The Living Dead At The Manchester Morgue (1974)
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 alike.
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 happens.
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 Mr Askwith
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 on film.
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 normal powers."
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 downbeat.
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 bullfighting ring.
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.
Last updated: February 24, 2010
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