aka Breakfast at the Manchester Morgue, Don't
Open the Window
the zombie movie radar, somewhere between Romero's Night of the Living
Dead (1968) and its sequel, Dawn of the Dead (1978), is a
blip called Let Sleeping Corpses Lie. A 1974 Spanish-Italian
co-production, Sleeping Corpses supplies an interesting link
between Romero's first zombie film and the glut of Italian gut munchers
that followed the success of its sequel, while, at the same time, maintaining
an identity of its own.
(Ray Lovelock), a young
London art dealer, sets out for a weekend at his new summer house in
Windemere. He doesn't get too far as a tired young woman named Edna
(Christina Galbo) runs over his motorcycle at a gas station. George
commandeers her car to complete his trip, but becomes sidetracked when
Edna begs him to get her to her sister's house before dark.
doesn't happen, thanks to Edna's unfamiliarity with the area. George
stops at a farm to ask directions, and finds the farmer speaking with
two technicians from the Department of Agriculture; they're experimenting
with a new pesticide-free method of dealing with insects involving ultrasonic
radiation to affect the nervous systems of the insects. While George
chats with the farmer (and rankles the
technicians with his pro-ecology stance), Edna, left at the car, finds
herself stalked by a disheveled, apparently violent man (Fernando Hilbeck),
who is also constantly struggling for breath. By the time George and
the farmer return to the car, this man is gone - hearing Edna's description,
the Farmer indicates that it sounds like "Guthrie the Loony".
Only problem is, Guthrie drowned a week ago.
the house of Edna's sister, there is great tension betwixt the sister,
Katie (Jeannine Mestre) and her husband, Martin (Jose Lifante). We will
eventually discover that Katie is a heroin addict, and the reason Martin
moved out to the country was to wean her off the drug; apparently, she's
shooting up more than ever, and Martin has sent for Edna, most likely
to commit Katie to a drug rehab clinic. While Martin sets out to a nearby
waterfall to change the film in a time-lapse camera he has set up, Katie
breaks into her stash in the tool shed. She is interrupted in the cooking
of her next fix by none other than Guthrie, who really gets around for
a dead guy. Katie runs screaming to Martin, who promptly gets himself
killed by the dead Loony. Only the arrival of George and Edna - and
her mini's dazzlingly bright headlights - saves Katie.
light finds the police puzzling over Martin's corpse - predictably,
the first cop on the scene has "never seen anything like it"
- and we meet the Detective Sergeant in charge of the case (good old
Arthur Kennedy), who is convinced that Katie killed her husband to avoid
being committed. He also doesn't like George on general principles,
because the long-haired, bearded young man represents to him everything
that is wrong with the world - "Long hair, faggot clothes, drugs,
sex and all sorts of filth."
to stay in town while the Sergeant's investigation plods along, George
conducts his own investigation. When Katie is taken to the local hospital
for a breakdown, George tags along as Edna visits her sister. There
he strikes up a conversation with a sympathetic doctor (Vicente Vega),
which is interrupted by a bloody nurse stumbling out of the nursery
- it seems all the babies have turned homicidal, and one has gouged
her eye out. As they sedate the murderous moppet, the doctor tells George
that all the babies have come from the general area of the farm he visited
relates his suspicions about the ultrasound machine to the doctor,and
they visit the site. The technicians explain that the ultrasound drives
the insects mad and they kill each other off in a frenzy - but the vibrations
can only affect creatures with a very primitive nervous system, as witness
the technicians aren't killing each other. Besides, its only got a range
of a mile. Away from the machine, the doctor mentions that the nervous
system of a newborn baby is quite undeveloped, and the killer babes
may indeed be influenced by the vibrations. When George ventures that
somebody has to be told, the doctor utters the best - and most truthful
- line in the movie: "We can't get governments to move on solid,
concrete facts - what hope do we have with a mere hypothesis?"
becomes increasingly convinced that the man she saw in the headlights
attacking her sister and the man who attempted to assault her are one
and the same, and a newspaper photo of the drowned Guthrie cinches it.
To prove her wrong, once and for all, George takes her to the local
cemetery to find Guthrie's grave. The caretaker's house empty, they
find a basement where the dead apparently hang out while waiting for
their graves. They find Guthrie's coffin...but it's empty. They also
find what's left of the caretaker, and it ain't much.
one door to the basement slams shut and they find themselves trapped
in the basement with none other than Guthrie. But rather than attack
them, the revenant daubs his hand in the caretaker's blood and goes
about the room, anointing his fellow corpses' eyelids with the thickening
crimson goo. After finding that Guthrie doesn't respond in the usual
way to being stabbed repeatedly with a stake - i.e., he doesn't fall
down - George manages to find a hole ex machina which leads to
an open grave. His timing is excellent, as the other corpses are opening
their eyes and climbing out of their coffins. Edna tries to climb out
of the grave while George fends off the zombies.
for our heroes, the Sergeant dispatched his deputy, Craig (Giorgio Trestini)
to trail his favorite suspects, and he hauls Edna out of the grave,
soon followed by George. Unfortunately Craig isn't of much use
in the clinch, and drops his radio while they run from the zombies to
the dubious safety of the caretaker's cottage. There, George figures
that it's the ultrasound machine that is somehow responsible for the
dead rising; after all, he surmises, a flower continues to live after
it is cut - perhaps the nervous system lives on for a while in the recently
deceased. After some failed experiments with a shotgun, Craig elects
to make a run for the radio to call for help. As we all knew he would,
the deputy and his guts wind up on the zombie buffet.
