The Living Dead at the Manchester Morgue: Standard Edition [Blu-ray]
Blu-ray ALL - America - Synapse Films
Review written by and copyright: Eric Cotenas (6th May 2022).
The Film

London antiques dealer George (Oasis of Fear's Ray Lovelock) travels by motorcycle to Manchester to join some friends for the holidays. When Edna (The House That Screamed's Cristina Galbσ) accidentally damages his bike, George insists that he take her to his destination but Edna is on her way to take her heroin-addicted sister Katie (Count Dracula's Jeannine Mestre) to rehab. When they stop for directions at a farm where a new ultrasonic pest control device is being used experimentally, Edna is accosted by a mysterious tramp named Guthrie (Murder in a Blue World's Fernando Hilbeck) who supposedly drowned weeks ago. George and Edna arrive at her sister's and find her brother-in-law Martin (Panic's Josι Lifante) murdered and her sister hysterical.

The intolerant inspector (Fantastic Voyage's Arthur Kennedy) looks at Katie's addict behavior and George's long hair and sees them as suspects (as opposed to the drowned tramp). While Katie is taken to the local hospital (where newborn babies have suddenly turned violent), George and Edna's private investigation takes them to the cemetery where they discover that Guthrie and other recently dead people have risen with a craving for flesh. George and Edna escape from a massacre at the cemetery and the inspector believes they are responsible. Suspecting that the pest control device has something to do with the rising corpses, George heads over to the farm to stop it while Edna rushes to the hospital to be with her sister. George discovers that the range of the machine has been increased and he rushes to the hospital just as the morgue full of corpses start to stir.

Pre-dating George A. Romero's Dawn of the Dead by four years, this gory, color-filled variation on Night of the Living Dead has a marvelous setting (exteriors in England, interiors in Rome) and a chilly atmosphere which builds up nicely from gothic horror to all-out gorefest. Director Jorge Grau originally wanted to direct a film about Elizabeth Bathory but producer Edmondo Amati asked him to do Night of the Living Dead in color (Amati would also cash in on The Exorcist with The Antichrist and The Omen with Holocaust 2000). Grau made his Bathory film Blood Ceremony as a co-production with another Italian producer, and the success of that film led Grau to approach him again. Working from an original screenplay by Sandro Continenza (Django Shoots First) – credit sequences in different territories also cite the possibly quota contributions of Marcello Coscia (A Quiet Place to Kill), Juan Cobos (Rififi in the City) and Miguel Rubio (The Love Affair) – Grau's color zombie film is not simply a concession, exploring ecological concerns and critiquing authoritarianism (the latter in a manner that angered the Manchester constabulary perhaps more so than the gore during the Video Nasty video store raids).

While there is a "scientific" explanation for the reviving dead more explicit than that of the Romero film's vague references to cosmic radiation, there remains a very Catholic supernatural element that may be creepy or laughable depending on the viewer. The zombies are downright frightening and the wintry open landscapes are suitably chilly and are just as creepy as the claustrophobic interiors of locked tombs, barricaded rectories, and besieged hospitals thanks in part to cinematographer Francisco Sempere (Cauldron of Blood) who effectively employs wide angle lenses in horror scenes to emphasize depth when zombies thrust their hands or battering objects towards the camera). The three leads (Lovelock, Galbo, and Kennedy) are no strangers to Euro horror and acquit themselves nicely. The effects were created by Giannetto de Rossi, who is better known for his gory work on Lucio Fulci's highly successful, unofficial Dawn of the Dead sequel Zombie (the Romero film was called "Zombi" in Italy and the Fulci film "Zombi 2" with both getting the plural titles in their export versions changed to the singular while Grau's film would be reissued in the eighties in Italy as one of a handful of films titled "Zombi 3" that also included Burial Ground and the "official" Zombi 3 started by Fulci but finished by an uncredited Hell of the Living Dead's Bruno Mattei and Claudio Fragasso who subsequently helmed After Death which was retitled "Zombie 4" in some territories; indeed, Amati seemed to have missed out on recruiting Fulci for the job since the producer had previously worked with him on the giallo trio One on Top of the Other, A Lizard in a Woman's Skin, and Don't Torture a Duckling along with the sex comedy The Eroticist. Apart from a cool main title theme, the score of Giuliano Sorgini (The Beast in Heat) was largely jettisoned in favor of natural sound effects and the asthmatic breathing of the zombies.


Released theatrically in the United States as "Breakfast at Manchester Morgue" – with the tagline "Break Bread with the Living Dead!" – and then quickly reissued as "Don't Open the Window" with the tagline "Whatever's Out There Will Wait!", both cut down to 85 minutes, the film's only stateside VHS release was in the form of Canadian and American dupes of the cut British PAL cassette from VIP that shortened the British theatrical title of "The Living Dead at Manchester Morgue" to "The Living Dead". The uncut version could only be obtained as a letterboxed Japanese-subtitled import VHS with the British title until 2000 when Anchor Bay presented on VHS and DVD in the US and UK a transfer of the uncut export version under the export title "Let Sleeping Corpses Lie" – an amusing liberal translation of the Spanish and Italian titles which translate as "Don't Disturb the Sleep of the Dead" (or even better "Don't Profane the Sleep of the Dead") – the former later reissued by Blue Underground a year before their own 2-disc edition under the British title (itself preceding their Blu-ray edition by a year). Blue Underground's Blu-ray was a minor improvement on the DVD transfers in that it was slightly brighter, bringing out some detail that was crushed in standard definition, but fine detail was still rather mushy and skintones were either too warm or too cold while the opening and closing credits featured bad digital reproductions.

