Jorge Grau, 1974
Starring: Cristina Galbó, Ray Lovelock, Arthur Kennedy
In the English countryside, a young woman, Edna, accidentally hits a motorcycle at a gas station. It belongs to an antique shop-owner named George, and she agrees to drive him to a village near her sister’s home. They get lost on the way and George stops for directions. A strange man nearly attacks Edna, but gets away before George returns. At her sister’s house, they discover that Edna’s brother in law has also been attacked and killed. Local police don’t believe her story about the previous man. The head inspector also doesn’t like the look of George and considers Edna, George, and her heroin-addicted sister to be the main suspects. What they don’t realize is that a local environmental experiment using radiation has caused the dead to rise from the ground and begin feasting on everyone in the area…
Though Let Sleeping Corpses Lie obviously borrows a number of elements from George Romero’s earlier Night of the Living Dead, it is one of the most interesting zombie films of the ‘70s and remains highly underrated. The idea of Mother Nature as a violent aggressor was explored in a number of animals attack films – Day of the Animals, Long Weekend, Grizzly, Wild Beasts, and many more – though most of these were made a few years after Let Sleeping Corpses Lie. Unlike most of these, there’s an eerie, almost supernatural element at work from the beginning of the film, something director Grau largely manages to maintain throughout.
The zombies don’t have a lot of make up or affects added to them. Outside of menacing red eyes, they generally look like dirty homeless people wandering the English countryside to feast on the living. The character that I would call the lead zombie (Fernando Hilbeck from The Possessed) is perhaps the most effective, sneaking up on Edna when she is stranded alone in the car. Overall, the zombies are so effective because of this quality of appearing and disappearing at will, more like ghosts than shuffling, decaying denizens of the undead.
There’s a lovely setting and this is certainly one of the most beautiful, pastoral films of ‘70s Eurohorror. This aspect of it reminded me a little of the country-bound U.S. film Let’s Scare Jessica to Death, and the element of isolation and rural ignorance is a major factor in the film’s effectiveness. The soundscape is wonderful, nearly as fantastic as another Spanish zombie film from the same time, Tombs of the Blind Dead. There are interesting, breathy sound effects used with the zombies and a relatively subdued score.
As with most Spanish horror from this period, there’s an anti-authoritarian streak a mile wide in response to General Franco’s era of fascism. The main antagonist in the film does not actually seem to be the zombies, but rather the hard-headed, authoritarian detective who won’t listen to reason simply because he doesn’t like the look of the protagonists. Played by Arthur Kennedy (Fantastic Voyage), the detective is thoroughly unlikable and forces George and Edna to only rely on each other. Not only do they have to face zombies, but he also makes sure they are pursued as murder suspects. The inspector, thankfully, gets his just desserts during the film’s bleak conclusion.
Like a lot of Eurohorror from the ‘60s and ‘70s, this is a mishmash of locales and financial sources. A Spanish-Italian coproduction, the film was partially shot in Italy, but is set in the English countryside. The English accents, ranging from posh to cockney, are absolutely hilarious. George, in particular, is hard to take seriously, adding “bloody” before everything and sounding a bit stereotypically flamboyant gay man at times.
Despite the dubbing and the fact that this is a ‘70s zombie film, there are some surprisingly solid performances. The lovely Cristina Galbó (What Have They Done to Solange?) is likable as the unfortunately named Edna. She doesn’t have much chemistry with Ray Lovelock (Autopsy) as George, but it’s nearly impossible to get around his British cockney dubbing and sexually ambiguous attitude. The essentially spend the first half of this carefully paced film uncovering a mystery and the horror doesn’t really unveil itself until the second half. Let Sleeping Corpses Lie isn’t particularly heavy on the gore, though there are a handful of scenes with well-done effects. The hospital scene towards the end of the film is one of the goriest sections, including a moment where a woman gets her breasts actually torn off by a zombie.
Let Sleeping Corpses Lie comes recommended – particularly for anyone who enjoys unusual zombie films or atmospheric horror – and is available on two-disc DVD or Blu-ray. Don’t be confused by the plethora of titles, 15 to be exact. The film was also released as Living Dead at Manchester Morgue, Don’t Open the Window, Breakfast at the Manchester Morgue, Weekend with the Dead, and a few other ridiculous titles.