The Living Dead at Manchester Morgue: 2 Disc Special Edition – DVD Review

Available at Amazon.com

The Living Dead at Manchester Morgue is a story of George and Edna. After Edna accidentally drives into George’s (parked) motorcycle, she is obliged to offer him a lift. The two end up visiting Edna’s sister and her husband. Of course, when a zombie shows up, things get rather unpleasant for George and Edna.

Going in to it, I was expecting The Living Dead at Manchester Morgue to be a zombie movie. It was a pretty reasonable assumption. The name of the movie mentions the living dead, the cover features zombies and the blurb on the back plays up the fact the town is “infested with the ‘living dead.'” All things that suggest this would be a zombie movie. In reality, that is not the case.

Manchester Morgue does indeed have zombies in it, but it has a lot more in common with creature features from the 1950s than with what is traditionally thought of as a “zombie” movie. The movie has unintended side effects from science/radiation use (and the standard “science is bad” message), monsters with super strength and rudimentary intelligence and the standard police officer who refuses to believe the main characters’ story. It’s all very 50s sci-fi.

The movie avoids feeling like just a throwback to the 1950s by doing lots of things that simply couldn’t be done in those earlier movies. The special effects are far above anything that could be seen in those days and as the intended audience wasn’t teenagers, the makers of the movie had a lot more leeway as far as levels of gore/language/etc are concerned.

For the most part the special effects are excellent. Even though the movie was made on a low budget in the early 1970s there are more than a few cringe-worthy shots and only a couple of times when an effect looks obviously fake. The film’s effects have held up remarkably well, all things considered.

The special effects aren’t all Manchester Morgue has going for it however. The zombies are genuinely creepy. While they have the slow, shambling speed of the traditional zombie, the zombies also posses supernatural strength and some intelligence (enough so they can use tools, set up ambushes, etc.). As a result, even though the zombie hordes are limited in number, they still manage to instill a sense of terror.

The movie isn’t perfect however. One thing that bugged me was the invention that lead to the re-animation of the zombies. It’s a device that was invented to mess with the nervous system of all insects and parasites within a given radius of the machine (initially one mile, but the scientists are working on increasing that to a five mile radius). The device somehow causes the insects and parasites to attack one and other until they are all dead.

At one point in the film we are given a a demonstration of the device which shows some ants swarming over the corpse of a dead bee. That brief moment illustrates precisely why the invention, even without the unintended side-effects is a terrible idea. There is mention that the device is being used to protect an apple orchard. While there are lots of pests that can harm an orchard, there are lots of other insects (like bees) which play a vital part in their growth. While I’m sure there would be situations where it would be useful to wipe out all insects and parasites in a given area, most of the time killing all insects in a five mile radius is going to do more harm than good. Even without the zombie problem. If you’re going to use the “science is evil” theme, at least avoid giving the scientists have such flawed goals.

While I have issues with the science, it’s a zombie movie; zombie flicks aren’t known for their realism. And apart from the science, there’s not a whole lot to complain about in this movie (aside from a few implausible timelines). It’s creepy, and it has realistic effects. That’s about all you can hope for with this genre.

The video is presented in 1.85:1 ratio and is pretty good considering the age of the movie. With the audio there are three choices: Dolby Digital 5.1, Dolby Digital 2.0 and the original mono sound. There are no problems in the audio department.

Despite the fact that the movie is set in Manchester and was filmed in English, the crew was mostly made up of people from Italy and Spain. As a result, all of these special features are subtitled. I don’t mind reading subtitles, but at times the translation could have used some work. Questionable translations aside, there’s quite a bit of material here.

Back to the Morgue: On Location with Director Jorge Grau – Jorge Grau and a journalist walk around various locations in Manchester that were used in the film. During the walk Jorge relays a bunch of anecdotes about making the movie. The featurette runs about 45 minutes and feels a lot like a director’s commentary.

Zombie Fighter: Interview with star Ray Lovelock – Ray Lovelock talks about The Living Dead At Manchester Morgue. Ray seems to have less to say than the other people interviewed so it’s probably a good thing this is the shortest interview (runs about 16 minutes).

Zombie Maker: Interview with Special Effects Artist Giannetto De Rossi – The guy who did the special effects on The Living Dead at Manchester Morgue talks about his work on the movie. Gianneto goes in-depth about how some of the film’s more disturbing effects were created. He also talks about his work on another zombie film, Lucio Fulci’s Zombie.

2000 Interview with Director Jorge Grau – As the name suggests, this is an interview from 2000 with the director. Because it wasn’t filmed at the same time as the other featurette with Jorge, he touches on some of the same topics covered in his other interview, but there’s lots of new stuff as well.

If you are looking for a traditional zombie flick, The Living Dead at Manchester Morgue will disappoint. However, when viewed as a more intense version of 1950s creature features, the movie is a real winner. There’s also a generous heaping of special features to peruse. It all adds up to a solid DVD release.

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Blue Underground presents The Living Dead at Manchester Morgue. Directed by: Jorge Grau. Starring: Cristina Galbó, Ray Lovelock, Arthur Kennedy. Written by: Juan Cobos, Sandro Continenza. Running time: 93 minutes. Rating: Not Rated. Released on DVD: February 26, 2008. Available at Amazon.com