The Living Dead At The Manchester Morgue
I'm brooking no arguments here - I am fully aware that this film is not
British, and I'm not prepared to enter into an ongoing argument
with every smart-arse who feels they can pass comment.
So I'll lay the old cards on the table - this is probably the one and
only time this site will move the goalposts and include what is ostensibly
a paella-horror film. My reasoning? Well, for one thing it's a great film.
For another the combination of poor dubbing on top of some terrible acting,
with some truly OTT gore, is right up my particular street. And for a
third, it's set in Britain, filmed in Britain, and despite some distinctly
oily-looking characters, it's got a very British feel.
So okay, it's fracturing the boundaries of what makes a horror film "British"
- but not enough for me to ignore it on the site. And until 28 Days
Later ran up going "rarr!" in 2002, it was also one of the
few contemporary Britain-set zombie films in existence.
So, have we got that clear?
Manchester Morgue (or Don't Open The Window, or Let Sleeping
Corpses Lie etc) also has the distinction of being a bona-fide "video
nasty", named on the Director of Public Prosecutions' hit-list back
in 1984, for nearly 20 years it has enjoyed the notoriety that being a
"nasty" has brought. Of course now, as with a lot of that stuff,
we can buy it, practically uncut, in the High Street. But unlike much
of the drivel that was included on the DPP list, Manchester Morgue
is well worth a look - for fans of kitsch, zombie gore and the Lake District
Of course, it being an Spanish view of our green and pleasant land, there's
some great fun to be had as they get geography wrong and give everyone
bizarre accents, but more of that later
The story starts in Manchester (appropriately enough), as our cardigan-wearing,
bearded hero George (Ray Lovelock) shuts up his antique shop and heads
off on his hols. As he makes his way out of the town, a buxom wench with
a ridiculous afro strips off and jiggles off down the road. Everyone ignores
her. Now I've been to Manchester lots of times, and that almost never
Leaving the naked delights of Manchester behind him, George stops at a
filling station, where a short-skirted popsy (Christina Galbo) immediately
backs her Mini (they're ladling the Britishness on with a trowel) over
his motorbike. After being told that he needs a new wheel and it will
have to be delivered from Glasgow (?), George, whose dubbed voice sounds
like Michael Caine doing a bad impression of Michael Caine, forces the
girl to take him to Windermere, consoling her with: "Look darlin',
you don't 'ave to worry. I'm not goin' to jump you or somethin'."
Sounds like someone's been taking lessons in etiquette from a certain
He forcefully takes over the driving of the Mini (to stop them "going
in reverse all the way"), and as they travel down the country roads
they listen to the radio, which warns of "ecological problems
many of which have been exaggerated".
The girl (whose name, rather quaintly, is Edna) demands to be taken to
Southgate to see her sister first, which seems pretty fair considering
they're in her car (George's rather bombastic and bullying nature
seems slightly at odds with his antique shop origins). On the way, George
stops to ask directions and they find a group of scientists dousing a
field in "ultra-sonic radiations" using their "experimental
insect and parasite destroyer" (or if you prefer, a not-disguised-at-all
common-or-garden combine harvester). The accents take a turn for the funnier
at this point - during this scene I can only liken the watching experience
to listening to The Archers on Radio 4 while watching Country
File on the telly. The two aspects of viewing pleasure - the sound
and the picture - are so divorced from each other that it's quite bizarre.
When the combine
I mean experimental thingummibob is kick
started, Edna is immediately attacked by a suspiciously Mediterranean-looking
chap who's the spitting image of "Guthrie the loony", a man
found drowned in the nearby river a few days ago. Guthrie disappears,
but turns up at Edna's sister Katy's home. Katy's busy shooting up (like
you do) but decides to forego her heroin when Guthrie smashes through
the kitchen window. She runs to get help from her husband Martin, but
instead only manages to get Martin killed by the zombie, before Edna and
George come steaming in to the rescue. Luckily, this has all been caught
The police soon get involved, but believe that it was Katy, and not an
undead tramp, who ripped poor Martin to pieces (what are they teaching
them at horror film police school these days?), the gruff Oirish sergeant
in charge of the case (George Kennedy) explaining: "Under the influences
of drugs, an individual can do things that are beyond the reach of his
George, insisting that "cops don't like to admit they're wrong",
then steals the one bit of evidence that might clear Katy - the roll of
film with the attack on it. Rather unfortunately (and just slightly beyond
all logic, not to mention any vestiges of the laws of physics), the pictures
show the attack, but don't show the attacker. But a photo of Guthrie's
corpse being dragged from the river which was plastered all over last
week's local paper(?) does show him, which is lucky, because Edna recognises
the body as being the man who attacked her.
