By Breanna Whipple
CALGARY – “The dead don’t walk around except in very bad paperback novels” exclaims a handsome, long haired young man in a feeble attempt to rebuke his heroine’s seemingly unjustified hysteria. But how else is one to explain the mysterious murders in which the victims are savagely torn limb from limb? Sights of the local inspector fall upon the aforementioned duo who just so happened to be visiting the English countryside in the midst of a very ill-fated time. Viewed as young naive Satanists, despite the bizarre truth unravelling at an alarming rate, the couple are up against not only the ignorance of the law, but also the insatiable clutches of the ravenous undead.
Since the true birth of zombies with George A. Romero’s 1968 classic, Night of the Living Dead, the formula for zombie films has strayed very slightly, which usually goes like this: Government experimentation leads to undesirable global effects. In the case of The Living Dead at Manchester Morgue (1974), the culprit is a pesticide that ignites hostility within the nervous system, causing mass destruction. Akin to the horrific cinematic classic is the ‘too little, too late’ attitude granted by the true villain in the majority of zombie films—the establishment. Having said that, it should come as no surprise that the spreading of chaos is ignored early on, resulting in an uncontrollable, bloody carnage that extends throughout the film’s 95-minute runtime.
While remaining true to the aforementioned classic formula, The Living Dead at Manchester Morgue also managed to strike inspiration in several of Lucio Fulci’s own cinematic works, in turn propelling the sub-genre in a different, nastier direction. Exemplifying this are the incredibly chilling basement scenes in House by the Cemetery (1981), which are strikingly similar to those in the mortuary at the spawn of the third act; and the unique grisliness aesthetic and mannerisms of the undead, which has been dutifully homaged in Fulci’s praised gore-fest, Zombi 2 (1979).
Despite having been released over 40 years ago, the underlying themes of the film are still ever present in modern day. Though we may not be worrying about ultrasonic radiation re-animating the nervous systems of the recently deceased, the metaphor can definitely be applied elsewhere. It could be argued that the strong message promoting societal responsibility is what sets this film aside in what has become a very oversaturated zombie sub-genre, showcasing it as a timeless gem for diehard horror fans.
Catch The Living Dead at Manchester Morgue at a midnight screening June 16 at the Globe Cinema.Globe Cinema, The Living Dead at Manchester Morgue