A likable, long-haired antiques dealer named George (Ray Lovelock) takes his motorcycle and heads out of the crowded city to do some business in Windermere. Along the way, he has an accident with Edna (Cristina Galbó), another traveler who has inadvertently backed her car into his motorcycle while at a gas station. While not serious, the accident does leave the motorcycle temporarily disabled. Feeling guilty and obligated, Edna agrees to take George to Windermere herself. She just needs to stop by the village of South Gate to visit her sister, Katie (Jeannine Mestre). Once there they find that Katie is delirious and her husband (José Lifante) has just been murdered moments earlier. To top things off, Katie has become the prime suspect but she adamantly denies having anything to do with her husband’s murder but rather a walking dead man (Fernando Hilbeck) committed the horrible act.
When the local authorities begin to investigate the murder further, it is clear that they are not buying the “dead man” story and are convinced that the three are somehow responsible for the death of Katie’s husband and are covering up for each other. They are instructed not to leave town until the police tell them otherwise. What these people don’t know is that the new piece of farming equipment being developed and tested by the Department of Agriculture in a nearby farmer’s field, the one that emits a signal that drives insects into killing each other, is working great–and with an added bonus. It seems that the technology it uses to affect the simple nervous systems of insects, also affects the nervous system of the recently deceased. It re-animates them and these walking corpses are not extremely happy about it.
“This is God’s acre…Let nothing defile it“, reads the sign outside of the cemetery in the film, Let Sleeping Corpses Lie. This simple statement is also the main theme of this zombie film. Directed by Spanish director, Jorge Grau, and filmed in the gorgeous English Lake District, Let Sleeping Corpses Lie is a shamefully overlooked zombie film mostly due to the various sub-par versions that have been floating around over the years.
Made five years before Dawn of the Dead, Director Jorge Grau delivers a beautifully shot zombie film that has a good bit to say. From incompetent authorities, prejudices and more importantly, mans constant polluting of the planet, Let Sleeping Corpses Lie echoed a lot of the social ills that permeated the mid ’70s. With opening shots of smokestacks, car exhausts, dead birds and denizens wearing face masks, Jorge Grau’s stance is quite clear, especially when George’s trip leads him out of the choking, bleak environment of the city to the rolling, green hills of the lush English countryside. In one scene at the beginning of the film, a young woman disrobes and streaks across traffic while holding up two fingers in a ‘V’ while commuters stare blankly out from within their vehicles, barely batting an eye. Jorge Grau takes jabs at authority figures as well with most of the characters in positions of authority coming across as impotent, bigoted, or unsympathetic to victims.
You have the bigoted Sergeant McCormick, played by scene-stealing Arthur Kennedy, who has an unabashed and immediate dislike of the long-haired George and has no problems telling him so. He instantly pegs George as a “hippie” with “faggot clothes“. Sergeant McCormick cares less about listening to the explanations and alibis of George, Edna and Katie and is more concerned with pinning a murder charge on them. Even later, as one of his own men is killed and partially eaten, he refuses to absorb the evidence at the scene and simply labels them as ‘drug crazy Satanists‘. There is also the doctor from the local hospital, who agrees with George’s assessment that the new farming equipment could be causing some of hostile behavior from newborns in his hospital, but will not help “…they would just laugh at us…” he states. Lastly, we have the seemingly selfish desires of the farm owner who wants to rid his land of the insects along with the Department of Agriculture’s who is more than happy to oblige with their new invention. In all cases, these people are painted as unsympathetic, reactionary people who do not think of the consequences of their actions.
Let Sleeping Corpses Lie successfully captures the beauty of the UK countryside. The combonation of Giuliano Sorgini’s score, Francisco Sempere cinematography and simple wind effects effectively create scenes that are beautiful and natural while still being stark and haunting. The score also uses some warbling, sci-fi sound effects that help in notching up the creepy factor in certain scenes. Jorge Grau shows a world in which everything man-made is fleeting. From the eroding bricks that make up the buildings in the small, country village, to the run-down hospital. These structures only help enhance the hills, streams and flora; the only things in the film that exude color and life.
Speaking of life, or lack thereof, the zombies in the film are of the recently deceased variety, so the zombie makeup effects – aside from a great post autopsy zombie – are simple yet effective. With vacant, red-eyed stares, surprisingly quick reflexes and an ability to reason, Jorge Grau’s zombies work together to accomplish their goals and make formidable foes for their living victims. For a pre-Dawn of the Dead film, Jorge Grau slathers on the gore with some good, red effects. Although not seen until the third act of the film, gore-hounds should be satisfied with surprising effects that include gut-munching, severed limbs, ax to the head, and in one scene a woman’s breast is ripped off to be eaten. While Romero’s Night of the Living Dead can be called the granddaddy of the modern zombie film, I argue that Let Sleeping Corpses Lie is the Granddaddy of the splattery, overtly gory zombie film
Let Sleeping Corpses Lie does have its faults, some of them major. The middle portion of the film, approximately 40 minutes worth, is wasted on George and Edna’s investigating what actually killed her sister’s husband. Since the viewer already knows how her husband was killed – as we witnessed it – this makes an already too long portion of film feel even longer. The characters in Let Sleeping Corpses Lie are also guilty of performing a couple horror-movie actions that will have you asking “Why did heshe do that?!” Also, while the film explains how the experimental farming equipment is bringing any recently deceased within a mile radius back to life, it also brings in the fact that a zombie can raise other corpses using the blood of the living. Interesting concept, but in execution, it came off a tad silly. But even with all of that, when the third act gets going and we are inside of the hospital, a hospital in which all of the corpses stored in the morgue have risen from the slab, Let Sleeping Corpses Lie wraps things up in true, zombie fashion.
A film of many different titles (Breakfast at the Manchester Morgue, Living Dead at the Manchester Morgue, Don’t Open the Window) each title showcases a different cut of the movie. Some have seen the water-downed versions that had the majority of the gore removed leaving a sub-par film with none of the elements most zombiehorror fans expect to see when they settle down to watch the eating habits of the walking dead. This has led to many varying opinions of the movie depending on what version may have been watched. If you decide to check out this film, be sure to get the Anchor Bay release. That version is the most complete and includes all of the gore that was cut out of other versions. This version is a well acted, beautifully shot zombie film with good gore effects. Under appreciated, Let Sleeping Corpses Lie is a zombie film that has stood the test of time and is as good or better than a lot of the zombie films that came out after it.