The Living Dead At Manchester Morgue, Resurrected

1974's The Living Dead At Manchester Morgue, a.k.a. Let Sleeping Corpses Lie, a.k.a. Don't Open the Window, and even briefly as Zombi 3, is just a good zombie film.  It's not an important zombie film; it didn't break any new ground, push any envelopes or launch any careers.  And in this time of zombie saturation, where we're swimming in everything from mainstream zombie parodies to a billion seasons of The Walking Dead, it may not even be noteworthy.  But for its time, five years even before Lucio Fulci's classic Zombie, it was a real treat.  And if you can look past the fatigue or elevated expectations (nothing in this film is going to shock or surprise audiences in 2019) brought about by the insane glut of hangers-on and knock-offs, it actually holds up quite well.

Update 1/16/19 - 8/15/20: You might well ask, does the world need another blu-ray release of this film when Blue Underground's special edition is still readily available?  You might be surprised.
Plot-wise, this one's pretty straight forward.  The careless, ecologically unfriendly government is recklessly misusing radiation (message!), and inadvertently wakes up a few corpses who've developed a taste for human flesh in the process.  A generic leading man type crosses path with a generic leading lady type, and they wind up getting accused of committing a murder, and the police just won't take their "a dead man did it" explanation seriously.  So they wind up on the run together, trying to figure out what's going on as the zombie menace expands across the country-side.  It takes an awfully long time to arrive at Manchester Morgue, but eventually both man and zombie meet up there for a final showdown.
It's a bit slow moving, and feels all the more so when everybody who's ever heard of a zombie movie before knows full well where it's all going, but it's got some strong atmosphere and well directed scenes.  It's a Spanish/ Italian co-production, but makes great use of its attractive English locations.  It's not as gory or effects heavy as genre fans would probably like, but when it gets to the main horror set-pieces, they still perform really well.  The "lead" zombie (think Bill Hinzman in Night Of the Living Dead), strikes a pretty imposing figure, a man who drowned himself in a lake by tying himself to a large rock, now still wrapped in his rope, coming for victims with a menacing lurch.  It's also got to be one of the first zombie films to delve into zombie babies (sorry, Zack Snyder), and it all comes to a tidy, satisfying conclusion.
Anchor Bay first released this film as Let Sleeping Corpses Lie on DVD back in 2000, as a standard release and in a limited edition tin (mine's #1726 of 5000).  Blue Underground reissued it on DVD in 2007, but then quickly rendered that edition obsolete less than a year later by putting out a 2008 2-disc special edition under the Living Dead At Manchester Morgue title.  And in another single year, they rendered that version obsolete by issuing it on blu-ray in 2009.  Next month, September first, Synapse walks onto the field with the goal of rendering them all obsolete, with their 3-disc (albeit only in a world where we allow soundtrack CDs and duplicate DVD editions into that count... it's really just one blu-ray disc of video content) limited (albeit to a very healthy 6000 copies) edition steelbook.
1) 2000 AB DVD; 2) 2009 BU BD; 3) 2020 Synapse DVD; 4) 2020 Synapse BD.
Well, BU's blu-ray is certainly a modest upgrade; though in its defense, 2009 is quite old for a BD.  The colors look a bit flatter, but they bring down the flashy highlights, which I'd say is a good thing.  The framing shifts ever so slightly from 1.84:1 to 1.86:1.  Artifact noise on the DVD has been cleaned up, which is the biggest appreciable upgrade.  But grain and fine detail is all over the place.  Look at the first shot... not of the comparisons, but the first screenshot in this write-up, where they're testing their weird device on the countryside.  The film grain in the sky there is very distinct and authentic, especially for an older blu.  But then look at the sky in the first set of comparison shots: the grain looks just about as smoothed away on the blu as on the DVD.  Now, let's get in close to the second set of shots.
2000 Anchor Bay DVD left; 2009 Blue Underground BD right.
Yikes!  Here, I actually prefer the DVD (and this is the old Anchor Bay DVD, remember) to the blu.  Clearly, there's artificial smoothing at play here, as well as some effect that really makes that guy's one eyeball pop.  I was just talking about how Dead & Buried could possibly benefit from a new 4k transfer, but we might've found an even better candidate here.

And boy, oh boy, has Synapse answered the call.  Their blu is from a brand new, 4k scan of the original 35mm negative.  Now precisely matted to 1.85:1, the colors are more vibrant and distinct, which helps bring up the clash between the film's beautiful countryside landscapes and the horror happening on it.  But the real star is the badly needed boost in resolution.  That smoothed-out nonsense revealed in the previous close-up is cleared right up.  Grain is consistent and fine detail is crisp for the first time in the film's history.

