Misguided scientists cause a zombie apocalypse in “The Living Dead at Manchester Morgue”

By on March 1, 2019

In acclaimed Spanish director Jorge Grau’s The Living Dead at Manchester Morgue (No profanor el sueno de los muerto/Non Si Deve Profanare Il Sonno Dei Morti, 1974), the newly-dead are brought back to life as flesh-eating zombies when misguided scientists using a new agricultural pest control device awaken corpses who then snack their way across the lush green English countryside.

Watch this gore-filled Grand Guignol-style art-house European horror masterpiece — clearly influenced by George A. Romero’s Night of the Living Dead, which had revived the long dormant zombie horror genre just a few years earlier — on Night Flight Plus.

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Long-haired hippie “George Meaning” (Ray Lovelock) and “Edna Simmonds” (Cristina Galbó, memorable from What Have You Done to Solange?) are two strangers who find themselves driving together across the English countryside.

These traveling companions aren’t a couple, and have only been thrown together after a vehicle vs. motorbike mishap at a petrol station.

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They’re both trying to make it to their respective relatives houses before night falls, so they partner up to drive in her car across the lush countryside but along the way they end up getting lost.

The Spanish-French co-production (filmed mostly in Italy) features a lot of location footage shot in merry ol’ England, in Cheadle, Manchester and in the Derbyshire countryside.

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George leaves Edna and the car behind to go ask someone for directions, and in a nearby farmer’s field, he sees a couple of men with a whirring, pulsing metallic pest control device of some kind.

Upon closer inspection, we learn it’s being used by misguided scientists experimenting with low-frequency sound waves and radiation in order to get bugs and insects and other parasites to attack and cannabilize each other.

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The device is supposed to be harmless to humans, they assure curious George, because our nervous systems are too complex to be affected by the radiation, but that’s not what happens, of course.

We discover that recently-dead corpses — like pale-faced zombie named “Guthrie Wilson” (Fernando Hilbeck) — are brought to life with quite an appetite for human flesh.

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George and Edna make it safely to the house of her heroin-addicted sister “Katie West” (Jeanine Mestre), who but they’re not able to help Katie’s hapless husband “Martin” (José Lifante), who is strangled and killed by a zombie with seemingly enhanced postmortem strength.

Unfortunately for all three of our remaining anti-hero heroes, they become the prime suspects in Martin’s grisly murder.

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The local authorities — including 60-year old American character actor Arthur Kennedy as a hippie-hating detective (“The Inspector”) — don’t believe their stories about the walking dead terrorizing the countryside.

Undaunted, the trio attempt to warn the locals that flesh-eating zombies are on the loose, and that it’s actually the scientists attempts to rid the world of pests who are to blame for this zombie apocalypse.

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Read more about director Jorge Grau below.

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Jorge Grau circa 2000 (photo courtesy of Steve Green, via Twitter)

Throughout the 1960s, Spanish director/writer/playwright/painter Jorge Grau — born Jorge Grau Solá on October 27, 1930, in Barcelona, Spain — specialized mostly in documentaries and dramas rooted in social realism, including his first feature-length film, Noche de Verano (Summer Night, 1962), and 1967’s Una historia de amor (A Love Story, ) and Acteón.

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Grau would become best known for his two early ’70s horror films, however, 1972’s Ceremonia sangrienta (known variously as Legend of Blood Castle, Blood Castle, and The Female Butcher), and ’74’s Non si deve profanare il sonno dei morti (The Living Dead at Manchester Morgue).

The latter film was also released and reissued under a series of confusing titles, including Let Sleeping Corpses Lie, Breakfast at Manchester Morgue, and, in U.S. theaters, as Don’t Open the Window.

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Although Spain was one of the major contributors to the development of European horror cinema, Grau didn’t personally like being classified and identified strictly as a horror film director.

Nevertheless, as you see above, he also didn’t want to disappoint fans of his horror movies and he even often added little drawings to photographs he was asked to autograph (the above example is courtesy of writer/producer/filmmaker Steve Green – check out his blog here).

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Film critics who weren’t even necessarily horror fans praised his work on The Living Dead at Manchester Morgue — often singling out cinematographer Francisco Sempere for his effective use of wide angle lens work — because Grau had elevated the zombie movie to a new level of artistic expression, creating a visual feast for the eyes shot through with sharp political points of view, particularly about ecological concerns.

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Giannetto de Rossi — who later worked on Lucio Fulci’s highly successful, unofficial Dawn of the Dead sequel Zombie — was also singled out for his visually-stunning SFX which showed us bloody drilled-out brains, poked-out eyes and other deliciously gory effects.

These visual effects also no doubt played a part in this gory little film being listed (as simply The Living Dead) on the UK’s “Video Nasties” list in the 1980s.

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Grau would collectively direct thirty-three films, the last of these being Tiempos mejores, released in 1994.

He died on December 26, 2018, in Madrid, Spain, at the age of 88.

The film’s original soundtrack by Giuliano Sorgini — featuring “psych-driven breaks, lush strings, pulsing electronics and terrifying wailing screams (provided by the director himself)” — was recently re-pressed by Death Waltz Recording Company, with new cover art by Luke Insect.

Watch The Living Dead at Manchester Morgue — and other great Blue Underground cult horror titles — on Night Flight Plus.

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About Bryan Thomas

Bryan Thomas has been a freelancing writer/critic for All Music Guide, and a contributor to Launch, Music Connection, Big Takeover and numerous other publications and entertainment websites, blogs and zines, most of them long gone. He's written more than sixty sets of liner notes. He’s also worked for over twenty years at mostly reissue record labels -- prior to that he worked in bookstores and record stores, going all the way back to the original vinyl daze. He lives in the Miracle Mile neighborhood of Los Angeles, CA.