February 12, 2006

BANNED! THE LIVING DEAD AT THE MANCHESTER MORGUE (1974) - REVIEW 2



In its infancy cinemas’ portrayal of the zombie were quite timid affairs. The cadaver was used more for labour and as an iconic 'homage' to slavery one could expect the odd chill but as we are semi-anaethetised to violence due to contemporary viewing habits this usually passes us by. The odd ‘restrain’ was possibly the only violence on display. A well-crafted eerie example can be found in Tourneurs’ ‘I Walked with a Zombie’ (1943).

It was Hammers’ ‘Plague of the Zombies’ (1966) that set the first prototype for contemporary cadaver hokum we see today. Although the film steered well clear of the ‘extreme’ visceral antics of our Italian friends’ over a decade later, it provided some glorious gothic atmospheric set-pieces. The zombies themselves looked quite evil this time around with the white ‘pin-prick pupil’ eyes, flesh rotting visage and an ‘ungodly’ sound reminiscent of a rabid hound and screaming banshee. There is also a fabulous green tinted (in some prints) sequence where the dead ‘claw’ there way from their graves to surround a petrified Brooke Williams, definite nods to Fulcis’ Zombie 2.

Two years later and a milestone film in Zombiedom saw popularity not only in the ‘drive-in’ underground circuit but mainstream as well. Romeros’ Night of the Living Dead (1968) really set the trend for things to come. Not only did our lumbering corpses now have a crude sense of independence they were stronger than their opponents and had developed an insatiable appetite for offal and flesh.

The early seventies saw several important European films shape the destiny of the genre, both Bob Clarks ‘Children Shouldn’t Play with Dead things’ (1972), ‘Dead of Night’ (1973),’Horror Rises from the Tomb’ (1972) and The Blind Dead Quartet. There may be others but these spring to mind first and foremost.

As well as though funky Templars Spain also spewed forth the vanguard ‘No Profanor el Sueno de los Muertos’ (The Living Dead at the Manchester Morgue) (1974), which heavily starts with ecological cock-ups responsible for potential apocalypse on a grand scale. These sort of themes were popular at the time and can be seen on the small screen also in such pioneering brilliance as the Doomwatch BBC TV series (1970-1973) and as late as 1976 with the ‘kidult’ ‘The Changes’.

The true inheritor of the Romero legacy was Spaniard Jorge Grau. He sets his contemporary nightmare in the exquisite landscapes of the Lake District. This rural nirvana will soon be saturated in crimson as man ‘tampers with nature and pays the price’ just like the strap line told us when the movie was hacked a bit and flogged to the United States as ‘Don’t Open the Window’.

THE PLOT

Hippy George (Ray Lovelock) an antiques dealer, with a peculiar cockney ‘hybrid’ accent, closes for the holidays (a wonderful sign I never see today but can remember as a child), he hops on to his trusty bike and sets off to stay with a wealthy friend in the Lake District.

At a garage where he is filling up, Edna (Christine Galbo) hits into Georges’ bike causing enough damage to piss George off and for the vehicle to remain at the garage to be fixed, bank holiday times though. In an effort to be at their destinations George and Edna decide to embark on a journey together in the mini.


Looking for directions George stops off and asks guidance from some nerds from the Ministry of Agriculture testing out their new sonic radiation toy.

Edna is left alone by a gorgeous ‘stepping stoned’ stream where she is attacked and molested by a potential lunatic. Overcome with the shakes and without a valium to pop George gets gentlemanly and takes Edna to her heroin addicted sister Katie.

They arrive to find Katie also in a state of shock, her husband dead and some hysterics about the walking dead. In come the police featuring the quintessentially spiteful detective. The character proves to be an absolute bastard and a pin up no doubt of the Metropolitan police force. Sergeant McCormick played wonderfully by Arthur Kennedy has to be one of the ultimate narrow minded, god fearing, spitefully ignorant fascist to grace a genre film.

After he torments Katie with her heroin addiction until she is on the verge of confessing to cold blooded murder all three are then placed under suspicion.

Edna and George, whom we are quite fond of by now, decide to do a bit of ‘Nancy Drew’ and find out just what the fuck is going on. After establishing the stream attacker was the local loony – who had died an age before Ednas’ assault they decide on brass tacks and go to his burial place. The dead rise and attack our protagonists in some of the most sumptuously staged supernatural dramatics providing claustrophobia, decay and gothic by the bucket load, with some visceral intestinal nibbling to boot!

Something is causing the dead to rise, causing babies to gauge nurses’ eyes and send them screaming down the MRSA free corridors we so fondly remember. The culprit – MAAF plaything!!!! Apparently this revolutionary helps nature help itself the crudest and basic life forms are only affected within a certain radius. These are aggressively stimulated until one thing feasts on another destroying that species to become the dominant. What transpires to be the potentially apocalyptic problem is that the radius has been underestimated and that corpses and very weenie babies have a crude basic nervous system as well.

