Hello and Hallo-welcome to our second Sorry Mary! Monday, where we rip a film, blood gushing and flesh rotting, from the infamous Video Nasty list! You join your grisly bloggers, Andy and Lilly, as they settle in for graphic imagery and adult situations to the extreme.
Today’s film offeri—
Lilly: Wait, maybe we should actually explain who Mary is and what a video nasty is. We didn’t really cover that last week.
Andy: Probably a good idea. A deeply divisive figure of the last few decades in Britain was a lady by the name of Mary Whitehouse. She founded the National Viewers and Listeners Association – a socially conservative movement aimed at stopping the moral decline of the nation and the march of ‘permissive society’.
Lilly: She sounds like a bundle of laughs.
Andy: Yep. In addition, public prosecutors had been seizing and destroying unclassified video tapes from shops under obscenity laws, and in the end provided a list of 72 films that were liable to be seized in 1983 – the ‘video nasties’ list. Of course, banning these movies had the opposite of the desired effect: by banning them they only made teenagers and horror fans want to see them more…
Lilly: Ha! Sorry, Mary!
Andy: The movies on the list have now mostly been released under an ‘18’ Certificate in the UK, either cut or uncut. Probably the best known movies on it are Sam Raimi’s The Evil Dead, Dario Argento’s Inferno and Wes Craven’s first movie, Last House on the Left. And while this may smack of nanny-state censorship, it’s important to remember that before this point unclassified movies could be rented by anyone. You want a 10 year old watching The Evil Dead?
Lilly: Ooh no. Plus I’ve read the list and a lot of these movies don’t exactly sound like high cinema – Deep River Savages, SS Experiment Camp, Gestapo’s Last Orgy…
Andy: There is a lot of senseless trash. Buuut there are also some quality horror movies, and we are going to be looking at some of the best, starting with probably the most underrated zombie movie ever: The Living Dead at Manchester Morgue. How good is that title?
Lilly: It’s excellent, and great news! It isn’t the only title this film has! The Living Dead at the Manchester Morgue is also lovingly known as Let Sleeping Corpses Lie, translated from the Italian and Spanish titles (of which the direct translation is: Do Not Profane the Sleep of the Dead), and the highly confusing Don’t Open the Window. Confusing in so much as we have no idea what windows have to do with anything, save one particular scene where someone definitely should have opened the window–the title might be on the side of the zombies, actually.
TLDaMM tells the story of George, an antique/rare finds dealer who is heading out into the country to sell some odd looking stuff to a buyer when his motorbike is ran over at a gas station by our (not) intrepid female lead, Edna. This sets these two crazy kids up for not only the important plot point that Edna is a horrible driver but also why they are together in the first place when things get living deadly. The pair make a deal–George will drive Edna where she is going in her car, and he’ll then go on with it to his buyer, since his bike is out of commission.
The couple then start on a journey that takes them by a farm that is using a new, experimental technology to kill pests that drives their simple nervous systems insane to the point of killing each other. F U, nature, man has arrived, and he brought science! Some brief menacing happens, then we are brought into the third storyline of the film, Edna’s drug-addled sister.
These three storylines (jerk dealer George and his sidekick Edna, Science!, and the drug addict who hates her husband for trying to get her clean) converge into a fun-filled, terrifying romp when corpses brought back from the dead get rolled into the mix–because, you see, dead people, like insects, have simple nervous systems, so the—you know what, whatever, zombies be zombie-ing.
Andy: There’s just so much to love here. The most particular to me is that it’s so unusual to see a horror movie set in the UK, made by a foreign director and production company. There are a couple set in ‘London’, but this takes place in the area of, at first Manchester, and then the Lake District. Director Jorge Grau absolutely nails the dour, dirty feeling of industrial decline that infected the north in the 70s and 80s, especially in the opening credits. I have only ever come across one person who hit this same area with such an unerring eye: Liverpudlian and horror novelist Ramsey Campbell.
Likewise, his treatment of the Lake District is so, so good. One of the most beautiful, iconic and well-known tourist destinations in the country becomes utterly threatening: its gorgeous hills and valleys become hiding places for the lurking dead, its rambling country roads and trails become disorienting and deadly cul-de-sacs, and comforting peace and solitude becomes lethal isolation. Aspiring UK filmmakers in the genre, take note: THIS is how you make the English countryside TERRIFYING.
Lilly: Yeah, the rolling hills were what kept me awake after watching it. Spooky glens.
Seriously, the corpses are ridiculously scary in this film. They don’t call them zombies, so I suppose I won’t either, but they are totally zombies, people. They have blood red eyes, don’t die easy, and have super-human strength to kill you with prior to eating you–no joke, these dead ladies and gents are all about the strangle. And the noise they make.
