aka Breakfast at the Manchester Morgue; Don’t Open the Window; Let Sleeping Corpses Lie
(Fin de Semana Para los Muertos)
Director – Jorge Grau, Screenplay – Sandro Continenza & Marcello Coscia, Producer – Edmondo Amati, Music – Juliano Sorgini, Special Optical Effects – Giannetto De Rossi, Special Effects – Luciano Bird, Production Design – Carlo Leva. Production Company – Flaminia Produzione.
Ray Lovelock (George), Cristina Galbo (Edna Simmons), Arthur Kennedy (The Inspector), Jeannine Mestre (Katie West), Jose Lifanti (Martin West), Giorgio Crestini (Craig), Vincente Vega (Dr Duffield)
An experimental device that uses radiation to kill agricultural pests is causing the dead in a small British countryside town to rise from their graves. Edna Simmons is travelling to visit her sister Katie. At a gas station, she backs into and damages George’ motorcycle and offers him a ride. Just as they arrive, Katie’s husband is killed by one of the newly revived dead. They become the immediate suspects in the investigation led by a hard-headed police inspector. As more and more of the dead continue to rise, they try without avail to convince the authorities what is happening and instead find themselves hunted for the killings.
The Living Dead at the Manchester Morgue has developed a minor cult of sorts among zombie films – largely due to its languishing under a slew of different titles and censored versions, as well as its being banned in a number of countries, something that is always guaranteed to enhance a film’s reputation.
The Living Dead at the Manchester Morgue emerges as one of the better copies of Night of the Living Dead (1968). The film swims with a good many political overtones, which has elevated its reputation among horror academia. Unlike Night of the Living Dead with its image of a society being torn apart out of the blue with inexplicable reason, The Living Dead at the Manchester Morgue clearly roots itself in and sides with late 1960s/early 1970s youth anti-establishmentarianism and the disenfranchisement with conservative tradition.
A substantial part of the film’s plot involves the youthful hero and heroine being persecuted by a hardline police inspector whose assertions that the two youths are responsible for the murder spree are based solely on his prejudices against the hippie movement. The film has much sympathy for their point-of-view – and a just desserts epilogue sees them return from the grave as zombies to revenge themselves upon the inspector. Similarly, the explanation for the resurrection of the dead is tied to pesticide irradiation (in which the film allies itself with the nascent Green movement) – in one scene, the film takes relish in the undeniably liberating image of the hero smashing up the polluting equipment.
The film does take its time to get going – things meander for a good half-hour as the film attempts to set up a murder mystery (one of those murder mysteries that seem pointless as everybody in the audience knows what is happening). These scenes do at least allow Arthur Kennedy to steal the show over the faceless cast in a good, solid performance as the bigoted cop. The film also features a – for a foreign production – surprisingly good capturing of rural British colour and dialect.
Of course, once it gets into the action, director Jorge Grau manages to maintain the film at quite a reasonable level of tension. While it lacks the all-out nightmare quality of Night of the Living Dead, the scenes in the morgue and the hospital are tensely sustained. This was also one of the first pre-Dawn of the Dead (1978) zombie films to introduce a substantial quantity of gore.
Jorge Grau was a director prolific in the Spanish sexploitation cycle of the 1970s. His other ventures into genre material were the Elizabeth Bathory film The Legend of Blood Castle (1973) and Death Penalty/Violent Blood Bath (1973) about a judge haunted by those he has executed.