The Living Dead at Manchester Morgue (1974)

This has to win some kind of award for zombie film with the best set of alternative titles, including: Let Sleeping Corpses Lie, Breakfast at the Manchester Morgue, Breakfast with the Dead and my personal favourite, Don’t Open the Window (what that has to do with the film I have no idea, but it’s pretty catchy).

Despite all the usual weaknesses of 70’s Italian Horror (which I know is exactly what some people like, but I find very difficult to get past); the poor synching of over-dubbing, ridiculous plot (experimental agriculture?), terribly wooden acting and rather ponderous elements of style (someone can’t work a zoom smoothly at all), The Living Dead at Manchester Morgue is atmospheric and suitably scary.

The soundtrack makes a big contribution to making the zombies less buffoonish (the underwater noises that precede the first appearance of a ghoul are particularly effective). Of course there is a graveyard close by, and spooky hospital (complete with terrifying homicidal infants, or babies smeared with blood), a suitably ominous mortuary van and a crazy heroin taking sister, but complicated (and ultimately unimportant) plot details aside, the zombies do what they should and the women aren’t completely useless. Hurrah!

The film begins with an extended montage of Manchester, which is in many ways one of the best sequences in the film. Although very different in tone, it reminded me of the views of London in Roman Polanski’s Repulsion, both setting up a sense of place through a visitor’s eye.

The attention to faces, scenes of industry and ordinary life is striking in these moments (not even spoiled by the rather oddball appearance of a streaker), and draws attention to the fact that the film is made almost exclusively by Italians (apparently some of it was shot in Italy, but they did film on location in Manchester and the Peak district).

Even more striking is the quality of this new dvd release. There’s a really nicely designed menu screen, and the film itself is looking pretty tip top. The colours really pop out at you: the lush green of the countryside marking it out as almost defiantly English, and the bright post-box red of the mysterious experimental insect-killing device powered by radiation (oops!) sticks out like the sore thumb it should be.

The colour palette really has the feel of an english 70’s horror film (a little like The Wicker Man in some respects) in a way that is difficult to define, but instantly recognisable (maybe its something to do with primary colours, or blocky staging.

It’s just a shame that all those other elements of style – acting, dubbing and camera-work – can’t quite get it together in the same way.

Movie Rating: ★★★☆☆ 

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