It’s that time of year again! Time to celebrate the Resurrection with a weeklong plunge into all things zombie! Here’s the history: In 2008, Dr. Girlfriend and I decided to spend a week or so each year marathoning through zombie films that we’d never seen before and I would blog short reviews. And simple as that, the Easter Zombie Movie Marathon was born. For the curious, here are links to 2008, 2009 (a bad year), 2010, 2011, 2012 (when we left the blog behind), and 2013. This year, we’re going old school and present to you the Easter Zombie Movie Marathon 2014: Classic Edition! Merciless Monday Let Sleeping Corpses Lie (1974) Directed by: Jorge Grau Written by: Sandro Continenza & Marcello Coscia (with Juan Cobos & Miguel Rubio uncredited) Let Sleeping Corpses Lie (also known as Don’t Open the Window, Breakfast with the Dead, Brunch with the Dead, Weekend with the Dead, and, most famously, The Living Dead at the Manchester Morgue) is perhaps the truest early successor to the nihilistic vision of Romero’s Night of the Living Dead. Certainly in the years just after the release of Night, there were no other films that embraced the anti-authoritarian spirit and bleak social criticism of that original film. Children Shouldn’t Play with Dead Things comes close, but softens the blow with humor. Let Sleeping Corpses Lie doesn’t soften anything. Italian studio Cinecitta hired Spanish director Jorge Grau – who had fled Spain and General Franco’s fascist regime – to direct what would become the stepping stone film between Night of the Living Dead and 1978’s Dawn of the Dead. They wanted Night of the Living Dead in color, but what they got was a fable of ecological disaster, the collapse of authority, and gore that set a new standard in realism. It’s also a gorgeously shot film, with exterior locations filmed in Windermere, Manchester, and Derbyshire, with most of the other filming done in Italy. Tying in to the ecological message of the film, these scenes in the countryside and in small villages are in direct contrast to the opening credits montage as our hero, hippie antiques dealer, George (Ray Lovelock), leaves London for the weekend on his motorcycle. They didn’t pick that name out of a hat, did they? As George leaves the city, we are presented with a series of shots that seem to imply impending doom. People walk through the streets with surgical masks to protect themselves from pollution; small animals are dead in the gutters; smokestacks spew filth into the skies and are covered in mold and decay; traffic is bumper-to-bumper; and a lady drops her coat and streaks across the street. Wait, what? I can only assume that there was some sort of nudity clause in Grau’s contract and that allowed him to get some titties into the film early so he could get on with business. That’s not really unheard of, as even today producers require some titillation with their True Detectives and Games of Thrones. In the world of low-budget film making, nudity makes it easier to market, regardless of what one might think. Once George is out of the city our story really begins, as one set of circumstances after another keeps him from getting to his original location: his country home where he has plans to do some renovation work with friends. Instead, his bike is backed over at a gas station by Edna (Cristina Galbó), who is on her way to pick up her heroin-addict sister Katie (Jeannine Mestre) and take her to rehab. This is a nice way of building character that is generally missing from both Night and Children, where the drama isn’t based as much on character as on plot. Dropping characters with motivations and goals that are upset by the appearance of the zombies moves Let Sleeping Corpses Lie into more traditional horror film plotting. In effect, the horror comes to the characters rather than the characters isolating themselves. The contrast between the filthy city and the beautiful countryside is important here also, as one of Grau’s central themes is critiquing how man is poisoning nature with no consideration of the consequences. Along their way, George and Edna come across an official Agricultural Department experiment using “ultrasonic radiation” to control pests. When dosed with this radiation, the simplistic nervous systems of bugs get hyper-aggressive and they kill each other, making pesticides obsolete. They just never counted on it affecting the simplistic nervous systems of babies and the newly dead in a way that would have felt right at home in a Quatermass film. Yeah, I said babies. There’s a rash of hyper aggressive newborns at the local hospital – three born in the past two days – who struggle and bite and are splattered with blood. That’s really just the first of the disturbing concepts that Let Sleeping Corpses Lie introduces. And as far as gore goes, this is maybe the first film to include a “ripping out someone’s guts and eating them” scene (Dawn of the Dead does it better, but it’s done here first), plus there’s also a gratuitous violent boob removal during the climax and what I’m going to assume are guts being pulled from the poor girl, although the zombie hands did shove down her waistband before yanking out the gore. Which is to say, the Italian films were upping the game with the most graphic gore all along. Thematically, this film lays out a much more black and white morality than either of the other films so far. Our heroes are clearly heroes, despite George being a bit of a dick and Edna being a bit hysterical. And the villains are not only the reanimated tramp who drowned himself a week or two before, but the conservative law enforcement officers who immediately assume George is a suspect because of his age and fashion sense (i.e. “long hair and faggot clothes”) and Katie is somehow able to crush a man’s body because she may have gotten superpowers from shooting up some heroin. I’m pretty sure heroin doesn’t work that way. Which leads to a remarkable turnaround in the final scenes that is a step beyond the nihilistic endings of Night and Children. Here, when the zombies begin overrunning the hospital, George is simply too late to help save Edna. He thinks that he’s arrived in time, but as he pulls her from her hospital room after setting the attacking zombies on fire, they embrace for an instant, but then her eyes are revealed to be the same blood-red pupils as the living dead. Before she can attack him, he shoves her back into the flames and our point of view suddenly shifts from the objective view of the scene to a first-person scene from George’s perspective, watching her burn. And in that moment, she’s not a monster. She is suffering. As she burns she is sympathetic. And then before we can really process this shift in tone, George is gunned down by the nameless Inspector (Arthur Kennedy). The only people who actually knew what was going on are now dead thanks to the inability of the entrenched power to see beyond their ingrained prejudices. This is not just a point of social criticism as in Night of the Living Dead, however. Romero allowed those vigilantes an out by not emphasizing or suggesting that they killed Ben intentionally. They may have really thought he was a zombie in the context of the film, which makes his death tragic, but at the same time it is an absurd death in a meaningless universe. When the Inspector murders George, it is willful and ignorant. And his hyperbolic wish to have George return from the dead so he can kill him again is played out ironically as he gets his wish. This, after a day of “work” – murdering a suspected drug-crazed, Satanic maniac – that he thinks is going to make him a star for pushing his backward, conservative ideology into the mainstream. Grau has done something special here. Something that Romero will pick up and expand upon in Dawn of the Dead a few years later. He has flipped the script in the final moments and forced us to reevaluate our allegiances to humanity. Yes, the zombies are horrible monsters, murdering and feasting on living flesh, but they are a side-effect to technology run rampant. In the end, close-minded authorities are the real threat due to both their inability to adapt to change and their blind allegiance to tradition – especially if that tradition involves middle-aged white heterosexual men’s expression of power. Let Sleeping Corpses Lie suggests that perhaps a cleansing is needed. AWS.InvalidParameterValue: B002GPVDMG is not a valid value for ItemId. Please change this value and retry your request. Share this:TweetShare on TumblrLike this:Like Loading... Related One Response EZMM Day 3: Dawn of the Dead (1978) - Psycho Drive-In March 26, 2016 […] motorcycle gang invasion we get an arm being pulled off, a machete to the head, and a shout-out to Let Sleeping Corpses Lie as biker Sledge (Taso N. Stavrakis) gets his guts ripped […] Log in to Reply Leave a Reply Cancel ReplyYou must be logged in to post a comment.