Meanwhile, Katy has had a breakdown and been taken to hospital in Manchester
which just happens to be where the bodies of any recently deceased people
are also being ferried. Oh-oh
And meanwhile (part two) babies are busy attacking nurses ("It blinded
me!"), leading a doctor to (rather spectacularly, given the lack
of evidence) come to the conclusion that the ultra-sonic radiations, which
are used to drive the insects mad, also work on "primitive nervous
systems" like babies. And dead people, perhaps?
The police aren't happy at George's attempts to ride roughshod over the
legal system, the sergeant telling him: "You're all the same, with
your long hair and faggot clothes
drugs, sex - every sort of filth!".
But they still don't arrest him, or Edna, and George takes this opportunity
to cart the poor girl off to the local cemetery to show her Guthrie's
grave, thus proving that it couldn't have been him who attacked her. "The
dead don't walk around
except in very bad paperback novels,"
he explains. "They are dead, and that's that. Do you see?"
With logic like that, it's hard to see why Edna wouldn't just admit that
she was wrong, but George goes on to prove his point by ripping open coffins
in a nearby tomb under the church. This display of wanton vandalism (and
extreme lack of respect) backfires on him however, when it turns out Guthrie
isn't where he should be after all.
As the dead start to come to life (thanks to Guthrie rubbing fresh blood
on their eyelids), the pair are joined by Craig the policeman and his
trusty shotgun, and the trio get trapped in the tomb as zombies attempt
to bash their way in, uprooting gravestones to use as battering rams.
George realises that "They transmit life to each other through the
blood of the living
that's why they kill!" and then accidentally
discovers that fire is the answer - but not before Craig gets ripped apart
by the marauding undead.
As the pair hurry back to civilisation, it appears that the range of the
experimental machine has been extended, and the police, on finding the
mess they've left behind in the church, now reckon they're either "drug
crazy maniacs" or Satanists.
As George and Edna rush to help Katy, and the dead start walking up at
t'old morgue, the climax is extremely bloody, quite firey and remarkably
Manchester Morgue has always had its admirers - I've never actually
seen a bad review of the film, which is surprising considering its pedigree
and the reputation thrust on it by the DPP. It's not hard to see why -
the bonkers storyline contrasts markedly with some quite lovely camerawork,
the zombies are a frightening foe and the action never flags. So what
if it doesn't make much sense? So what if no-one's actually acting? It's
solid gold entertainment, and that's what counts.
And the gore may be there in plentiful amounts, but it's the dialogue
which makes the film unmissable.
"You talk about the dead walking, about cannibalism!" a scientist
spits at one point. "It's unscientific, man!"
And, more pointedly (and not without irony): "I wish the dead could
come back to life you bastard, because then I could kill you again!"
Just to hammer home why this film deserves its small place on the site,
I kept a tally of Brit horror clichés throughout. And here they
are. Argue with these, at your peril:
George runs an antique shop.
They stop at a farm to ask directions.
Katy is a heroin addict.
There's a miserable, young-person-hating sergeant in charge of the case.
*These are not names usually found outside of British films.
But at the same time, these are slips which make it patently obvious
that we are not watching a British film:
When you bend a wheel on your motorbike in the Lake District, it does
not take several days to have a new one delivered.
And you would also not order it from Glasgow.
The police sergeant has an Irish-American accent (like in Batman),
not an Irish accent.
Every single zombie looks like they've just finished working at the local
And so does the receptionist who gets treated to a DIY mastectomy.
British police, especially those working in the Lake District, don't carry
revolvers or shotguns.
There's far too much blood.