Passing off the truth as drug induced fantasy the bigoted sergeant chases George pursuing him for every trumped up load of bollocks imaginable including Satanism, cannibalism and other pious condemnations only a man of Sergeant McCormack’s calibre would invent.


This leads to Southgate hospital where Edna and her sister are incarcerated. The dead are everywhere spreading like a disease snacking veritably on female breasts and a varied pic-n-mix of plasma and viscera, one would find at the nearest General Hospital. The climax is just as smashing as the build up to it.


CRITIC

Another ‘nasty’ condemned on these shores as the limply titled ‘The Living Dead’. This Spanish/Italian co-production had so many guises from the most bizarre ‘Breakfast at the Manchester Morgue’ to the quirky ‘Let Sleeping Corpses Lie’ but a rose by any other name would smell just as sweet. Some versions were heavily truncated, the most gratuitous being the switchboard operator attack. Fortunately the BBFC version in the u.k is now intact; I haven’t seen this version so please correct me if I am wrong. The version I have is the Anchor Bay boxset ‘Let Sleeping Corpses Lie’, a truly glorious treat is it too, a lot of thought went into this limited edition blending black humour and sombre uniquely in packaging as what can be witnessed during the film. I highly recommend it.

It seemed to me in another recent viewing that all the characters were enshrouded in bleak reality, as the main setting seems to let us witness a misdirected society quite void of faith. From the early credit sequence of a polluted urban cesspit where a naked woman could run across the road in rush hour and not attract much notice from the zombiefied ‘living’ demonstrates this humour noir superbly and very surprisingly accomplished by Grau. You will only miss the point if watching the movie stoned, drunk or if you are iliterate then you'll just see some 'weird afro bitch move naked through the traffic'.


There is also a super sense of irony too from seeing the sign ‘This is Gods’ acre, let nothing defile it’ to see it end up awash in crimson clotted carnage is a joy to behold.

Giuliano Sorgini provided the wraithlike sighs and cries from our dear departed, the opening credit music is absolutely excellent and accompanies the celluloid imagery perfectly. The rhythm of sound maybe the only rhythm heard in a soulless society.

Throughout Graus’ opus to things stale, there is decay touching every minute in every sequence juxtaposed by such delicacy and beauty of nature. How this beautiful, mesmerising thing can become so ugly and abhorrent when tampered with is perfectly clear and is a lesson to us all.


Despite the wide open space Grau has used to full capacity in the location shooting this doesn’t engulf the menace, this is never weakened and instances of claustrophobia litter throughout, a fear most humans share and identify with. This is used to great effect and heightens the panic where Edna is chased by Guthrie the loony after narrowly escaping from him within the confines of a mini cooper. Ghoulish figures appear from deep within mists furthering the insecurity of the viewer as well as the character near to zenith. The fog enshrouds the living like the garment of the dead, you can almost sense the cold ‘ozone’ one snorts in on bitterly cold early mornings. Then to rest within the confines of a small local hospital really concentrates the horror within confined areas for full effect and all the more better for it.


Admittedly there are some crudely executed scenes but they are delightfully ‘stagy’ and spiteful enough to demonstrate how spiteful these flesh hunters are. The mastectomy of the receptionist followed by the removal of what looks like her waterworks is awfully sleazy but gives the movie a ‘far as it goes’ kind of lift. The effects on display are passable but definitely not the best we have seen from de Rossi, but they admittedly do the trick in making most go ‘ughhhh!’


Though no where near as graphic as Fulcis’ epic ‘Zombie Flesh Eaters’ (Zombi 2 1979) , ‘….Manchester morgue’ does not fail to deliver on most , if not all, counts and could be a contender example for what makes a genre film an exceptional genre movie. With first honours in imagination and a slightly off centre quirkiness this makes it one of my personal favourites in the Romero ‘cash-in’ instances.

OUTSTANDING MOMENT

George and Edna find themselves trapped in the cemetery vaults by Guthrie, the loony. As the protagonists frantically scrabble to find a way out the dead re-animate. In a wonderfully surreal sequence some are brought back by anointing blood on the eye lids of a fellow corpse. Proving strange rituals in rural places are alive and kicking in death as well as in life! As a crescendo of asthmatic death rattles echo around the vault a glimmer of light is seen from a window passage……………………………..


THE DIRECTOR; GEORGE GRAU

THE COUNTRY (ies); SPAIN / ITALY / UK

THE YEAR; 1974

THE MUSIC; GIULIANO SORGINI

I AM ALSO KNOWN AS ; Breakfast at the Manchester Morgue ; Don't Open the Window ;Fin de semana para los muertos (Spain) (working title) ; Let Sleeping Corpses Lie (USA); No profanar el sueño de los muertos (Spain);Sleeping Corpses Lie ;The Living Dead at Manchester Morgue (UK) ; Zombi 3 (Da dove vieni?) (Italy)

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