shower of maggots and a power drill plowing through the skull of a murder suspect. It's not a perfect movie by any means -- what passes for a story really needs some tightening up, there's no sense of urgency even though the world's about to end, the ending is ridiculous, and I could keep this list going for a good, long while -- but I like it anyway. Oh well.
The House by the Cemetery
Vital Stats: 1981; directed by Lucio Fulci; a.k.a. Zombie Hell House
The Rundown: Dr. Norman Boyle (Paolo Malco) drags his wife Lucy (Katherine MacColl) and fat-lipped tyke Bob (Giovanni Frezza) with him to New England as he spends six months doing research in the house where his now-dead colleague was driven insane. They thought they had Oak Mansion, once the home to the Freudstein family, all to themselves, but it turns out a murderous creature has a sublet on the boarded-up cellar.
Zombie Count: One, and it's a creature who needs human cells to sustain what passes for life, not a zombie in the traditional sense.
How Long Until Someone's Eaten? Not that kind of zombie. There's a kill barely two minutes in, but just when you think you can count on Fulci to deliver, it's another forty-two and a half minutes until the next one. Yawn.
Best Gory Moment: A knife plunges into the back of a girl's skull and comes out through her mouth.
The Short Answer: If I were reviewing this DVD on its own, I'd say 'Rent It'.
The Longer Version: The House by the Cemetery is one of Fulci's more middling films; it's not as agonizingly bad as Manhattan Baby, but it's certainly not a worthy follow-up to The Beyond. Suspension of disbelief is kind of a prerequisite for even the best of Fulci's work, but The House by the Cemetery requires disbelief to be tossed two miles underground into a climate controlled vault in the Rockies. There are a bunch of examples I could point to in this barely coherent story, but the most infamous one comes when Ann is on her hands and knees, scrubbing a foot-and-a-half wide trail of blood that leads from the kitchen down to the cellar. Lucy walks in and naturally wonders what's going on.
"What are you doing?"Wait, what? Both of them seem awfully nonchalant about an unexplained trail of blood smeared across the floor of a house with a tomb in it. Then there's goofiness like Norman stabbing and stabbing (and stabbing and stabbing and stabbing) something that looks more like a fuzzy potato with Glad trash bag wings than a bat until he and pretty much everything in a four foot radius are drenched in blood.
You can divide The House by the Cemetery into two chunks: there are the parts that take place in the cellar, and then there's everything else. The scenes in the cellar are surprisingly effective and suspenseful, and I say "surprisingly" because nothing else about the rest of the movie is. Let Sleeping Corpses Lie may not have been wall-to-wall action, but it filled the moments in between its kills with something. The House by the Cemetery fills those gaps with...well, rambling, repetitive incoherence. The film's full of faces familiar to the Fulci faithful, including Manhattan Baby's Giovanni Frezza, and his agonizingly poorly dubbed dialogue is more horrifying than anything else in the movie. There are also those goofy Fulci trademarks like the strange, lingering close-ups of eyes and overdramatic stings in the score.
This seems like kind of an odd pick for a zombie movie collection since the monster du disc is just a really resilient serial killer. Sure, I guess he passes for a zombie, but it'd be like putting Deathdream or Friday the 13th Part VI in there...getting off on a technicality. There are some decent gore effects, though -- one victim is slashed in the neck until her head falls off, and another has his throat ripped out by the killer's bare hands. The handful of those sequences in the cellar in the last half hour almost redeem the rest of the movie, but of the Fulci films I've seen, The House by the Cemetery lands somewhere in the unmemorable middle.
Vital Stats: 1988; directed by Mark Goldblatt
The Rundown: Roger Mortis (Treat Williams) and Doug Bigelow (Joe Piscopo) stumble onto a connection between a pharmaceutical company and a rash of robberies by perps who can take a few hundred bullets. During a brawl with a hideously deformed creature of superhuman size and strength, Roger's killed, but thankfully, Dante Laboratories has a machine handy that can briefly reanimate the dead. Roger has twelve hours to solve the most important murder case of his career -- his own -- before he decomposes into a syrupy, fleshy stew.
Zombie Count: Just a handful, but it's not that kind of movie.
How Long Until Someone's Eaten? The zombies in Dead Heat aren't flesh-eaters. They walk, they talk, and they're mostly indistinguishable from a regular Joe aside from the gradual decay and the whole not dying when they're shot a couple hundred times thing.
Best Gory Moment: A body violently explodes and splatters blood across almost every square inch of a conference room.
The Short Answer: Halfway between "Rent It" and "Recommended".