zombies make a final rush on the cabin, and a knocked-over kerosene
lamp bears out the homily put forth by Night of the Living Dead:
zombies are afraid of fire, in this instance because they are highly
combustible. The zombies quick-fried to a crackly crunch, the heroes
split - Edna to get the sergeant, George to wreck the ultrasound machine.
expects to find the Sergeant at her sister's house, but is disappointed
- what she finds is a policeman's severed hand
still clutching a car's door handle and a very ambulatory (and hungry)
Martin. She barely escapes his clutches, finally running him over in
the mini. The Sergeant can be found at the cemetery, where he (of course)
decides that George and Edna have killed his deputy and the caretaker,
and for some reason have dug up the corpses and set them on fire. A
helpful "expert" opines that they are Satanists performing
a Black Mass.
is taken into police custody - the African objets d'art that
he was taking to his new house only confirms his status as a Satanist
in the eyes of the Sergeant - and Edna, driven nearly mad by Martin's
attack, is taken to the hospital, heavily sedated and restrained. George,
finding that the ultrasound machine has been repaired, and its range
boosted to five miles, escapes, and leads the cops on a merry chase
to the hospital, where he knows there is a morgue....
tad too late, as Martin's body has done away with the morgue attendant
and has raised all the other corpses, who go on a killing spree. Our
pal the doctor tries to fend off a zombie with a fireaxe, only to find
that such things don't work very well on a corpse. On the other hand,
they work quite well on doctor skulls (Pow! Right in the Fissure of
Rolando!). Things come to a head when a zombified Katie attacks her
sister, who desperately struggles out of her restraints, only to find
herself trapped in her room with a bunch of zombies. George finally
arrives and dispatches the zombies with a makeshift torch, only to be
attacked by Edna, whom he shoves back into the blazing room. George's
survival is short-lived, however, as the Sergeant arrives and proceeds
to fire every bullet he possesses into the hero. "I wish the dead
could come back to life," he tells the lifeless hippie.
"Then I could kill you again."
next day, the hospital is swarming with reporters; the Sergeant is hailed
as a hero for ending the Satanist menace. He retires to his room at
the local inn for some rest, but finds that the room has an unexpected
occupant: the revivified George. Bullets don't work this time, and George
takes his revenge on the fascist as the ultrasound machine grinds on.
major hurdle Let Sleeping Corpses Lie will face with the modern
horror fan is the leisurely pace of the first two acts.
Unlike Romero's Night, whose zombies are a constant presence,
or Dawn, where the first exploding head occurs less than ten
minutes into the film, Sleeping Corpses for its first hour takes
the shape of a mystery, as the protagonists try to piece together exactly
what is happening, with Guthrie popping up every now and then to keep
our interest up. Once George and Edna arrive at the cemetery, however,
the movie shifts solidly into horror movie territory, with multiple
eviscerations, axes to heads, and the ever-popular zombie-chowing-down-on-entrails
movie has more serious problems, however. Even if you are able to buy
into the concept of ultrasound raising the dead - which is, we must
admit, a unique approach - the plot then takes a bizarre turn from the
scientific to the supernatural with the anointing of blood conceit,
which is one heavy straw more than most Suspension of Disbelief's can
bear. On par with most Italian horror films, it's hard to find a truly
sympathetic character; George is a loudmouthed dickhead, Edna is insufferably
whiny no matter the circumstances, and the Sergeant is simply hateful.
Only Deputy Craig and the Doctor, both minor characters, seem to be
warm human beings, and they wind up both ineffective and zombie
kibble. Director Jorge Grau insists on telegraphing events way
in advance. Our heroes drive past a graveyard on their way to Katie's
house? Ominous Music! Establishing shot of hospital? Ominous
Music! Although events worthy of such music stings are more than
a half hour of film away...
cavils notwithstanding, the movie's positive points outweigh the bad:
though the undead never reach the apocalyptic numbers of the Romero
films, there's more than enough to do the job, and that messily; the
drawn-out gasping sounds the zombies make as they try to force air into
disused, dry lungs is quite disturbing; one zombie sporting a stitched-up
autopsy scar is particularly memorable; there is the very real possibility
that when Edna attacks George toward the end, she is not a zombie, but
is simply driven mad by fear, and George realizes this as she burns;
and, though it doesn't really add to the horror movie ambiance,
the scenery is breathtakingly beautiful.
couple of the Romero quotes are rather obvious: when Edna is first attacked
by Guthrie, she seeks shelter in the car, only to find that the keys
are missing, reflecting the first zombie attack in Night; the
mistaken-identity murder of the hero by the forces of law and order.
But an interesting echo is the one that precedes a Romero twist
- when a zombie turns sympathetic and brings justice to a human bad
guy, presaging the heroic Bub in Day of the Dead by a decade
Entertainment originally imported this movie to America and used the
title Don't Open the Window, attempting to milk their successful
slogan from Last House on the Left one more time ("It's
only a movie...only a movie...only a movie..."); but the stupidity
of the new title didn't exactly ensure good box office, leading to other
titles, like the equally obscure Breakfast at the Manchester Morgue
or the more plainly spoken Living Dead at the Manchester Morgue.
multiple identities have not helped the movie in the long run, as it
has lapsed into semi-obscurity, overshadowed by the more graphic and
intense Romero films and the wave of Italian gut-munchers that followed
the success of Dawn of the Dead. This is truly unfortunate, as
Let Sleeping Corpses Lie is not as immediately disposable as
many of its kin, and deserves more recognition as an attempt to expand
Romero's zombie genre in a new, halfway thoughtful direction.