Let Sleeping Corpses Lie

A product of the living dead craze which saturated horror cinema in the 1970’s, Let Sleeping Corpses Lie (AKA The Living Dead At The Manchester Morgue) stands as one of the superior, and disappointingly lesser known, examples of the zombie genre. Although it contains more than its fair share of influences, it is obvious this film was made with intentions of riding the wave of the seminal horror classic, Night of the Living Dead, and as such shares many similarities.

I had heard a number of good things about this Spanish film and it certainly does have its inspired moments, but overall the zombie-action is quite minimal. It chugs along at a sluggish, but admittedly creepy pace, taking time to set up the characters and their dilemma. While I really did enjoy the film, ultimately I felt it takes too long to develop, though, and the payoff doesn’t seem quite worth it in the end. This had potential to be an A+ zombie movie, but it often loses focus during some really slow stretches. Having said that, the film is beautifully shot, has a great score and excels on a number of levels where other lesser-zombie films have failed.

After an unfortunate mishap a pair of strangers, George (Lovelock) and Edna (Garbo), are forced to travel together in the British countryside. On the way to Edna’s sister’s home, the pair stop for directions and run into all sorts of trouble. George encounters a suspicious new pest control machine used by the Department of Agriculture which has some alarming side effects on infants as well as the recently deceased, while Edna narrowly escapes an attack by a strange recluse.

Safe and back on the road, the pair carry on to their destination, where they are immediately implicated in the murder of Edna’s sister’s husband and are forced to stay in the small rural town. George suspects something is amiss, but when more bodies begin to disappear (and re-appear!) we soon learn all is not as it seems. The dead are coming back to life to feed on the unsuspecting living!

Director Jorge Grau certainly seemed to have some lofty ambitions with this film, at least judging by its initial sequences. He begins with shots of pollution and garbage in an unnamed city, invoking thoughts of humankind’s apathetic destruction of our world. Juxtaposed with these are sequences of bus stations filled with city commuters and throngs of detached citizens packing sidewalks. Perhaps the director is asking us to question who the real zombies are in this world of conformity and lethargy. This is really evident in a particularly effective scene with a female streaker who elicits no reaction whatsoever from curious but unresponsive onlookers. With this dash of social commentary we begin to see a larger picture hashed out, and I admit it is a rather impressive framework to begin the film. I guess you’ll have to judge for yourself if Grau aims too high with these haughty aspirations, or if he is trying too hard to emulate Romero’s trademark social commentary.

Along the same vein, the zombies themselves are more of the Romero type, circa Dawn of the Dead, rather than full-on decomposed Fulci style, but this is not a hindrance in any respect – just an observation. While the gut-munching is sporadic, the effects are pretty gory, and unsurprisingly come courtesy of Fulci’s regular collaborator, Giannetto de Rossi. Notably, many fans will be pleased that Grau offers an explanation for his zombie plague, which is perhaps in response to Romero’s reluctance to pinpoint a root cause for his undead. You can begin to see the parallels with Night of the Living Dead that I had mentioned earlier, but Grau certainly doesn’t wander too far into rip-off territory to take away from this film’s distinct identity.

Typical of the era, there are European fingerprints all over this one. Grau repeatedly utilizes his zoom lens instead of cuts, there is a mish-mash of European and American actors, and clearly apparent is the obligatory and shoddy dubbing. For the most part the dubbing is watchable, but a few of the voices definitely do not fit the actors. Ray Lovelock’s character, for instance, has a really annoying British accent which would fit better with a snobby bourgeois than his leather-clad hipster attitude. And the inspector (an aging Arthur Kennedy) is painfully overplayed and melodramatic.

The direction is technically tight, and Grau has a terrific eye when it comes to shooting the beautiful countryside. He frames his scenes and actors very competently, and I really wonder why he didn’t move on to bigger things after this effort. The locations themselves are brilliant – he highlights some great picturesque old architecture, and the cemetery scenes are suitably creepy. Apparently these were shot in a very sacred graveyard in Britain, and Grau’s crew was eventually booted out for littering and generally defiling the place!

This film is definitely a fine addition to the zombie sub-genre. All you living dead aficionados out there will undoubtedly eat this one up (pun intended!). With all the dismal and derivative dribble that is out there these days, it’s a shame more people haven’t picked up on this movie. Although the undead scenes are few and far between, it really is a beautiful film with a solid story and a subtle bit of social commentary thrown in for good measure. Just go find yourself a copy and thank me later!

Official Score