Wednesday, May 11, 2022

THE LIVING DEAD AT MANCHESTER MORGUE (1974) (Synapse Films Blu-ray Review)


Label: Synapse Films
Region: Region-Free
Rating: Unrated
Duration: 93 Minutes
Video: 1080p HD Widescreen (1.85:1)
Audio: English DTS-HD MA 5.1, Stereo Surround and Original Mono with Optional English Subtitles 
Director: Jorge Grau
Cast: Ray Lovelock; Arthur Kennedy; Christine Galbo

Jorge Grau's The Living Dead at Manchester Morgue (1974) aka Let Seeping Corpses Lie aka Don't Open the Window is an atmospheric post-NOTLD Euro-cult gut-muncher that has a cool sci-fi, sociopolitical bent that would make papa Romero proud, and it's creepily atmospheric and visceral, pre-dating later stuff like Lucio Fulci's Zombie by several years. It starts with antiquities dealer named George (Ray Lovelock, Queens of Evil) leaving London on his motorcycle, he's headed to the countryside to get away from the city and to complete an art sale. Along the way he stops off at a gas station for munchies where a young woman named Edna (Christine Galbo, What Have You Done to Solange?) accidentally backs over his motorcycle, crippling it. Instead of being stranded for several days George cavalierly insists the woman give him a lift to his destination, which she obliges, Along the way they stop off for directions when they get lost on a gravel road,  Edna seems to have forgotten the way to her junkie sister Katie's house (Jeannine Mestre, Count Dracula). She waits in the car while George inquires about directions, but she is attacked by a strange looking man with bizarre star-pattern blood-red eyes, who is soaking wet with a rope around his neck. When George returns the man is nowhere to be found, but she describes him to a farmer, who identifies him as a local vagrant named Guthrie (Fernando Hilbeck, It Happened at Nightmare Inn) who hangs around in the area.

Eventually they make their way to Katie's house and find her quite in a state of shock, she having been attacked by a man who killed her photographer husband Martin (José Lifante, The Adventures of Baron Munchausen). Edna suggest that perhaps it is the same man who attacked her earlier, but when the authorities are called Police Inspector (Arthur Kennedy, The Tough Ones), who seems to have a grudge against counter-culture types,  doesn't believe the story about her husband being attacked by a strange man. He suggests that junkie Edna did it in a drug-fueled rage, and also casting aspersion on Edna and George as well, telling them to stay in the are, so they take up a roommate a nearby hotel. 

As more bodies begin to pile-up and George, an environmentalist at heart, begins to believe that an experimental agricultural machine designed as a new form of pest control may somehow be bringing the dead back to life! He's right of course, and it turns out that Guthrie committed suicide several days prior and his reanimated corpse is ground zero for an undead infestation. The stubborn pseudo-fascist inspector prefers to believe the newly arrived visitors are Satanic hippie arsonists on a killing-spree, leaving Edna and George to fight off a zombie siege at the local hospital.  

Attractively lensed by Francisco Sempere (Cauldron of Blood) there are some terrific countryside scenery and atmospheric touches that give it a dreamy nightmarish feel that gets right under the skin, it's a very stylish looking flick. We also get a terrifically eerie score by Giuliano Sorgini (Sex, Demons and Death) that compliments Grau's deliberate paced undead entry, it might move a bit slow at the start, but I found it quite enthralling as the films builds. The gore comes courtesy of Italian maestro Giannetto De Rossi (Zombie), it might not be as stomach-churning as some of his later works but it gets pretty gruesome with some gut-munching, those crazy red-eyes with a star pattern, a bloody axe to the head, and some cool fire-stunts and charred corpses. 

Audio/Video: The Living Dead at Manchester Morgue (1974) arrives on Blu-ray from Synapse Films as a paired down standard release version of their previously released 3-disc limited edition Steelbook BD/DVD/CD release. This is the same 4K restoration from the OCN as that LE release, sans the Steelbook packaging, the booklet, the DVD and CD soundtrack, but containing all the same disc extras. This is a gorgeous restoration with beautifully saturated colors, fine film grain and deep inky black levels. This ia a very nice upgrade from the previous Blue Underground Blu-ray, the depth and clarity are greatly improved, grain is tighter and more uniform, and the colors look more natural and nuanced throughout. 

Audio comes by way of uncompressed English DTS-HD MA 5.1, Stereo Surround and Original Mono with optional English subtitles. The surround sounds quite nice, especially the eerie Giuliano Sorgini score, but I love those vintage mono tracks and I love that we get it uncompressed here, it sounds terrific. 

Onto the extras, we start of with a pair of audio commentaries. First up is an Audio Commentary with  authors and film scholar Troy Howarth, who does his usual tidy job documenting the genesis of the film, thein fluence of Romero's NOTLD. The second track, the Audio Commentary with Mondo Digital's Nathaniel Thompson and Cinema Arcana's  Bruce Holecheck is another winner. The guys have a great rapport, bouncing off one another as they get into the film, touching on NOTLD, the make-up effects and sound design, and the surreal quality of the film. 

Another excellent addition is the 89-minute Jorge Grau - Catalonia’s Cult Film King doc from High Rising productions. An excellent feature-length documentary that explores Jorge Grau life and filmography through interviews with the late directors, plus contributions from noted film experts Kim Newman, Rachael Nisbet, John Martin, Russ Hunter, Mike Hostench, Calum Waddell, special effects artist Giannetto De Rossi, composer Giuliano Sorgini. As someone who has been a fan of the film but didn't know a ton about the filmmaker I found this quite fascinating. 

Also carried over from the limited edition id the 16-min 
The Scene of the Crime - Giannetto De Rossi in Discussion from Manchester, and the 43-minute Giannetto De Rossi - Q&A at the Festival of Fantastic Films, UK - both moderated by Eugenio Ercolani. These are great discussions of not only their working relationship with Grau on this film but touching on other films like Emanuelle in America, Killer Crocodile, and High Tension

The disc is buttoned-up with the 4-min International Theatrical Trailer, a pair of Don’t Open the Window US TV Spots, and 2-min Don’t Open the Window US Radio Spots. The single-disc release arrives in a standard keepcase with a single-sided sleeve of artwork. It's rare, but I actually do not like this artwork, but perhaps I am spoiled because I have the awesome Limited Edition Steelbook with the Wes Benscoter artwork - this just doesn't rate in comparison. 

Special Features:
- Exclusive new 4K restoration from the original 35mm camera negative
- New 5.1 English stereo surround remix made exclusively for the Synapse Films release
- Two audio commentaries featuring authors and film scholars Troy Howarth, Nathaniel Thompson and Bruce Holecheck
- Restoration of the true original English language theatrical mono mix
- Jorge Grau - Catalonia’s Cult Film King (89 mins.) – This extensive feature-length documentary explores the life and films of director Jorge Grau 
- The Scene of the Crime - Giannetto De Rossi in Discussion from Manchester (16 Mins) 
- Giannetto De Rossi - Q&A at the Festival of Fantastic Films, UK (43 Mins) 
- International Theatrical Trailer (4 min) 
- Don’t Open the Window US TV Spots (1 min)
- Don’t Open the Window US Radio Spots (2 min)
- Newly translated removable English SDH subtitles

A truly gorgeous HD presentation from Synapse Films of one of the best Eurocult zombie films of all time, it's easily up there with my favorites; Fulci's Zombie and Soavi's Cemetery Man. In my opinion this is a must-own for any self-respecting cult film fan, and regardless of whether you pick up the limited edition Steelbook or the standard release Blu-ray versions from Synapse this looks phenomenal and the extras are terrific. 

Screenshots from the Synapse Films Blu-ray: