Night #27: The Living Dead At Manchester Morgue (1974)


Directed By: Jorge Grau

It doesn’t take place in Manchester.

In some ways that kind of sums up this movie, an Italian-Spanish production that’s set in the English countryside. It’s actually set in Gateshead and is, as far as I know, the only movie to be set there. What a claim to fame that is. I wonder if they do tours of famous locations like the shop our protaganists go to get photos developed. Also, I got the title right. A lot of the modern posters now insert a ‘the’ where you think it should go, but the original title is missing it.

First, a note on the titles because whew, this movie has a few. Are you ready? There’s this, there’s Let Sleeping Corpses Lie, The Living Dead, Don’t Open The Window, Do Not Speak Ill Of The Dead, Zombi 3 and Breakfast At The Manchester Morgue. That’s not to mention all the various worldwide titles. It wasn’t exactly new for movies to get retitled depending on where they get released, but it was released in the US alone under 3 different names. Even by the standards of the time it was a little ludicrous. So what’s it all about, zombie?

George is a swinging londoner (Still not Manchester) in the Michael Caine fromĀ AlfieĀ way who is getting a weekend away in Windermere. His bike gets wrecked along the way so he gets a lift from Edna and is immediately a dick to her. Not only does he drive her car because she ‘looks a bit tired’ he then moans when it’s time for them to part ways. She has to go to Gateshead you see and George isn’t too happy about that, so he whines and moans for a bit but eventually gives in, like the reasonable man that he is. It really cannot be overstated what a prick he is. She has to go see her sister, he has to go to a new house he’s just bought with some friends to ‘do it up’. Get your priorities right, dickhead.

Edna is on her way to see her sister, who we learn is a heroin addict. She’s about to be sent off to a clinic by her husband, but before long a man attacks them, killing the husband by caving his chest in. When the assholish detective shows up on the scene he determines that she, inbued with the power of horse, must’ve caved his chest in. I don’t think he even considers that a man could have done it, nope, it must be that crazy heroin power.

Suffice to say he uses his powers of deduction to surmise that they’re all in on it together, even though it’s easily provable that they’re not. Before long more bodies start to pile up in various horrible ways, but out Detective won’t be swayed, insisting that it must be these crazy kids.

It’s interesting that popular lore sort of dictates that there came Romero’s zombie movies and then everything else when that kind of isn’t true. No doubt The Night Of The Living Dead kicked it off for a lot of people, though zombie movies certainly existed before that. Similarly Dawn Of The Dead was said to have ushered in a new wave and that’s arguably true as well, but that’s not to say that these movies were not already happening. Indeed, this came in 1974, some 4 years before Dawn Of The Dead and it shares some of Romero’s taste for social commentary.

The zombies are a little different too. Sure they’re still lumbering dead people but they’re also sort of organised. They’re certainly organised enough to know how to bash a door down at least. And I think they have to power to resurrect others? It’s not entirely clear.

There’s a lot going on here. An early scene at the start depicts the hustle and bustle of the city, punctuated by the sight of a streaker running through the steets but no one pays any attention to them. George talks numerous times about the greatness of the countryside and how it’s untainted by city life. The thing that causes the outbreak of the dead is a new experimental procedure from the Department Of Agriculture that sends sonic waves into the ground, causing all the insect life to turn on and kill one another (In one scene, even the newborns at the local hospital have turned violent). So it’s pretty clear that director Jorge Grau had some things on his mind.

It’s also unavoidably hilarious. George is too much of a dick to really warm to as a protaganist, and there has to be some real plot contrivances that take place to ensure that only George and Edna ever get to witness the walking dead, including a gnarly massacre in a hospital at the movie’s climax. The Detective is a real caricature, firmly believing that the killings are the work of Satanists and a natural result of the ‘youth’ being allowed to run rampant. He has this hilarious line about people like George indulging in sex, drugs and all sorts of filth that honestly just sounds like a great time instead of the decline of western civilisation as he seems to think.

Sadly though the movie isn’t that great either. When the final hospital scene comes it’s pretty great, but too much of the movie is spent with George and Edna on the run. Visually it’s nice to look at, with the English (really though mostly Italian) countryside serving as a sumptuous backdrop to the proceedings, but it’s a little too on the serious side to be any real fun. Not that I need these things to be ‘fun’ to be enjoyable by any means, but there’s too much of characters explaining something only for other characters not to believe them…and repeat.


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