The Longer Version: So, there are five Eurohorror zombie movies and...a 1988 action/comedy starring Joe Piscopo and Treat Williams? Yeah, Dead Heat seems like kind of an oddball choice, and it's the only one in this set that I'd never heard of beforehand. Dead Heat is one of those movies that I kinda like but could go the rest of my life without ever seeing again. There are some pretty imaginative sequences, particularly one scene in a Chinatown deli where a bunch of animal parts are suddenly revived and go on the attack. You haven't lived until you've seen a man wrestle a gutted cow. The story also takes enough unexpected detours to veer away from the usual formulas and keep viewers a bit off-balance. Dead Heat's biggest problem is that it's just too..."okay". The buddy cop thing roots it pretty heavily in the '80s, most of the sarcastic one-liners haven't aged well, and as well-executed as some of the special effects are, they seem kind of restrained a fair amount of the time. It's not that funny. It's not that gory. It's not that clever. It's a fun four-color comic book-y type of flick, but one viewing'll probably do it for most people.
The Technical Stuff
Video: All six movies
Audio: The soundtracks are listenable but not particularly impressive. Hell of the Living Dead and Nightmare City both offer utilitarian Dolby Digital mono audio. The House by the Cemetery and Dead Heat include stereo surround tracks, although the latter sounds fairly thin, with few of its explosions or gunshots packing much of a wallop. Let Sleeping Corpses Lie and City of the Living Dead have both gotten Dolby Digital 5.1 remixes (448Kbps), with stereo surround tracks also optionally offered. City of the Living Dead does a more convincing job spreading its audio arround to different speakers; Let Sleeping Corpses Lie still sounds awfully monaural, and its pans are clumsy, with some sound effects and dialogue occasionally leaking into a couple of different channels.
Not much for the hearing impaired -- only Dead Heat is closed captioned, and none of the movies offer any subtitles. Even though European directors are attached to most of the movies in this set, all of the soundtracks are in English.
Supplements: The House by the Cemetery includes
Fulci's other film in this set, City of the Living Dead, offers a trailer, a couple of radio spots (as The Gates of Hell) that play over a brief still gallery, and a Fulci bio.
Hell of the Living Dead includes "Hell Rats of the Living Dead", a subtitled 9 minute interview with director Bruno Mattei. As you could probably guess from the title, it covers both Rats: Night of Terror and Hell of the Living Dead. It's a decent interview, and Mattei talks about wanting to use a screenplay that had been rejected by the producers as well as cribbing from Romero (even using music by Goblin) and The Towering Inferno. Otherwise...yup, a trailer, a still gallery, and a bio.
Nightmare City also includes an interview with its director, Umberto Lenzi. It's an odd mix where he's candid about some of the movie's flaws -- particularly its stiff Superstar Méxicano Hugo Stiglitz and a weak shooting script -- but he likes it enough to compare it to Tom Hanks' Philadelphia (???) and is prone to pointing out how grounded in reality the movie is. So...yeah, wow. A bio and trailer round it out.
Let Sleeping Corpses Lie opens with a brief introduction by director Jorge Grau before launching into the movie. Grau also offers a very nice twenty minute interview in which he talks about its origins from a producer overenthusiastic about Night of the Living Dead, the film's cast, studying autopsy photos and doing other assorted research, crafting the sound of the movie, including the distinctive moan of the undead, his crew's desecration of Little John's grave (as in "Robin Hood", not "to the windooooow"), and some of the movie's more memorable make-up effects. There's also a TV spot (in full anamorphic widescreen, for some reason) and a couple of radio spots, all under the title Don't Open the Window. The radio spots play underneath a montage of promotional clippings, a few of which crib shamelessly from
Surprisingly, Dead Heat is the most loaded special edition of the bunch. This is also the only DVD with an audio commentary, bringing together director Mark Goldblatt, writer Terry Black, and producers David Helpern and Michael Meltzer. It's a good track -- they talk about a bunch of the random people involved with the movie (including some dialogue touchup work by a then-largely-unknown Darren Starr), how severely the violence and gore were pared down to appease the studio and the MPAA, taking inspiration from 1950's D.O.A., the fact that a sequel was actually commissioned before the theatrical release flopped, and one of 'em bringing an armful of grisly props to a kids' Halloween party. They also talk about a bunch of scenes that were cut out of the movie for various reasons, and some of those appear in the sixteen and a half minute deleted scenes gallery. A lot of 'em are extended takes of what made it into the movie -- some are gorier, some are (a lot) more talkative -- but when your bonus footage includes a bit part by Dick Miller (and Linnea Quigley, if you believe the IMDb), then it's worth a look. There are also a few promotional pieces: a five and a half minute EPK, a two minute promo made for the MIFED film market, and an anamorphic widescreen trailer. The DVD also includes an extensive still gallery with nearly a hundred pictures along with a set of 28 storyboards. The screenplay can be found in PDF format on the DVD-ROM portion of the disc.
Conclusion: This "Walking Dead" boxed set is an uneven collection of zombie movies, but don't think of it like that. At least one online store carries it for just over $20 shipped, so pretend you're buying Let Sleeping Corpses Lie and City of the Living Dead for ten bucks a pop and getting four other movies as a bonus. Recommended.