Let Sleeping Corpses Lie (Non si deve profanare il sonno dei morti) (1974)
Directed by: Jorge Grau
Starring: Cristina Galbó, Ray Lovelock, Arthur Kennedy, Aldo Massasso, Giorgio Trestini, Roberto Posse, José Lifante, Jeannine Mestre
(out of 4)
Here’s the plot to the very interesting zombie picture Let Sleeping Corpses Lie: George (Ray Lovelock) closes up his antique shop in the city of Manchester and takes off for the country, until poor Edna (Cristina Galbó) backs into his motorcycle at a gas station. After she agrees to give him a ride (well, he takes the initiative and does the driving) they make a small stop in Southgate so she can visit her sister Katie (Jeannine Mestre). While looking for the house, George notices that the Department of Agriculture has an experimental ultrasonic device designed to destroy insects. George doesn’t like it at all, figuring that nature is configured the way it is for a reason. In the meantime, Edna is attacked back at the car by a hideous man with alien-red-and-black eyes. Nobody believes her story right away but her description of the man leads the locals to believe he might be the ghost of a recently deceased town drunk named Guthrie (Fernando Hilbeck).
Guthrie shows up later and kills Katie’s husband Martin, bringing the police in (led by Arthur Kennedy). Being that Katie is a heroin junkie, nobody believes her story either. Kennedy’s “inspector” character, referred to only as Sergeant, is a real old-school kinda cop who doesn’t particularly care for the attitude of the kids these days – he immediately suspects Katie, and then sets his sights on George, due to George’s appearance (“You’re all the same the lot of you, with your long hair and faggot clothes.” )
Edna is positive that it was Guthrie that attacked her and killed Martin; George decides that the only way to cure Edna of her fantasy is to take her to see Guthrie’s body at the local cemetery. What they find, to their horror, are dead people come to life. Not just a mere cash-in of Romero’s groundbreaking Night of the Living Dead six years before, Jorge Grau’s Let Sleeping Corpses Lie (also known as Don’t Open the Window and The Living Dead at Manchester Morgue) is surprisingly thoughtful and intense (just like Night of the Living Dead, as it happens). The opening of the film depicts the pollution of Manchester juxtaposed with the beautiful lush countryside. A woman goes streaking across the heavily-trafficked street; nobody notices. Everybody is caught up in their own affairs, and this extends to the Sergeant, who refuses to see the truth of the situation. The inspector sees a clear line separating law and order from the anarchy of the counterculture hippie types.
Grau’s film is beautifully shot, and I liked the sound effects – the high-pitched “ultrasonic radiation” of the insect-killing machine, the heavy breathing of the reanimated corpses, the eerie soundtrack. The three main characters are also enjoyable – Galbó is beautiful and vulnerable, Lovelock breaths anti-authoritarianism, and Kennedy’s character is no-nonsense with a good dose of fascism. He’s an absolute jerk – the stereotypical “Man” – and he’s totally awesome. George theorizes that the sonic machine is affecting the nervous systems of newborn babies and, as it happens, the dead. But there’s a sequence in the middle of the film which seems to suggest more; in a cemetery, our walking dead smear blood over the eyes of other corpses to awaken them, suggesting to me that these creatures move with a purpose. The last few scenes are quite gory and there’s something in them that seems to have influenced Fulci a lot (Giannetto De Rossi’s convincing effects would be put to use later on Fulci’s own Romero “ripoff” called Zombie).
Let Sleeping Corpses Lie isn’t without flaws. The ending, which shows the fascist cop’s comeuppance, is highly implausible. But then, this is an anti-establishment film, a commentary on the generational rift of the 60s and 70s. It worries about the rejection of nature (or the intrusion of industry and technology into the country), the dangers of fascism (director Grau lived in Spain during Franco’s rule), and the end of the world at hand with the ruling establishment blaming the wrong people. Like Romero’s films, it’s an exercise in nihilism and a product of its time, but it’s still relevant and effective today. An underrated zombie pic.
- Bill Gordon