Let Sleeping Corpses Lie (Fin de semana para los muertos) (aka The Living Dead at the Manchester Morgue) [DVD]
Screenplay : Sandra Continenza and Marcello Coscia
MPAA Rating : NR
Year of Release : 1974
Stars : Cristina Galbó (Edna), Ray Lovelock (George), Arthur Kennedy (Sergeant McCormick), Aldo Massasso (Kinsey), Giorgio Trestini (Craig), Roberto Posse (Benson), José Lifante (Martin)
When Jorge Grau's Let Sleeping Corpses Lie ( Fin de semana para los muertos) was first released in 1974, ripping off George A. Romero's Night of the Living Dead (1968) was not yet a cottage industry. In fact, at the time there had been only a handful of zombie films that owed a debt to Romero's masterpiece, including the shoddy Garden of the Dead and Bob Clark's semi-spoof Children Shouldn't Play With Dead Things, both of which were released in 1972.
Let Sleeping Corpses Lie was a Spanish/Italian co-production made specifically to cash in on the success of Romero's film in Spain, where censorship standards had recently been loosened. Spain had already turned out a couple of zombie flicks, but Grau's was by far the best of the era. The success of Let Sleeping Corpses Lie can be directly attributed to Grau's sense of realism and his ability to create interesting characters in addition to frightening zombie hordes.
The story takes place in the English countryside where a new piece of farm equipment is being introduced by the British Ministry of Agriculture. This new device, which looks at first glance like an ordinary large tractor, emits radiation that affects the nervous system of lower life forms, namely bugs, and causes them to attack each other. It's the perfect form of agricultural pest control, and according to the government agents who are testing it, it is perfectly safe.
While it doesn't affect humans directly, it does have the unfortunate side effect of reanimating the nervous systems of the recently deceased. Thus, the zombies that eventually rise up are a direct result of governmental tampering with nature, a political subtext that is not entirely lost in the blood and guts that follows.
The two main characters are Edna (Cristina Galbó) and George (Ray Lovelock), who are thrown together quite by accident when Edna backs into George's motorcycle at a gas station. They first encounter the living dead when they arrive at the farm owned by Edna's sister, a recovering heroin addict, and her husband. The husband is killed by a zombie, but when the police arrive, they are sure that Edna's hysterical sister was responsible because the man she claims committed the murder is nowhere to be found.
This initiates a long-running series of incidents in the film where the police, notably the bitter Sergeant McCormick (Arthur Kennedy), are kept unaware of the zombies. Instead, McCormick fixates his attention on George because he has long hair, rides a motorcycle, and wears "faggot" clothes. In other words, in McCormick's narro eyes, George is simply a no-good hippie out looking for social subversion. Of course, by focusing on George, McCormick blinds himself to the truth of what is actually going on. (If the evil government-tampering-with-nature subplot wasn't enough, the fascist idiocy of McCormick and general ineptness of the police solidifies the film's strong anti-establishment stance.)
But, those are merely sideplots that enhance the real purpose of the film. After all, Let Sleeping Corpses Lie is a zombie gut-churner, a film that helped raise the bar of graphic gore in the horror cinema. There's nothing here that couldn't be seen in earlier movies (Herschell Gordon Lewis had torn up the human body in just about every conceivable manner by the late 1960s), but Grau tackles the visceral nature of the horror with an intensity that is actually enhanced by his relative restraint. Make no mistake, this is a gory film that involves on-screen disembowelments, axes in skulls, and one poor woman who has her breast literally ripped off. The gore is gruesome, yet Grau doesn't rub your nose in it like Lucio Fulci (Zombie) does. He holds the camera long enough to make viewers squirm, but not so long that the gore becomes repetitive and thus monotonous.
Grau also ups the ante by giving his zombies a more palpable sense of life. While Romero's zombies were scary in their sheer relentlessness, Grau's zombies are scary because they seem to think. Not only do they use physical objects to their advantage (such as pulling up gravestones to use as battering rams), but they seem to hold over some emotions from their previous life, which opens the possibility for premeditated revenge.
Let Sleeping Corpses Lie gets a bit slow in its midsection, but it picks up quickly near the end, offering an ironic ending that still offers a cathartic release for those who have built up a real dislike of Sergeant McCormick (how could an anti-establishment zombie flick let him get away unscathed in the end?). The script, by Sandra Continenza and Marcello Coscia, is well-written and nicely paced, with a number of good setpieces that allow Grau to build suspense without graphic bloodletting (in particular, a scene in which Edna and George are trapped in a crypt with several zombies).
Let Sleeping Corpses Lie offers everything a genre fan would want in a good zombie flick, but it doesn't stop there. It works well on both a technical (the sound design and effects are especially impressive) and an emotional level (when characters are killed, you actually feel bad for them). And, while it is by no means as good as Romero's films, it is still significantly better than the vast majority of other copycats.
|Let Sleeping Corpses Lie Limited Edition Tin Box Set|
|Let Sleeping Corpses Lie is available from Anchor Bay in a special limited edition tin container (limited to 5,000 units) that also includes a 24-page full-color collector's booklet, a 5 1/4" x 8 1/4" original theatrical poster replica, and a toe tag replica. The movie is also available as a separate special edition DVD (SRP: $29.98).|
|Audio||Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround|
Dolby 2.0 Surround
|Supplements|| Introduction by director Jorge Grau|
Exclusive 20-minute interview with Jorge Grau
Two radio spots
Poster and stills gallery
|Distributor||Anchor Bay Entertainment|
|Anchor Bay has done an excellent job with this anamorphic widescreen transfer. Show in its original 1.85:1 aspect ratio, Let Sleeping Corpses Lie looks better on this DVD than it probably did when it was shown in theaters. The image is sharp and clear, with virtually no grain and only a handful of scratches. The film has a somewhat dark, overcast look, which was the intent of the filmmakers; in fact, it was shot on outdated film stock for that exact purpose. Detail level is still high, and flesh tones look natural (on the living characters, of course). Black levels are generally solid, although there are a few night scenes in which they become rather grayish. Overall, though, this a great transfer.|
|The excellent image quality is matched by an equally impressive remastered Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack that showcases Giuliano Sorgini's vividly original music score and the impressive zombie sound effects. A great deal of work went into the sound design on this film, with various rasping breathing and vocal effects that add to the otherworldly quality of the zombie invasion. The five channels are frequently taxed into full use, creating an enveloping aural environment. Some of it is quite bass-heavy, and the soundtrack handles the lower levels very well.|
|Since this is a special limited edition, Anchor Bay has outfitted this release with a good, if not particularly expansive, set of extras. Most notable is a 20-minute interview with director Jorge Grau. The interview is conducted in Spanish with optional English subtitles. Grau discusses how he came to make the film, noting in particular how he brought his sense of realism to the screenplay, adding many of his own touches to bring it more down to earth (he also tells a funny story about how the crew was kicked out of a cemetery where they were filming because they weren't being respectful to the grave of Little John, Robin Hood's sidekick). The disc also contains an American TV spot that advertises the film under its absurdly inappropriate U.S. title Don't Open the Window, as well as two radio spots. A small gallery of various international posters and production stills is also included. The limited edition tin comes with a jokey mortician's toe tag and a 24-page color booklet that contains a very well-written critical examination of the film by Nigel J. Burell that makes it clear that Let Sleeping Corpses Lie is much more than just a run-of-the-mill zombie knockoff. Also, it should be noted that Anchor Bay has continued to lead the way in all-anamorphic DVDs by making everything on this disc, from the supplements to the menus, enhanced for 16:9 TVs. Bravo.|
Copyright ©2000 James Kendrick