Monday, October 17, 2011

Vamp or Not? Living Dead at the Manchester Morgue

1974, and a year after Director Jorge Grau brought us The Legend of Blood Castle he gave as the Living Dead at the Manchester Morgue, also known as Let Sleeping Corpses Lie (Just 2 of 16 alternate titles). Title-wise we hit an inaccuracy as none of this is set at the ‘Manchester Morgue’ but rather in the Lake District.

The film was lent to me, some considerable amount of time ago, by Clark who suggested that I might want to “Vamp or Not?” it – apologies for only just getting around to it. It should also be noted that David Pirie, in his 1977 volume The Vampire Cinema, dedicates several pages to the film and argues that it ”suggests fresh possibilities for the vampire movie by building on the ideas of its extraordinary prototype.” Strangely Pirie also suggests that it is “an accomplished remake of Romero’s Night of the Living Dead.”

Of course it is not a remake of Romero’s opus but the fact that Pirie suggests a similarity puts the warning flags up immediately as NotLD is the granddaddy of zombie flicks. The film opens almost silently as George (Ray Lovelock) picks up some bits and pieces from his antiquities shop and then closes up for his holidays. We see him riding his bike through the city and the camera lingers upon scenes of social decay and pollution. A female streaker runs past traffic at lights and the drivers fail to notice.

Ray Lovelock as George
George stops for petrol, parking behind car driver Edna (Cristina Galbó). As he gets a can of pop she puts her car into reverse and crushes the wheel of his motorbike. She apologises profusely, admitting that she must be tired as she has driven all the way from London. The bike can’t be fixed until after the weekend and so George demands a lift to Windermere, suggesting that he drive. One of the astounding things about the film is just how dislikeable George is, to begin with, and how Grau manipulates us to side with him and Edna – as they eventually side with each other.

Cristina Galbó as Edna
Windermere is too far for Edna – she is due at the home of her sister Katie (Jeannine Mestre). Later we discover that brother-in-law Martin (José Lifante, Tiempos duros para Drácula) has tried to keep Katie secluded for a year as he is trying to get her off heroin and now wants Edna to help him get her to a clinic as she is still managing to use the drug. Unfortunately Edna gets them lost and they stop at a dead end near a farm. George goes up to ask directions and discovers a Ministry of Agriculture experiment to get rid of insects through ultra-sonic radiation.

red eyes
Edna sees a man (Fernando Hilbeck) stumbling about, for the audience of course it is in a shambling zombie manner – he turns and looks at her and we see that his irises are a weird red colour. He is wet – later we discover he was a tramp who drowned and Grau keeps the character wet because of this, but that is stylistic and shouldn’t affect our ‘Vamp or Not?’ – and heads at Edna. She gets in her car but George has the keys and he reaches through the window at her. She bolts towards the farm and finds George and the farmer. The man has vanished.

George faces the police
Over at Katie’s house Katie is trying to get a fix, whilst Martin takes some night time photos. She is preparing her heroin when the man who had menaced her sister comes at her. We should note the strange wheezing breathing that the living dead employ. She gets away but he gives chase and eventually gets a hold of Martin, killing him. Come the next morning and Edna and George are clearly suspects as far as the police inspector (Arthur Kennedy, the Humanoid) is concerned – pretty much Grau draws him, not the living dead, as the villain of the piece.

Fernando Hilbeck as the living dead
So far, so zombie. We discover that the ultra-sonic radiation is designed to attack primitive nervous systems (of insects and such like) and cause them to kill each other. The doctors at the nearby hospital have noticed that new-born babies are being unnaturally aggressive – and their nervous systems are not fully formed. The idea is that the nervous system of a newly dead corpse is still rudimentarily active and the radiation revives them and, of course, they are aggressive. During the film the scientists increase the range of their machine from 1 mile to 5 miles.

co-operative working
What we also see is that they are not entirely thoughtless. We see the first corpse lift a cross shaped headstone to use as a battering ram. We see the living dead use ladders and we see the first corpse and a second cooperate to lift a large gravestone that is ultimately used as a weapon. We see them rip into living flesh to feed but we also see a unique way of reviving the dead that is completely leftfield with regards the zombie genre.

reviving a corpse
We see the first corpse dab blood on the eyes of two more corpses and them revive. Later it is directly said that they revive other corpses through the blood of the living. How this is supposed to work I have no idea – it is almost like a contagion rather than the misuse of science that the primary reviving tool employs. We have to note that it is the blood of the living and not the dead that is important, as though the contagion (supernatural or otherwise) needs a living conduit. It also shows a high level of thought process, not only in the fact that they know how to do this (though it could be instinctive) but in the fact that they choose some to revive and others to eat.

corpse using an axe
As for destroying them, well that is easier said than done. When barricaded in a church’s side building, a policeman finds a handy gun and takes shots at the living dead. One shot is a direct headshot, blood springs out of the cranium but the zombie does not fall. Head shots won’t do it – probably rightly so given that it is the rudimentary nervous system affected, one would think you would have to get to the brain stem – though that isn’t mentioned. Fire, however, does kill them and quickly too. To me this is much more common within vampire lore than zombie lore.

gory attack
All in all, however, these seem much more zombie than anything else. It is a marvellous film, one that you should watch if you haven’t. There are some elements that would seem more vampire (or other undead) than zombie. The way of reviving (each other), the cooperative working and the manner in which they can be killed. If the word zompire had been around then it might have been an ideal label but, all in all, Not Vamp.

The imdb page is here.


Clark49 said...

Agree with you that it's not Vamp, but as stated, there are some similarities. Glad you enjoyed the film though

Taliesin_ttlg said...

certainlt not vamp, but it is zompire gravitating towards the zombie side if the scale. Cheers for the watch