Thursday, September 17, 2009

Let Sleeping Corpses Lie

Let Sleeping Corpses Lie

Original Title:

Non si deve porfanare il sonno dei morti

Aka: The Living Dead at the Manchester Morgue,

Breakfast at the Manchester Morgue,

Do Not Speak Ill of the Dead,

Don't Open the Window and many more.

Directed by: Jorge Grau, 1974

Italy / Spain, 95min

Distributed by: Anchor Bay Entertainment


An antique dealer plans on spending a quiet weekend in the countryside but finds his plans shattered when a young woman accidentally crashes into his motorbike at a gas station. Edna offers George a ride to his destination, but on the way plans are changed once again and he ends up driving her to her planned visit to her sister who lives in the countryside. The road there unfortunately takes them the wrong way and as they stop to question at a farmyard a stranger wanders up from the river and towards the car. A stranger who has been dead for a month!


Jorge Grau's excellent “Undead” (I'll be saying undead from here on, as nobody in the movie ever says the word zombie. But we all know that they are zombies don't we!) movie Let Sleeping Corpses Lie, with all of its many a.k.a. titles is a great piece of genre cinema, and one of my personal favourites of the genre. Following in the wake of the groundbreaking Night of the Living Dead, it's possibly one of the best entries into the genre brought to recognition by George A. Romero in 1969. Luckily it's one of those Italian-Spanish coproduction’s that relies more on story than gut munching effects of the later wave of the zombie genre. Not that those movies are bad, quite the opposite, the apocalyptic world of the flesh eater is a tantalising one to say the least.

Producer Edmondo Amati, (producer of such greats like Fulci's A Lizard in a Woman's Skin 1971, One on Top of the Other 1969, Alberto De Martino's The Antichrist 1974 and Antonio Margheriti's Cannibal Apocalypse 1980) decided that he must to get in on the zombie niche after Romero's movie became a hit, and in Spain he found his perfect candidate, the young Jorge Grau. Grau had a decent background in movies, not the horror genre per say, but a majority of his works had elements of the fantastic in them and had received an overall fine reception. Amati approached him with the question “Do you like Night of the Living Dead?” A movie that Grau indeed was a fan of, but as he was trying his hardest to get his Ceremonia sangrienta 1973 (aka The Legend of Blood Castle) off the ground since 1964 when he first heard of the Countess Bathory legend during a film festival in Czechoslovakia, the two could not collaborate on the project Amati was trying to pitch. Some years later after the completion of Ceremonia sangrienta, Amati approached Grau once again with the Sandro Continenza penned script, asking if he still liked Night of the Living Dead. Giving Grau a free hand to change the script and take the time he needed to make it more realistic, the two started their relationship, which would end up being Let Sleeping Corpses Lie.

Made in an age before the realistic gore exploded onto screens with movies like George A. Romero’s sequel Dawn of the Dead 1978, Andrea Bianchi’s Nights of Terror 1981, Marino Girolami's eclectic Cannibal/Zombie hybrid Zombie Holocaust 1980 and Lucio Fulci’s epic mother of all Euro Zombie flicks Zombi2 1979, Grau chooses, much like Romero to rely heavily on the realism and everyday drama of the people caught up in this strange new world rather than focusing on the specific gut munching and reigning chaos of a zombie infested landscape.

Let sleeping Corpses Lie is a pretty straight forward story, George [the fantastic Ray Lovelock] sets out for a weekend in the countryside, getting away fro the stress of inner-city life, which is made quite obvious during the start of the movie, the citizens walk aimlessly, stare blankly as they await busses, in the heavy trafficked core of modern civilization. People are seen wearing facemasks to avoid breathing in the fumes (which interestingly enough makes one think of the swine flu pandemic and fear that we are living with right now. It makes the movie contemporary even today) the further George gets out of town on his motorbike, cross cut with images of fuming industrial towers, urban decay, dead birds, the imagery lightens up and instead of the close-ups of decay, we start seeing wide shots of open country, fresh air and swaying fields. George is closing in on his safe haven, but when stopping at a petrol station to fill up his bike Edna accidentally crashes him into. Edna [star of Massimo Dallamano’s What Have You Done to Solange? 1972 and Luigi Cozzi’s top notch Giallo The Killer Must Kill Again 1975, and who also won the best actress award for her part in the movie at the 1974 Sitges film festival] offers to drive him to his destination. But they end up going the wrong way, into the middle of nowhere. George gets out at a nearby farm to ask for directions and two important storylines are introduced. The ecological cause of the forthcoming outbreak is established, which has George make a political statement. Don’t mess around with Mother Nature. No sooner has he said his than Edna has her first encounter with the undead, as Guthrie [the recently deceased Fernando Hilbeck], a local tramp tries to attacks her. Edna manages to evade him and runs up to the farm too, but George and the farmer can’t believe what Edna tells them, and laugh off the shocking experience she just had, as Guthrie couldn’t possibly have attacked her. He died almost a month ago.

A subplot with Edna’s sister Katie [Jeanine Mestre] is set in motion. Katie, a recovering drug addict has been forced out into the countryside by her husband Martin, [José Lifante] and Edna is on the way there to convince her to sign into a rehab programme and get of the drugs once and for all. But she just can’t seem to stay of the smack and as she secretly prepares to shoot up in the barn, she finds herself in the dark stood face to face with Guthrie! This encounter leads up to the death of Martin and it’s at this point of the movie that the real antagonist makes his entry, The Inspector portrayed with bravura by Arthur Kennedy. The Inspector quickly makes up his mind that these city folks, these damned hippies with their longhair and drugs, are the real culprits and that they have killed Martin, not the fantasy figure that Katie claims did. Now this in one cop who always gets his man. We can understand that from the way he moves, talks and acts. He isn’t afraid to go out on a limb to bust a case, and his loyal men are always standing by, ready to act on his every demand. Just watch as he lays pressure on Katie, trying to make her confess, not giving a damn that she just watched her husband be killed.

