Also known as: “Breakfast at the Manchester Morgue”, “The Living Dead”, “Don’t Open The Window”, “Let Sleeping Corpses Lie”, and “Do Not Speak Ill Of The Dead”, among many others (no idea what “Don’t Open The Window” was referring to, perhaps just a general safety request).
I can now say I’ve visited the location of one of the classic Italian zombie films. Yes, dear reader, part of “Manchester Morgue” was filmed in the beautiful village of Castleton in the Peak District, a short drive from my house and home to the Blue John Caverns. Not quite as glamourous as Rome, but lovely nonetheless. Most of the exteriors were actually shot in my part of the world – some scenes at the beginning were shot in Manchester city centre, before moving on to the Lake District and Peak District.
We’re on to the fourth “Zombie 3”, now, this one bearing that title in Brazil. “Wait, fourth?” I hear you ask. “Did I miss one?” No, don’t worry, I’m just referring to the previously reviewed “Nightmare City”, which went by “Zombie 3” in some markets. We’ve got one more to go – “Zombie Holocaust”, aka “Dr Butcher MD”, has also used the name at one point, and features someone who was in “Zombi 2”, making it more of a sequel than the “official” part 3. All this number talk is beginning to bore even me now (and I love this sort of nonsense) so let’s get on with things.
An opening segment tells us of environmental woes. The shots of Manchester city centre feature several people with facemasks on, juxtaposed with belching chimneys and car exhausts…and then a streaker runs through the streets for absolutely no reason whatsoever. By the time the movie had ended, I’d completely forgotten about her, so as I was pondering it this morning, her appearance became even more puzzling. Anyway, it eventually gets going for real, and we meet our two “stars”, the Scumbag Biker and the Wet Blanket.
They have real names, and I think Scumbag Biker is supposed to be a good guy, but that’s the roles they played. He’s George (Ray Lovelock) and she’s Edna (Cristina Galbó). It turns out he’s an antiques shop owner on his way to sell some pieces, and she’s…a wet blanket. Sorry, I didn’t write the damn script! So, she backs into him on a garage forecourt in her Mini, so he just insults her, then demands a ride to where he’s going, then tells her he’s going to drive because she’d probably go the entire way in reverse. The entire rest of the movie, they act like a feuding couple who’ve been married for years, and she, much like every woman in a European horror movie of the era, does absolutely nothing. Ye gods, she’s useless, spending the entire rest of the movie crying or frozen in fear.
There’s another woman in similar circumstances, a pale, sad-looking thing who’s apparently being held semi-hostage by her husband. He’s a photographer and she, in a rather odd twist, is a heroin addict. He’s only keeping her there because she begged not to be sent to a clinic, although where she’s going for heroin in the middle of the rural North-West of England is a matter never brought up. I guess Manchester and Liverpool are a drive away, but there’s no indication she has access to a car…it’s a curious sub-plot, for sure. His photographs are often of the countryside, but are also of his wife, naked and looking rather upset – a creepy little detail which is sadly glossed over. Other reviews seem to think she’s a prostitute? Perhaps the version I watched was more heavily edited, because I didn’t get that at all.
The zombies are popping up as a result of an experiment from the “Agriculture Ministry”. To stop the tyranny of insects eating crops, some boffins have figured out a device to emit radiation into the ground which excites their very primitive nervous systems, and gets them to kill each other. You know who else has a very primitive nervous system still firing, after death? Human beings! They do try and explain it, and it’s not the stupidest idea in the world, I suppose. This ties in to the environmental message, and while it’s a touch on the heavy-handed side, I’m not going to give them too much of a hard time about it.
A tramp who fell in the river and drowned is patient zero, but these zombies aren’t your average, oh no. Shoot em in the head? They laugh that off (well, stand there with the same vacant expression on their faces). Shoot em anywhere else? Same. They’ve got rudimentary tool skills (not as good as the guys and gals from “Nights Of Terror”, of course) and the only way you can finish them off is burning them. I like their slowness and deliberation, and the makeup is spot-on too. They’re fresh-ish corpses, so you don’t need body parts hanging off and bit s of skull showing, you just need some good makeup and a vacant expression, and “Manchester Morgue” provides that in spades. The way the zombies show up in scenes, then disappear, makes it feel more like a very violent ghost story than it does a zombie-thon, too.
I guess it would be better if you watched the Youtube video, if you’re fussed about spoilers. Although it’s over 40 years old, you guys really have no excuse. People start dying, but despite you thinking the first zombie was caught on camera, all of the developed shots just show its victim. Are they vampires too? When the police are brought in, you’re going to struggle to do anything other than notice their accents, and in fact all the accents in the movie. The main cop is sort of Irish / American; there’s a doctor who’s Mexican / Indian; the woman who runs the petrol station is Scottish; there’s a few which sound like they’re roughly area- appropriate but so many more who you can be sure were just handed off to voice actors who were told to do whatever they wanted, as long as it was English. It sounds like TV show “Eurotrash”, only they do it deliberately for laughs. The cops seem to think they’ve got a Manson-style hippie murderer on their hands, whose exploits would have been fresh in peoples’ minds at the time, so it’s also interesting to see how the director defends Scumbag Biker, who’s an atheist environmentalist, from the forces of small towns and small minds.
Almost despite myself, I liked this. It’s the sort of slow-paced movie I’d have hated in my youth, but the atmosphere is extremely well done and there’s enough stuff to keep you interested. Scumbag Biker tries to save the day, Wet Blanket sits around and doesn’t do much, the radiation device slowly spreads its area of effect and more zombies start showing up. The gore is excellent, but relatively rarely used – director Grau definitely watched “Night Of The Living Dead” a few times, as there’s a few little borrows (for example, the first zombie lumbering out of a graveyard, and the zombies in a circle all munching on guts. Oh, and a few people trap themselves in a building and board it up, but it lasts only a few minutes so I’m not sure it counts). There’s a fantastic bit where one of the cops, a brave fella who hopes his actions prove to Scumbag Biker that the police are okay, really, runs out of the building to go and get his radio and call for help…and makes it about five feet before getting a gravestone to the back and going down for good. And the ending! Wow, they really throw a bleak ending in there, and this stands out in a genre known for its bleak endings.
This wasn’t bad at all. As long as you go into it not expecting a zombie death-fest, you’ll probably have a good time. Or if you’re interested in what Northern England looked like in the mid 70s (although this is perhaps too small an interest group to cater specifically to). To cheer you up after that ending, see if you can spot the non-deliberate mistake in this still from the movie:
Rating: thumbs up