I think it’s safe to assume that if you’re a director working in the horror genre and you’ve got some Italian in you – even if your native country is technically America – then your movies are going to be something much less and more than normal. Jorge Grau is a Spanish filmmaker who in 1974 made one of the most overlooked yet important zombie movies of all time. A Spanish-Italian production, it would go on to be the one film from the director that everyone – well, everyone that knew his name – would remember. It spawned a cult fan-base dedicated to its preservation over the years, even with Grau still alive to this day to look over it with care. It was called “Let Sleeping Corpses Lie” in America, although it went by many names: just two more being “The Living Dead at Manchester Morgue” and “Don’t Open the Window”. Whatever you decide to call it, the film took after George Romero’s early work in “Night of the Living Dead” and could be considered a colorized version of that film, although it does differ significantly from Romero’s movie so that it may mark its own territory in horror history. Its audience has discovered it, devoured it, and left what’s left of it out to dry for an entirely new generation of fans. Upon seeing it, I’m intent to assist in keeping its legacy going.
Antique shop owner George (Ray Lovelock) is riding his motorcycle through Manchester, on his way to a new house that he and his friends will be fixing up for the next few days or so. At the gas station, his bike is busted by some woman’s car. This was an accident, and the woman – Edna (Christina Galbo ) – offers, out of the kindness of her heart, to take George to where he is needed. But she’ll have to drop him off quick; since she’s got her own agenda for the day. Edna’s sister, a recovering heroin addict, is having trouble yet again at home – with her addiction and her husband alike – and she must go to the house to comfort her and perhaps get her some professional help. When the two stop for directions to Edna’s sister’s house in the country, something peculiar turns up. Edna takes a stroll while George goes up to a farm house and asks for directions from some farmers and scientists testing a new crop pesticide, and what does she see? An odd, zombie-like man with reddish eyes; an odd, zombie-like man who also tries to attack her.
Luckily, Edna escapes, although neither George nor anyone else will believe that there was ever a man; since there seems to be no evidence other than her words. They continue on their way to Edna’s sister’s house, where all sorts of weird shit is already going down. The zombie – since face it, that’s what he fucking was – that assaulted Edna has made its way to her sister’s residence and has already reached her and her husband (whom it kills) before the pair can even arrive. The police interpret these as murders, and since the zombie evades capture or documentation each time, Edna and George are wrongly accused as being the perpetrators of the crimes! Now, they are on the run; sort of like fugitives, in a way. Only zombies and the fuzz stand in their way.
Grau directs with an iron fist full of style and spunk. His film is almost surreal in its madness; blending bloody battles with the undead and the beautiful scenery of the English countryside as though the two were a match made in heaven. Perhaps in his mind, they were, and always have been. The mind of a horror director works in mysterious ways; but Grau seemed to have the rare gift of being able to see the beauty in the destruction that he brings to the screen. I can honestly say there isn’t another zombie movie out there quite like this. Not in terms of the narrative and characters, both of which are familiar; but it’s amazing how much of an impact locations and setting can have on a film’s quality. They certainly do this one a whole lot of good. But aside from the naturalistic visual panache, there’s a dream-like quality to it. “Let Sleeping Corpses Lie” is a madman concoction made of man-eating babies, blood-red contact lenses, ominous houses by the cemetery, and somewhat half-baked crime drama. Strangely enough, it wants to be taken seriously and for once we can do as it wishes. There’s humor to be sure, but seldom is it ever unintentional. This ain’t no Midnight Movie. This is a fierce, violent, swift, and intelligent zombie film.
Let’s talk about the gore. There’s plenty of it. And who made it all possible? Why, none other than the great and legendary Giannetto De Rossi. This guy is fucking insane, only fit to work with directors equally as messed up in the head as he is, but that makes him all the more essential for any horror movie. I would be honored to work with this man. He’s more known for his work in Lucio Fulci horror flicks like “Zombie” and “The Beyond”, although this is one of the more early projects for him. De Rossi creates glorious scenes depicting zombie feasts, the consumption of organs, and various assorted flesh wounds. He never ceases to amaze me. If its blood and gore you crave, look no further; for the Spanish-Italians are here to serve just that, and they’re here to serve it well. Then there’s the musical score, which is phenomenal; done by Giuliano Sorgini. It always contrasts so beautifully with Francisco Sempere’s arresting camerawork.
This is the perfect mixture of smarts, sleaze (in the opening scene, a fully nude women runs into traffic for no apparent reason, just because), and surprising class. There’s some radical social commentary to be found here, even if we’ve seen it all before. Romero did pretty much everything that you could do; although I suppose there’s still stuff out there just waiting to be imagined by some creative mind. Jorge Grau is elaborate in how he stages every scene; and there isn’t a dull moment – or act – present. “Let Sleeping Corpses Lie” is brilliant, unforgettable, and underrated. It is a horror classic and an essential zombie movie; and it should be regarded as so. It has its admirers, although there aren’t nearly enough of them. For the love of all that is good and grotesque; please go out of your way to track down a copy. It’ll be worth your while, I can guarantee you that.