The Living Dead At Manchester Morgue Review

The Film
This film has been described by many as a “spaghetti” horror film and on paper it is a most unusual production. An Italian studio funded the film and the director is Spanish. The cast and crew are a mixture of Italian, Spanish and English. Finally the film was partially shot in the North West of England. The resulting mishmash of cultures resulted in the film being given several titles (and openings) for the different markets. It was known as The Living Dead at Manchester Morgue in UK and was originally released in the US as Don’t Open the Window. Most horror DVD collectors will know it as Let Sleeping Corpses Lie as it was released under this title by Anchor Bay in the limited edition R1 release. Now Anchor Bay UK have picked up this title and given it a more muted release (packaging wise) in the UK.

The film opens by following our hero George (Ray Lovelock) on a trip from London to the Lake District to work on a new house with friends. On the way his bike is mangled by Edna (Cristina Galbo) and he persuades her to give him a lift to his destination. Edna is on her way to visit her troubled sister. This unlikely pairing then enters a desperate situation where an agricultural machine has caused the dead to rise. Of course the police don’t believe them and indeed the inspector heading the investigation (Arthur Kennedy) takes an instant dislike to George. The rest of the film is a collection set pieces loosely strung together with the hospital and cemetery providing most of the pivotal scenes. The ending is surprising and effective whilst the tacked on coda seems a little contrived.

The problem with this film is that it is trying desperately hard to be Night of the Living Dead in colour and it shows. In fact the first zombie encounter is very reminiscent of the car sequence in NOTLD. Overall the script just isn’t as polished as NOTLD. It is laced with corny dialogue and improbable zombie achievements. For instance how does Guthrie (Fernando Hilbeck) get from the cemetery/car to Edna’s sister’s house quicker than the car driving protagonists? And more importantly, why? Not only this but the film has very uneven pacing. The opening 20 minutes of the film are almost painful to watch and whilst it does pick up from Act 2 onwards there are still times when you will be looking at your watch.

I think that the other thing that prevents the plot development from working is the acting or more specifically, the speech. All of the actors are dubbed in post-production and some of the accents are hilarious. George is some weird cockney barrow boy and the farmers sound like they should be in a Monty Python sketch. This makes the dialogue sound even worse than it actually is. Oddly enough I think that this wouldn’t be as noticeable to US audiences as they seem to like exaggerated English accents. It is notable that dialogue is absent from the zombie set pieces and I think this lack of speech was a good decision as it helps to maintain a level of menace and urgency. I can’t pick out any speaking part here as I feel they are all equally bad. The only performances worth mentioning are the zombies who all provide exactly the right level of menace and of course, they never speak.

It isn’t all bad news however (far from it). The set pieces and zombie scenes are truly disturbing and in some cases terrifying. The cemetery scene and the hospital scene in act 3 are superlative and in some ways they surpass the action in Night of the Living Dead. The Zombie movement and noises are disturbing in the extreme and the gore is certainly effective. I would go as far as to say that the direction of the zombie scenes is some of the best horror film direction I have seen. These set pieces are interspersed throughout act 2 & 3 and the dialogue and exposition is kept to a bare minimum in the last hour, which is beneficial. I am rarely disturbed or scared by a film and this film did both.

Quite honestly the set pieces carry this film and they do it very well indeed, making you forget the duller moments that the film has. As a result I have not let my negative views of non-action sequences cloud my judgement in the final mark. Overall this is an accomplished horror film that could’ve been a real classic if the writers and director had been bothered to make the exposition and duller moments more polished.

The Disc
This release is part of Anchor Bay UK’s budget range. The disc is very similar to the US limited edition tin release, although obviously the packaging is a simple DVD case. The menus are filled with zombie groans and scenes from the film, very nice indeed. There are 24 chapters and the whole thing is easy to navigate and interesting to look at.

Given the age of the film this print is excellent. The original aspect ratio of 1.85:1 is preserved and the print is close to immaculate, with very few flecks and specks. The transfer is also accomplished. The artefacting is minimal even during the dark and foggy scenes (which usually trip up DVD transfers). The colours are solid but the shadow detail seems to be lacking slightly. In some of the dark scenes it is difficult to make out what is going on. As far as I can tell this is exactly the same print/transfer used for the US limited edition tin release, the opening credits show the title of the film as Let Sleeping Corpses Lie.

There are two soundtracks available here. Being Anchor Bay no one will be surprised to hear a 5.1 remix. Again it is a great job by Anchor Bay with good channel separation and solid thumping bass. However the usual flaws apply, the track seems a bit gimmicky with its directional effects in places. The DD2.0 track is clear and solid but obviously lacks the depth and bass of the 5.1 mix. In some ways I prefer the 2.0 mix as it sounds more natural and the dialogue seems a little clearer. Again these tracks are the same as the Anchor Bay US release.

Whilst Anchor Bay hasn’t pushed the boat out here they have at least made an effort. The extras package is patchy but it is better than any other company would do for such a cult horror film.

The first extra is a short introduction to the film from Jorge Grau running for only a couple of minutes. He gives a little bit of background to the film before it starts.

The second extra is a rather more substantial interview with Jorge Grau. This interview has optional English subtitles and runs for 20-minutes. This may sound short but with a man talking to a camera you can relate a lot of information in 20-minutes. The information presented here is very interesting and Grau pulls no punches (he takes a sideswipe at Arthur Kennedy for instance). This is easily the best extra on the disc and is well worth a look.

Next up is a montage of three alternative openings to the film. These seem to be regional variations as the main alterations seem to be to the title and some minor editing changes. The footage is in bad shape and shows how bad the main feature could have been. Other than that it is merely a curiosity.

There is a collection of trailers and promotional inserts next. There are two trailers, the English and US versions, the English version is remarkable as it is full of spoilers and is over 3-minutes in length! Next is a US TV spot, which is similar to the US trailer. Last but not least are two amusing US radio spots. These are unintentionally hilarious as they get some of the facts about the film wrong. This section also has a slideshow of newspaper adverts used to promote the film.

Finally there is a poster and stills gallery. This is presented as a slideshow where you can’t step back and forth through the pictures. The production stills are limited but the vast array of posters is interesting mainly because at least 2 of them give the ending away!

In comparison the US release has roughly the same extras. The only real difference is that the alternative openings aren’t on the US disc

Well despite my reservations this film will stay in my collection. All horror fans that aren’t put off by low budget and dubbing should give this a try (especially if you like Romero’s “Dead” films). This release from Anchor Bay UK is solid without being remarkable. The picture and sound are probably as good as they could be (with a couple of provisos) and the limited extras are welcome even if they don’t set the world alight. All in all this is a good solid purchase for the horror/zombie fans out there (and it’s cheap too).

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