Living Dead at the Manchester Morgue, The (1974)

The Living Dead at the Manchester Morgue (1974)

They tampered with nature – now they must pay the price…

When a series of violent murders take place in a quiet English town, the local police detective believes it to be the work of Satanists and narrows his investigation towards a pair of young newcomers to the town. But in reality, the murders are being committed by zombies, brought to life by an experimental pesticide which uses ultrasonic radiation.

 

Potentially one of the most underrated zombie films of all time and predating the gruesome and colourful flesh-ripping antics of George A. Romero’s Dawn of the Dead by a good four years, The Living Dead at the Manchester Morgue surely wins the award for the hands-down strangest title concocted. Like many a foreign horror flick (this one being a Spanish production) the film has as many ridiculous names as it has running minutes but you’ll either see it as Let Sleeping Corpses Lie or the title I saw it under for this review. Owing a great deal to Night of the Living Dead, The Living Dead at the Manchester Morgue is possibly one of the first of the zombie films to show its carnage in glorious colour.

Manchester Morgue, to give it a shorter name for the sake of the review, does what many a zombie film fails to do and that is build strong, believable characters that the audience can sympathise with and get on board with. There are anti-authoritarian and anti-political overtones emanating from the script as the two young newcomers George and Edna, hippy-like in appearance, are blamed for everything by the brash local detective who hates all of their ‘kind.’ Both Ray Lovelock and Christine Galbo are great in their respective roles with Arthur Kennedy being brilliant foil as the arrogant and aggressive detective, stealing the film with lines like “I wish the dead could come back to life, you bastard, so then I could kill you again.” Through Kennedy’s harsh treatment of the duo, and lest we forget the zombies, the duo are put through the ringer in the film and we’re on their side every step on the way.

The film is also able to create a brilliantly unnerving atmosphere, in no small part due to the fantastic cinematography on the gloomy British countryside. There is something unsettling about everything and the way in which Frau manipulates the camera to trick you into thinking that things are lurking in the background or just off-screen is the stuff of nightmares. Sound is also used to great effect too, with the radiation machines emitting a weird noise and the zombies themselves shuffling along with a unique pitch. These are the tools of how to make an effective horror film and they’re used well.

Manchester Morgue does take a while to get going and the first half of the film is standard mystery-thriller stuff which you could see on any TV detective drama. The odd zombie pops up here and there to remind us that it is a zombie film after all but its not until the main characters realise that there are zombies on the prowl that the film finally picks up pace. The gear shift is sudden and the characters soon find themselves doing what all great human characters do in the midst of a zombie onslaught – barricade themselves in somewhere, this time a church. They’re not for long before they head off to the morgue of the title for another showdown and it all moves quickly from here onwards.

The zombies here are smart and hard to kill. They hide when needed, use various objects to smash through doors and don’t die from the usual bullet to the head routine. One of the zombies is also classed as a ‘super zombie’ and is able to bring others back to life by dripping blood in their eyes. It’s one of many daft plot developments that ruin the credibility of the film – our disbelief has been suspended long enough to accept that zombies are on the loose but the script decides to blast that away with silly things like this. Plus there is the whole idea that the zombies are being resurrected by the radiation machine. Zombie films are better when they just appear out of the blue and no explanation is given for them being there. When you start trying to go into scientific detail about them coming back to life, you’re on shaky ground because you need to be able to get your facts right to make it work.

This isn’t all about the gore but for 1974, there is some horrific stuff in here, particularly the scene in which an unlucky nurse is literally ripped apart by three zombies who burst in on her. It’s something that the Godfather of Gore, Lucio Fulci, would have been proud of let alone Tom Savini. The fact that it’s all in graphic colour speaks volumes as to why this film had been banned for so long in the UK.

 

The Living Dead at the Manchester Morgue takes a while to get going and lacks the scope of the apocalyptic feel that Romero’s classics have. But there is a real moody atmosphere to it and the film is downright creepy at times, not to mention gory. This is great old school horror film making which gets right underneath your skin before delivering its knockout blows.

 

 ★★★★★★★☆☆☆ 

 

 

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