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Review: The Living Dead at Manchester Morgue

The film never really pays off (at least not politically) on the promise of its opening credits sequence.

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The Living Dead at Manchester Morgue
Photo: Hallmark Releasing Corp.

It sort of demonstrates just how singular George A. Romero’s zombie films are and how much they represent the genre that almost every other zombie film referred to as “nearly as good” is essentially pointless in comparison, even if they truly are relatively good taken in and of themselves. Perhaps in the case of The Living Dead at Manchester Morgue, it’s merely that the socio-political subtext doesn’t quite register with the same punch as Night of the Living Dead or Dawn of the Dead do for American audiences. The 1974 Manchester Morgue weaves a number of then-timely elements into its overall bleak worldview. The purported hero of the film, a hipster dealer of overpriced antique knick-knacks delivering a piece to a customer when the film’s zombie plague begins, is something of a relic himself, as a late member of the Angry Young Man set. His clashes with zombies in the moist, foggy English countryside are only slightly more volatile than his run-ins with the po-po, who take one look at his long locks, sullen attitude, and ominous-looking artifacts in his knapsack and come to the hasty conclusion that it’s he, not zombies, responsible for a string of mysterious deaths. When the bodies began to disappear, they go one step further and brand him a Satanist. To that backdrop, director Jorge Grau adds yet another burgeoning “issue” into the mix: biochemical anxiety. Not so subtle parallels are made with the appearance of zombies and the flipping of the switch on a sparkling, red piece of agricultural irradiation equipment that looks like a combination fire truck and wheat thresher. This minor cult classic has its fans, to be sure, but it never really pays off (at least not politically) on the promise of its opening credits sequence, a nutty little montage in which a number of city residents are seen lunging through crowded streets, dodging close-ups of vehicular exhaust pipes while a buxom woman in an afro wig throws off her trench coat and bounds nude through the traffic jam. This followed by a smash cut to a pair of nuclear reactors. If the implication of the movie’s red machine of death is hardly a match for Romero’s parables of social unrest, at least this film’s opening credits sequence manages to suggest that the goofiness of the era’s political tensions would only stay perky and nubile for so long before aging into drugs and death.

Cast: Ray Lovelock, Christine Galbo, Arthur Kennedy, Aldo Massasso, Giorgio Trestini, Roberto Posse Director: Jorge Grau Screenwriter: Sandro Continenza, Marcello Coscia Distributor: Hallmark Releasing Corp. Running Time: 93 min Rating: NR Year: 1974 Buy: Video

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