Audio-wise, Anchor Bay offered us the original mono track in Dolby Digital 2.0 surround, and a remixed Dolby Digital 5.1 track.  Blue Underground... well, the case says it has three tracks: 7.1 DTS-HD, 5.1 Dolby Digital Surround Ex and the original mono track.  But the 5.1 doesn't seem to actually be on the disc.  Anyway, the 7.1 seems to be roughly the same as the old 5.1 except now it's lossless and mixed for the extra channels.  I'm just glad the mono's still there.  To make it more of an upgrade, however, the old DVD lacked subtitles, while the blu adds English, French and Spanish.  Now Synapse has remastered the original mono (and fixed the syncing a little), and kept the 5.1 remix, both in DTS-HD.  They've dropped the foreign options, but kept the optional English subtitles.
Here's the best thing about the BU disc - new and better extras.  Actually, strictly speaking, these were introduced with the 2007 2-disc special edition DVD; but they're all still here on the blu and a substantial step forward from the original DVD.  Not that the old DVD was barebones.  It had a brief introduction by the director and then a nice on-camera interview with him after.  It also had the trailer, a couple radio spots and a stills gallery.  Plus, if you got the tin, you got a nice 24-page booklet with notes by Nigel J. Burrell, a pair of inserts, an amusing Manchester Morgue toe tag, and of course the fancy looking tin itself.

The 2009 blu-ray carries over everything except the hard copy stuff from the tin (in other words, everything actually on the disc), but also adds some new features which flesh things out substantially more.  First of all, there's an all new, much longer interview with the director, where he tours the English shooting locations of the film and shares a lot more memories of the filmmaking.  Then there are new on-camera interviews with star Raymond Lovelock and Giannetto De Rossi, who of course went on to do Fulci's zombie films.  They also dug up two more trailers for the film.
And the 2020 blu?  Well, the bad news is that they chucked all the legacy extras.  I remember looking at the announced extras, and since Grau passed away in 2018, I thought we were going to be left with nothing but experts.  And indeed, there are a lot of experts.  That includes two new audio commentaries, one by Troy Howarth and one by Nathaniel Thompson & Bruce Holecheck.  With all of the experts repeating much of the same information (I can't imagine anyone needed to be told this was based on George Romero's film once, but here it's explained a half dozen times), I'd recommend the latter.  Not that Howarth's is bad, but I've listened to a lot of his commentaries by now, and this is not his best work: atypically rambly and spending a very long time in the old imdb sand trap, where he just endlessly lists off everybody's credits, one by one.

Then the biggest new addition is the "extensive new feature-length documentary explor[ing] the life and films of Jorge Grau" by Calum Waddell and Naomi Holwill.  And the first and happiest surprise is that they did get Jorge Grau, whose excellent new interview is the centerpiece for this doc.  There's also a slew of experts, Giannetto De Rossi, and composer Giuliano Sorgini, who's a first for a Manchester Morgue disc.  And as much as the official description might lead you to believe we're going to be listening endlessly about how Grau grew up on a farm someplace, it's actually rather strongly focused on this film, and touching just enough on his other films.  Also on hand is a separate interview and Q&A with De Rossi, which is a little redundant at times (he does repeat some anecdotes pretty much verbatim), but there's a lot of great exclusive content in them, too.  The Q&A is especially worth your time, where he shares great stories about his time on Rambo 3, Emanuelle In America, etc.  The trailer, TV and radio spots are also on hand.
Also of note is the swag.  I do believe this is the first time I've seen a steelbook come in a slipcover.  And yes, there's a soundtrack CD, a booklet with notes by Dr. Nicholas Schlegel and even a page about the restoration by Don May Jr. himself.  There's a DVD copy of the blu and a poster, too.  I'd happily give all of that up for a couple of those BU extras to have been carried over, though.  The Grau and De Rossi interviews are no great losses, since Synapse covered most of that with their new stuff (though in a few cases, Grau's personal anecdotes are still better told in the original featurettes than by Synapse's experts paraphrasing them), but the location visits and the Lovelock piece were still great exclusives.  So fans will want to hang onto their old discs.  But there's no question which release is the definitive one: the PQ upgrade is massive, and the new extras exceeded my expectations, so it's worth the double-dip.  Shop around, though, I've seen retailers with pre-order prices literally double what other retailers are selling it for, and even the lowest prices are inflated by all the swag.

1 comment:

  1. Excellent review. In regards to your swag paragraph, Synapse's 2017 blu-ray of Suspiria was initially sold by them in a limited steelbook with a slipcover, but I'm not aware of anyone else who's doing it.

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