Can we just talk about that?
It’s an inhale, then an exhale, but in between, it’s like someone is sucking out of a rusty straw and then wheezing out the dust that came forth due to their efforts. It’s terrifying. And that is all you hear when they appear–no violin shriek, no sudden cue to make you jump, it’s breathing but not breathing, a twist of what should be, like the corpses themselves.
Then there is what makes the corpses come to life. Agricultural science. Listen, we live down the road from a place that does work on science to do with farming, soooo. No. Too real. Can’t handle it. But it’s not just the sonic waves that make the corpses wake from death, so don’t worry, Lilly! Still a reason to be terrified! They can rise the dead even when the machine is turned off through a ritual of sorts. Great! TLDaMM makes a hybrid zombie that is part science, part supernatural, and all nope. And by nope, I mean well played, film! Even if I don’t believe in the supernatural bit, science does exist, so. Fab. Thanks. Thanks. I’ll never sleep again, I guess! Night terrors starring shamblin’, rusty-breathin’, flesh rippin’ corpses it is!
Andy: Between these and what I said above, I will literally eat both my shoes if this didn’t inspire Danny Boyle’s 28 Days Later. Even the eyes are similar!
Of course, as any zombie fan knows, the biggest threat in any zombie movie is other people, and here again Grau hits a very particular beat. If 1968s Night of the Living Dead flirted with the fallout of the Civil Rights movement and the later Dawn of the Dead satirized rampant consumerism, this one finds the UK’s generation gap and pitches a tent in it.
As Lilly said earlier, the core conflict revolves around our hero George, and an older Inspector Javert figure in the unnamed sergeant of the local police (Arthur Kennedy, probably the most recognizable actor in the movie), who believes that the murders and chaos around him are due to these degenerate young folks running around, instead of, y’know, zombies. I feel he and Mary Whitehouse would have got on.
A lesser movie would have made him the straight villain, to our put-upon hero (and heroine) but TLDaMM subtly brings in some shades of grey. George is, of course, in the right, but he’s such a belligerent asshole about it that it’s not surprising that the cops get a bit ‘hands-on’, especially after some of their own number are killed. It’s certainly implied that this kind of thing has never happened before and they are grasping for a rational explanation.
Lilly: Which is good, because who on Earth would be ready to accept ‘No, officer, I didn’t kill that man, it was the walking dead?’ without a momentary pause, right?
Andy: (Side note: Their talk late in the film about young people performing “black masses” and desecrating graveyards may seem silly to us now, but it was genuinely something believed at the time!)
George meanwhile steals evidence, breaks into crypts and ultimately steals a police car, all the while expressing his distrust towards the police. An ironic “Heil Hitler” is needlessly antagonistic and childish. His arrogance in decrying the agricultural equipment early on means they are less inclined to listen later when the dead start roaming around the countryside. The ambiguity here is delicious.
Lilly: It also does some awesome work with making me believe its mythos using newborns. I mean, I don’t think babies have nervous systems like insects, but I get you, movie. I get you and I am creeped out by homicidal infants, so touche.
Andy: Is there anything wrong with it? Well, the dubbing of this kind of European horror can be really weird and jarring if you’re not used to it, and it is a bit of a slow burn for the first 45 minutes or so. It’s gory, but no more so than Dawn of the Dead and certainly less than Day of the Dead. It’s also completely unlike modern horror movies. There are no jump scares, no sudden music shrieks and no pulse pounding action sequences. The horror here isn’t in surprise: it’s in a man, purposefully, slowly walking towards you and putting his hands around your neck…
It also does that Euro-Horror thing of prioritizing visuals over plot coherence, although it’s nowhere near the awesomely terrifying Inferno in that regard. Don’t think too hard about how zombies get from Point A to B too much. Just enjoy what they do when they get there, through your fingers.
Lilly: Also, there is a bit of violence towards a woman that is sort of sexualized that I didn’t care for–why those zombies always reaching for a lady’s chest and why skip all that lovely torso meat for where that hand went to rip from, ugh? No one was reaching right for the man’s south of the belt to see what was tasty down there, is all I’m saying–but that is modern standards and we can’t be too disappointed that a film from ‘74 doesn’t met them. Well. I can be disappointed, but there is nothing I can do.
So are we recommending this one?
Andy: This may be in my top 5 favourite zombie movies of all time. It’s inventive, socially interesting, scary as hell, beautifully shot and with a score to die for.
Lilly: …So that’s a yes?