Synapse's 1080p24 MPEG-4 AVC 1.85:1 widescreen Blu-ray – coming two years after the company's 6,000 copy limited edition steelbook Blu-ray/DVD/CD soundtrack combo edition (copies of which are still available from Synapse) – comes from a new 4K scan of the original camera negative, featuring the original English credit text overlays of the "Manchester Morgue" version which featured the post-title credits over the Manchester montage sequence (the export version featured all of the credits in the antique shop before the montage). The image is even brighter without destroying the mood of the film, the zombies (especially Guthrie) are less blue but even more unnerving in their dead make-up jobs, and there is crisper detail in the exterior greenery. Most surprising is the ability to better assess the set design of underground crypt, with the brighter image not only revealing the blood of the murdered caretaker continuously running down the wall throughout the sequence but also making the zombies all the more present rather than nearly swallowed up in the shadows. The shortcoming of a few make-up effects gags are as apparent as before, but it is overall the most satisfactory presentation of the film on video thus far.


The Living Dead at Manchester Morgue was one of the first Spanish films to be mixed in stereo but English-speaking territories got it in mono – there being fewer venues in the mid-seventies to project prints with magnetic stereo even if Hallmark/AIP would have gone through the trouble of printing them since they dropped stereo from their prints of De Sade after its premiere engagements – until the aforementioned Anchor Bay release when Chace Surround used the stems to create English 5.1 and matrixed Dolby Surround mixes for the DVD edition (mixes which were carried over to the Blue Underground editions with the two-disc DVD summing up a rear center channel for Dolby Digital 5.1-EX and the Blu-ray upmixed to 7.1 while the claims of original mono on those two releases were downmixes).

Synapse has created their own new 5.1 surround mix in DTS-HD Master Audio while their 2.0 track is indeed the original English mono track. The mono mix is effective, but the surround mix – we have no idea whether it is any more faithful to the original Spanish stereophonic mix or not – is less about constant directional effects than more subtle atmosphere, the hum of the pest control machine, and less predictable placement of creaks, cries, and death rattles (especially unnerving in an early dolly shot in which our attention is first directed to the other side of the river searching out a sight only to realize that the camera movement is actually a POV tracking shot of an unknown entity). Optional English SDH subtitles are included.


Synapse has not ported over any of the Anchor Bay or Blue Underground mixes and have created new ones of their own starting with dual commentary tracks: an audio commentary by author Troy Howarth, and an audio commentary by authors Nathaniel Thompson and Bruce Holecheck. Howarth covers how seventies ecological concerns in cinema morphed into the "when animals attack" genre – with the zombies effected in a similar manner as other creatures by manmade disasters – Grau's film career, parallels with the Romero film, the chemistry between Lovelock and Galbσ, the Eurocult careers of the supporting cast, as well as more than once vocal appearance by actor Edmund Purdom who had his own career onscreen in Euro exploitation throughout the seventies and into the eighties. Thompson and Holecheck provide a more thorough look at Grau's early days – much of which fans may already have garnered from the recent Blu-ray of Blood Ceremony – Amati's exploitation career, how long it took the zombie craze to take off both stateside and abroad following Romero's film (apart from the "disillusioned hippie films" Children Shouldn't Play with Dead Things and Messiah of Evil), the revelation that the film was originally supposed to be set in Glasgow, and Euro exploitation depictions of England, along with production anecdotes which may or may not be new to seasoned fans of the film and other Italian and Spanish horror films.

"Jorge Grau: Catalonia's Cult Film King" (88:58) is a new documentary by Naomi Holwill that intercuts interview material with Grau (who passed away in 2018), de Rossi (who passed away in 2021), and Sorgini with remarks by film historians and critics Callum Waddel, Russ Hunter, Rachel Nisbet, John Martin, Kim Newman, and Mike Hostench. Hunter covers Grau's amateur filmmaking days, his Centro Sperimentale di Cinematografia education, and his early features. Waddel covers Grau's discovery of the Bathory legend and his pitch to Amati and Hammer – who then did their own take on the legend as Countess Dracula, Newman discusses the zombie genre in the seventies pre-Dawn of the Dead and Zombie as well as the foreign depiction of England and parallels with the folk horror genre, while Martin discusses the environmental elements of the film while Nisbet discusses the social commentary elements. Hostench also discusses the political aspects of the film and how critiques of fascism and authoritarianism were often veiled in the fantastic in Spanish cinema during the reign of General Franco.

"The Scene of the Crime: Giannetto De Rossi in Discussion from Manchester" (15:24) is a interview conducted by Eugenio Ercolani either before or after the Festival of Fantastic Films that focuses on the film and his other horror films. De Rossi notes that he approached horror films like any of his more mainstream and prestigious assignments, and as such did not learn anything directly that he applied to his later Fulci films rather than a progression of experiences of trial and error in techniques. Ercolani also moderates Giannetto De Rossi Q&A at the 2020 Festival of Fantastic Films, UK (42:29) which is actually far more focused on his other work apart from the Grau film from Fulci to bigger assignments. It is an entertaining talk because de Rossi does not hold back in his opinions of his colleagues, noting that Carlo Rambaldi constantly needed others to make his creations work including himself and Rick Baker, and how he turned down future work with Dino De Laurentiis – he was offered Silver Bullet before Rambaldi – who he described as a "fantastic producer" but a "piece of shit" as a human.

The disc closes out with the film's theatrical trailer (3:51) as well as two TV spots (0:57) and two radio spots (2:07). There are no apparent Easter Eggs.


The disc comes in a standard black case and the booklet from the steelbook edition has been dropped.


Jorge Grau's The Living Dead at Manchester Morgue is a far more significant work than a mere "Night of the Living Dead in color" or a precursor to Zombie Flesh Eaters.


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