Monday, 17 March 2008

Let Sleeping Corpses Lie (1974)

Stitchy McChesthair is on the hunt for human flesh

This Spanish-Italian co-production from director Jorge Grau is known by many names... Let Sleeping Corpses Lie, Breakfast at Manchester Morgue, The Living Dead at Manchester Morgue, Don't Open the Window, among others. It was made to cash in on Romero's successful Night of the Living Dead, but it was released before Dawn of the Dead and the flood of rip-offs that followed. As such, it avoids many of the cliches that emerged in the wake of Dawn and adds a healthy dose of 70s style social commentary and environmentalism. The result is a refreshing and entertaining zombie film.

George (Ray Lovelock) is a groovy, hairy antiques dealer with a keen sense of fashion, who is heading into the English countryside to renovate an old cottage with some friends. While stopping in at a petrol station, Edna (Christine Galbo) backs her mini into his motorcycle because she is a woman and can't drive. He convinces her to let him drive her to her destination and borrow her car for the weekend (isn't she trusting). On the way we learn that Edna plans to visit her junkie sister Katie and her huge-eyebrowed photographer husband Marin.

They stop to ask for directions, and George meets a group of scientists testing a device that uses ultra-sonic waves to control the insect population. Meanwhile, Edna is attacked by a zombie tramp, but by the time she finds George and starts babbling hysterically he has disappeared. Isn't that just like a zombie? George gives her a belittling as only a hairy 70s man can do.

By the time they arrive at Katie's they are a little too late to save Marin, who has been throttled by the zombie tramp. The police arrive to investigate, and the Inspector (Arthur Kennedy with a spotty Irish accent) takes an immediate dislike to the three of them. Katie subsequently has a nervous breakdown, and George discovers that there has been a rash of homicidally aggressive babies born around the testing area of the ultrasonic device.

After being harassed by the Inspector ("You're all the same with your long hair and faggot clothes... drugs, sex and every sort of filth!"), Edna is convinced that the man that attacked her and Marin was a recently deceased local tramp. In order to convince her otherwise, George takes her to the cemetery so they can visit his grave. A graveyard isn't a particularly good place to be in the midst of a zombie plague, and soon they are trapped in a tomb, along with a member of the local constabulary.

The copper is clobbered with a tombstone and messily devoured, but George and Edna burn up a couple of zombies and make their escape. The Inspector later discovers the bodies and concludes that the George and Edna are drug-addled Satanists. George bashes the hell out of the ultra-sonic device, but he is captured by the police right around the time more of the devices are rolled out. Naturally, the Inspector doesn't believe his story, and George is forced to escape and head back to find Edna, who has been taken to the hospital with zombie-related injuries.

It's there that the bloody finale occurs, with an army of zombies (well, seven or eight) munching on hospital staff as the two of them try to make their escape. The film concludes with a twist ending that wouldn't seem out of place in a Tales From the Crypt comic.

Let Sleeping Corpses Lie was shockingly gory for the time, and while it doesn't compare to the lurid exploitation films that would come out in the next couple of decades, it's still quite gruesome today. The effects are handled by gore maestro Gianetti de Rossi (who would later work on Fulci's Zombi 2) and marvelously executed.

Jorge Grau knows his way around a camera, the film boasting an attractive look and memorable set-pieces. It has a deliberate pace that might be a turn-off to those accustomed to more action-oriented zombie flicks, a slow build that ramps up to a cracking finale. Much of the film revolves around the generation gap tension between the groovy George and hard-line conservative Inspector. It's not subtle, but it works, thanks in part to the performances by Ray Lovelock and Arthur Kennedy.

This film is an under-appreciated horror gem, one of the few zombie films that stacks up next to Romero's. It is essential viewing for any zombie fan.

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