The movie moves forward as George and Edna try to figure out the whereabouts of Guthrie as both sisters now claim he is the real killer After an infant unexplainably in a fit of rage bites George at the nearby hospital he takes Dr Duffield [Vincente Vega] back to the farm where scientists explain the strange experiments they are conducting in the fields outside the village. Using ultrasonic radiation they are fighting off insects and bugs, who instead of eating crops go insane and kill each other instead when they hear the noises the strange machine makes. Really it’s a modified combine harvester, but it looks believable, and it gives a possible reason for the dead rising from their tombs.

George and Edna’s quest leads them to a crypt under the village church, and low and behold, they find him, the undead Guthrie. This is followed by a wonderfully long sequence where they battle their way out of the underground tomb chased by several more undead that Guthrie awakens by wiping blood on their foreheads. Once again their success in the horror narrative is their damnation in the drama narrative as the Inspector arriving at the cemetery finds his officer sent out to trail the suspects gutted and three burned corpses. Yeah, the undead now dead again.

Finally they all gather for a fantastic ending with several shocking events back at the local hospital and the movie comes to its climax with a bang to say the least. In some ways the ending is kind of silly, but at the same time it’s the ending we always wanted for Ben [Duane Jones] in the movie that inspired this one to start with, Night of the Living Dead. Even though the special effects by Gianetto De Rossi are quite restrained, I’m sure that in 1974 they where quite shocking, even the masterpiece from the other side of the Atlantic, Tobe Hooper’s The Texas Chain Saw Massacre 1974 isn’t’ as visually spectacular as this movie is. And the movie is a wonderful time capsule of De Rossi’s realistic effect wizardry only a few years before he really took it to the limit in those splendid Italian genre pieces.

Symbolism and negative counterparts play a part in Grau’s movie. During the very start of the movie we see a fertility stature the symbol of life, a few moments later the camera focuses on a haunting painting which look like a strange blend of the iconic atomic bomb mushroom and a harrowed face of a dead person. Also in a wider perspective it’s somewhat ironic to start a movie that ends on such a down note with a symbol of life. The struggle for human survival is conquered not by the monsters, but by humans themselves. The Cops, who are supposed to be the good guys, turn out to be the bad guys. It’s all wonderfully sinister isn’t it, and one can only imagine the degree of social criticism Grau brought into the movie here, as the idea that the police force represents Franco and his dictatorship over the people of Spain isn’t too far from bay.

Much like The Exorcist 1973, Jaws 1975, and the recent Swedish hit Let the Right One In 2008, it’s the realism of the drama that makes the movie work. The movie is set in a real world and is actually a drama with horror themes and elements. Also i's the very ordinary characters who help drive the movie. George is a simple antique dealer who only wants’ to get to his rural house in the countryside to get away from the hectic tempo of the inner city. Edna is an everyday woman on her way to visit her sister who also lives in the countryside. There are no superpowers at play here, no secret army training, no suitcases full of weapons, just two common people in the middle of a terrifying setting. It’s the simple choices that they make that make them believable characters. Running for their lives, much like you and I would do.

The explanation for the undead coming back to life is also quite reasonable, and in many ways a critical standing point. The human element is to blame, not a freak of nature, but our own need to control our environment. An ecological theme that we are to blame for our own downfall much like in Romero’s Night of the Living Dead and Jean Rollin’s Grapes of Death 1978. And it works, because we can relate to it, much like we still relate to discussions concerning the environment still today. It’s easier to swallow than radiation from outer space isn’t it?

One of the more sophisticated tools used by Grau in Let Sleeping Corpses Lie, is that George is a sceptic, it’s not until we pass half of the movie that George actually believes that the dead have come back to life, and from then on starts fighting with his life at stake. This is a cunning device as we grow into identification with George as he grows into the believer, his scepticism is the same as ours, there can’t be monsters, but as he changes and develops as a character we go along on the ride with him and he bring us into the story. As he comes to terms of the reality of monsters, so do we.

All of these splendid storytelling tools are used to crate a magnificent movie that still almost forty years later makes it a really disturbing, believable, engaging and highly entertaining movie. A masterpiece of the horror genre to say the least. A definitive must see movie for any fan of early European Zombie Horror.

Finally a word on Giuliano Sorgini’s excellent soundtrack. (Sample above!) It’s honestly one of the most impressive scores conceived for an Italian genre movie because where it starts out as a rock funky jazz thing so typical of the Italian movie scene at the time, it quickly degenerates into a terrifying mixture of primitive growling and guttural sounds which are really disturbing and go perfectly with the images of the undead feasting on the bleeding flesh of mankind. Great stuff, perhaps not as proggish as Goblin or as melodic as the Fabio Frizzi and Alexander Blonkensteiner tunes of the later wave of gut-munchers, but definitely a disturbing soundtrack for a fascinating movie.


1.85:1 widescreen


2.0 Dolby Digital Stereo


This version is the limited edition tin boxed set so it has the following extras; A few TV spots, a couple of Radio Spots (which I’d love to have had on CD with the Score! That would have been an extra!) A galley of posters and stills, a novelty Toe Tag replica, a small replica of the German poster! (Surely they could have found a Spanish one, that image is beautiful!) And the best, an interview with Jorge Grau and a 24page booklet, which reproduces text by Nigel J. Burrell from the long out of print Midnight Media book on Let Sleeping Corpses Lie.

And if you really, really want to know… I have no. 1547 of the 5000 limited run.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Magníficos secundarios: Hilbeck, Ruíz Lifante....

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