REWIND: Let Sleeping Corpses Lie (1974)
Considerably tame by today’s standards you wouldn’t believe that Let Sleeping Corpses Lie (also known as The Living Dead at the Manchester Morgue) was once at the centre of a moral panic that sweeped Britain. Classified as a “video nasty” by the media and government it was one of 72 films deemed responsible for the corruption of the nation’s youth due to its obscene depiction of sex and violence.
Let Sleeping Corpses Lie was released in the UK in 1985 with two minutes of footage cut. It wouldn’t see a full uncut release in the country until 2002. It is difficult to believe watching it now that this film caused such outrage when you consider films like Saw (2004) are multi-million pound franchises spanning nine films the same can be said of most of the “video nasties” from that era.
The film was shot on location in the Lake District providing a beautiful backdrop for the story. An Italian-Spanish production the film was dubbed over in English after production. There are some hilarious attempts at English accents throughout. That provided with the lacklustre performances from the actors themselves makes the film somewhat comical in retrospect.
Let Sleeping Corpses Lie is a strange tale about antique dealer George Meaning (Ray Lovelock) who while on holiday in Windermere finds himself at the centre of a murder investigation. Accused of murdering and mutilating the corpses of the recently deceased George must convince the Police that it is the corpses themselves, recently brought back to life by ultrasonic radiation from a nearby farming experiment, that are responsible.
George faces tough opposition in the form of a gruff Irish Police Inspector played (Arthur Kennedy) who seems determined to put him behind bars simply for the way he dresses. The Inspector even goes as far as to brand George a Satanist after a local churchyard is desecrated during a confrontation with the shambling corpses. He is unable to prove his innocence and is gunned down by the Police during the films climax only to return from the dead to take revenge on the Inspector.
The film has a rather bleak ending with both of our main protagonists dying and with seemingly no hope of preventing the zombie outbreak. The final shot is of the ultrasonic radiation machine operating at full capacity after George attempted to destroy it earlier in the film. Despite all their best efforts our heroes failed and the zombie outbreak is going to continue unchallenged.
Let Sleeping Corpses Lie has some particularly exciting special effects. There are lots of gruesome scenes involving cannibalism, disembowelment and everything else you’d expect from a zombie movie. An interesting visual choice is the use of red contact lenses for the undead. It gives them an inhuman and somewhat Satanic feel. The soundtrack is subtle and consists mainly of low-pitched murmurs and ear-piercing siren like sounds used to represent the ultrasonic radiation that is the cause of this whole mess.
One of the better examples of the genre post-Night of the Living Dead the film manages to sneak in some of the social commentary that made George Romero’s films so iconic. The film carries a strong environmental message. The cause of the zombie outbreak is an experimental new pesticide being tested out by the “Department of Agriculture – Experimental Division”. George questions the scientists on the environmental impact of the new technology but is quickly dismissed as a city-boy trying to stand in the way of progress.
The main conflict in the film, besides the struggle between the living and the dead, is between generations. This conflict is no more apparent than in the relationship between George and The Inspector. George is a young, counter-cultural city dweller who doesn’t trust the Police or the establishment which puts him at odds with The Inspector who immediately takes a disliking to the boy. Throughout the film the young protagonists are consistently accused of being crazy, drug addicts or even cultists, no one is willing to believe their stories right up until the very end.
There is an interesting scene at the beginning of the movie as George is travelling from London to Windermere. A young women takes off her clothes and runs through traffic while flashing a peace sign. The shots of her running through traffic are inter cut with shots of commuters seemingly oblivious to the girl. They are either too concerned with the traffic or simply too bored to care. Either way the scene seems to be making a point about the failure of the counter-cultural movement. It no longer shocks people in the same way it use to, maybe it is time for new tactics, something that Let Sleeping Corpses Lie is more than willing to provide.