A Pair of Blue Undergrounds #2: The Living Dead At Manchester Morgue (DVD/ Blu-ray Comparison)

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.
Plot-wise, this one's pretty straight forward.  Some careless, ecologically unfriendly corporation is recklessly misusing radiation (message!), and inadvertently wakes up some 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 their 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 good atmosphere and well directed scenes.  It's a Spanish/ Italian co-production, but makes great use of some cool 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.  A decade later now, where do we stand?
2000 Anchor Bay DVD top; 2009 Blue Underground BD below.
Well, a modest upgrade.  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.

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.
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 blu-ray carries over everything except the hardcopy 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.
So hey, as long as we're wishing for 4k re-releases, you can add this one to the list for me.  I liked the special features Blue Underground came up with for the film, but in terms of PQ, I feel like there's a lot of room for this title to grow.  And while it may not be one of the flashier films in Blue Underground's catalog, but as such a solid, well made zombie film that hit the DVD market fairly early on, I imagine it must be at least somewhat of a consistent seller for them.  If nothing else, it would give them another excuse to look again for that rumored, lost eyeball eating scene.  😉

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