The Bad Movie Report

Let Sleeping Corpses Lie

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aka Breakfast at the Manchester Morgue, Don't Open the Window

On 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.

George (Ray Lovelock), a Fred's new Pocket Fisherman was a bit more complicated than he had thought.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.

That 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 theNow where have I seen this scene before? 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.

At 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.

"You damned kids!"Dawn's 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."

Forced to stay in town while the Sergeant's investigation plods along, "We should never have gotten him that damned BB gun!"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 earlier.

George 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?"

Edna 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.

Yep, seen this before, too.The 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.

Wait a minute... this isn't what I ordered!Fortunately 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.

The 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.

Edna expects to find the Sergeant at her sister's house, but is disappointed - what she finds is a policeman's severed handLook behind you!  LOOK BEHIND YOU! 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.

George 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....

Perhaps it's a bit late for marriage counseling...A 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."

The 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. The end.

The major hurdle Let Sleeping Corpses Lie will face with the modern horror fan is the leisurely pace of the first two acts.This looks familiar, too.... 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 scenes.

The 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...

Jim was beginning to regret the purchase of the Home Surgery Kit...These 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.

A 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 and more.

Hallmark 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 Looks like the new Pokemon cards are inthe Manchester Morgue.

These 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.



Small-scale but effective zombie mayhem.

- December 19,1999