Fearful Symmetry

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The Living Dead At Manchester Morgue

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Better get back to the car

Better get back to the car

The Living Dead At Manchester Morgue was an Italian/Spanish originally know as Non Si Deve Profanare Il Sonno Dei Morti (literally ‘Do Not Speak Ill Of The Dead’) and is known as Let Sleeping Corpses Lie and Don’t Open The Window in the US.

Made in 1974 it sits, both in content and style, on the border between old school Hammer-type horror of the 60s and the video nasty era of the 80s. There’s plenty of gut-ripping lurid special effects set within something that harks back to an earlier age, plus it’s non-British origins give it a strange, pretty much unique tone.

Hippyish George sets off on his motorbike from the big city to the picturesque Lake District for a holliday where he bumps into Edna, who is visiting her drug-addict sister. Or rather she bumps into his bike with her Mini. Soon they encounter the first of several zombies. Scientists are testing a new sonic anti-insect treatment in local fields that works by making the bugs balmy and attacking each other. Unfortunately, unknown to them it has the same effect on other ‘primitive nervous systems’ in the nearby area – corpses and babies (don’t think too hard about that); turning the dead into zombies.

Edna’s brother-in-law is killed, and the police blame the couple. Soon they are on the run, from both the authorities and a growing hoard of the living dead. It all climaxes in a gory mass attack at the local hospital, with a clever plot twist at the very end.

Red contact lenses = instant zombie

Red contact lenses = instant zombie

On the surface Manchester Morgue is just a zombie film with some rather ridiculous plot elements (more on that below). However if you look a bit deeper there are some interesting subtexts. As George rides out of the city the camera lingers on traffic jams, smoke rising from car exhausts and chimneys, dead birds lying on the ground plus the lifeless commuters, who don’t even notice a woman stripping off all her clothes and running naked through the traffic – an event the film never explains. It’s not difficult to see pointers to not only the deadening nature of modern society on mankind’s psyche, but also the physical poisoning of the air from pollution arising from it’s industry and technology; culminating in the zombies arising from the by-product of an experiment to increase farming yield.

The police in the film are uniformly bastards and become almost as much a problem as the living dead, for our heroes. It’s hard to imagine that Spanish director George Grau isn’t having a swipe at the fascism at his home country, with Franco still clinging onto power when the film was made.

However, possibly partly arising from the filmmakers being unfamiliar with the country they are filming in, there are a number of bizarre plot-holes and other quirks arising during the film. Here’s what I learned about England from the film:

  • Everyone drives classic British vehicles (Norton motorcycle, Mini, etc.)
  • Acceptably ‘with-it’ clothing for riding a motorcycle is a posh jacket, a scarf, weird goggles and sailor’s cap type thing.
  • Reversing a Mini about 6 inches into a motorbike will damage it so badly that it will need a new wheel.
    This damage, apart from a broken headlight, will be invisible; in fact you will be able to still wheel the bike into a garage.
  • The new wheel will have to be sent from Glasgow to the Lack District.
  • It will take three days.
  • If a woman runs over your motorcycle you can bully her into doing anything you want, including driving her car.
  • George and Edna are the sort of names trendy young people had back in the 70s.
  • Corpses are transfered around the country in a big panel lorry with ‘Manchester Morgue’ written on the outside.
  • The Lake District is in the The Dept. of Agriculture’s ‘Midland’ area.
  • Their sonic device for killing insects will look exactly like a combine harvester with a few extra lights on it, that spin around. (According to the DVD extras the director rejected the ‘sci-fi’ device from the script in favour of something more ‘realistic’ and ‘agricultural’).
  • The scientists will conduct the tests using this device dressed in white overalls, but the farmer helping them will be dressed normally.
  • The average field in the Lake District is literally swarming with insects.
  • The fact that the sonic device will not only affect insects but other ‘primitive nervous systems’ like babies and corpses will have not been spotted in any previous tests.
  • The test will affect the surrounding area for a mile and a half and then, after they ‘improve’ it, five miles. This is despite the device having a nozzle thing that the scientists hold close over the ground and slowly move to cover the whole field, indicating a localised effect.
  • A woman, who you have kept hidden away in a cottage for a year to cure her of her heroin addiction will still have some heroin stashed away in an outbuilding along with spoon, needle etc.
  • A tiny shop in a Lakeland village will be able to process camera film.
  • And produce enlargements.
  • In the same day.
  • It’s such an important part of its business it will have a large sign advertising the fact in the window.
  • Local newspapers in the Lake District, when reporting an accidental drowning, will include a huge picture of the dead victim being dragged from the river.
  • You can refuse to bury/cremate a smelly old tramp.
  • You’ll store that tramp’s body in a church crypt, out in the middle of the countryside, along with several other corpses in coffins.
  • The crypt won’t be locked and the coffins won’t be sealed.
  • Churches, especially remote ones, are kind of like old sheds inside with loads of handy equipment to fight the undead including a shotgun. (Though, to be fair, this could have been some sort of store room… but even so, a shotgun! in a church!).
  • The entrance to the church will be at the bottom of a huge hill/mountain… and yet the church itself will be in a flat churchyard with no mountains in the background.
  • On visiting a hospital, within minutes, a creepy looking doctor will ask you about leaving your body to science.
  • Corpses are transfered in big aluminum coffins with little windows in them.
  • They are stored in a corridor that the public have access to.
  • The undead don’t show up on photographs.
  • Despite the sonic device making insects attack each other the dead will only attack the living.
  • More dead can be activated by painting blood on their eyelids.
  • The dead themselves can do this.
  • Screaming in a hospital is ignored because the patient was ‘hysterical earlier’.
  • There are loads of pretty swarthy, Mediterranean-looking people living in the Lake District. Perhaps it’s one of those legendary places were remnants from the Spanish Amanda were supposed to have been washed up and bred with the locals.
  • Police Inspectors habitually carry guns.
  • A significant crop of the Lake District is apples.
  • You can escape from a police officer, despite having just been arrested for multiple murder, by asking to go to the toilet and then throwing a towel in the single policeman’s face who has been sent with you.
  • Police cars are left unlocked with the keys in the ignition.

However, if you can deal with such silliness, The Living Dead At Manchester Morgue is a well above average horror film.

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