Thing I Read off the Screen in The Living Dead at the Manchester Morgue: In Search of Meaning

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GEORGE MEANING, CLOSED FOR HOLIDAYS.

When Spanish director Jorge Grau decided, for reasons not known to me, to set a film in England, he chose for a hero a motorcycle-riding gallery owner and, with Martin-Amis-like playful obviousness, named him George. George Meaning.

THE LIVING DEAD AT THE MANCHESTER MORGUE (1974), or LET SLEEPING CORPSES LIE — the Spanish title translates, with equal cheekiness, as DO NOT SPEAK ILL OF THE DEAD, opens with an ecological montage, interrupted by a naked chick streaking (it was the seventies — the British news was all a-jiggle with public displays of nudity), studiously ignored by all the drivers in their cars, captured TRAFIC-style with a documentary long lens — the film’s seriousness and flippancy are set out clearly from the start.

Though we’re in England, the cast are all dubbed. Arthur Kennedy, an unlikely Scotland Yard detective, MAY be doing his own voice with a lively if loose Irish brogue, but he’s still a bit out of sync, Whoever voiced Cristina Galbo has either decided, or been forced by circumstance, to play her in the style of a very poor dubbing artist. But the guy doing George Meaning (Italian-British actor Ray Lovelock), has made the bold choice of adopting a nasal Estuary twang reminiscent of a camp Ken Livingstone, to striking and hilarious effect.

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POLICE

Like DEATHLINE, the movie makes much of the mutual resentment between the middle-aged detective and the hippyish leading man. While the earlier film’s David Ladd — whom I only just realized is the son of Alan Ladd, holds his own ably in sparring with Donald Pleasence’s congested copper Calhoun, he lacks that ineffable quality of INTEREST which makes a star. Ray Lovelock doesn’t really have it either, but in combination with his anonymous voice artist, he attains it. The sexy-Jesus looks and the deglamorizing whine make an electric combo.

(It seems like a case of the voice actor simply taking the piss, as does the MANCHESTER MORGUE moniker — the movie never visits Manchester Morgue, though it hints it might.)

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Lovelock/Meaning is introduced, via a meet-cute with Galbo, as a really obnoxious creep, (“You look like an Edna,” surely merits a slap, except that Edna is her character’s name so maybe she sees it as a compliment?) but he’s at least smart — he figures out the convoluted causes and half-life-cycle of the zombie plague in about ten minutes, whereas Detective Kennedy is still working on the belief that heroin gives you the strength of ten and can cause a woman to run mad and cave in her husband’s torso. I’m pretty sure he’s wrong there.

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AGRICULTURAL DEPT. MIDLAND AREA, EXPERIMENTAL SECTION

Grau builds on the movie science of Romero’s NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD and anticipates DAWN OF THE DEAD’s gory dismemberments. Like the first Romero (and unlike the sequels) the film offers a pseudo-science explanation for the dead rising, but by comparing the mishap to the recent DDT scandal, it connects more with something like SCANNERS, which tied its futuristic premise to recent real-life events (the unexpected side-effects of Thalydomide).

The ecological and anti-authority angles are clear enough, as is a gloomy portrayal of British society in general — the Old Owl Hotel is an uninviting shithole, despite the presence of an actual old owl.

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Tiny writing: CLIMBERS AND MINERS SERVED IN PASSAGE

In other respects, the film’s attitudes are more elusive. Why is Meaning so mean? And why is the movie? A hotel receptionist has her breast torn off, but it seems to be done in the spirit of all’s-fair-in-love-and-zombie-apocalypse, rather than as misogynistic exploitation movie sadism. Here, and in the casual inclusion of a child with Down’s syndrome as bystander to the drama, Grau’s meaning, as well as his Meaning, is tantalizingly ambiguous.

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12 Responses to “Thing I Read off the Screen in The Living Dead at the Manchester Morgue: In Search of Meaning”

  1. Jonathan Rigby Says:

    I do love this film … You’re right, George’s estuary sound is inspired – an absolute hoot. The dubber, I’m pretty sure, was Rome’s ADR king, Nick Alexander, who normally did a very recognisable, rather metallic upper-class voice. He was also responsible (as on many other films) for adapting the dialogue into English. The Manchester connection arose from the fact that the Italian producer thought ‘Manchester’ sounded creepy and mysterious. (The same reasoning may explain why there’s a Space: 1999 episode called The Rules of Luton.) Notwithstanding, Grau sneakily picked up a few shots in Sheffield for that opening sequence, as well as going to the Peak District (not the Lake District) for the other locations … Incidentally, the Spanish title, No profanar el sueño de los muertos, means Do Not Profane the Sleep of the Dead.

  2. Italians have romantic ideas about Lancashire towns.
    Donizetti wrote an opera, Lucia di Liverpool, set partly in a hermitage in Liverpool, partly in the nearby mountains, and a chap called Luigi Ruicci wrote Il birraio di Preston, which involves seductions, bigamy and various unPrestonian activities….

  3. Jung had a famous dream where the wellspring of all human ambition was situated at a crossroads in Liverpool, later figured out (by, I think, somebody associated with Ken Campbell) to be at the bottom of Mathew Street, where the School of Language, Dream and Pun was situated. Why not Liverpool or Manchester, why always Venice & Moscow? I like the silly, gritty, grimy feel of this film very much.

  4. “You look like an Edna”

    Mrs. Edna Welthorpe no doubt.

  5. Do Not Profane the Sleep of the Dead sounds MUCH more serious — and rebounds onto the ecological warning aspect.

    I guess Sheffleld explains the orange buses, which I wondered about.

  6. henryholland666 Says:

    David Ladd is fantastic in the really good late period Alan Ladd movie The Proud Rebel.

    As for Liverpool, I enjoyed my few days there about a decade ago. I have an attachment to it via the music scene (The Beatles and Echo & The Bunnymen are two of my favorite bands) and because I support Everton FC.

  7. I can’t think of a lot of other Midlands-based horror, though no doubt I’m missing something. That Rutger Hauer giant rat film Split Second was Liverpool-shot, iirc.

  8. LAIR OF THE WHITE WORM saw Ken and co decamp to Derbyshire

  9. Good point. “Still playing Happy Families?” “Not since me mam and dad died, no!”

  10. Wonderful. This is like a Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace episode. I can almost hear Matt Berry’s out of synch voice. Speaking of which have you seen Matthew Holness’s meticulous homage to 1970s pulp crime The Reprisalizer? It’s both slightly depressing and deliciously glorious at the same time.

    http://www.thereprisalizer.com/The_Reprisalizer/About.html

  11. But did you catch the offhand reference made to this movie in the final few minutes of Shaun of the Dead?

  12. I had not seen The Reprisalizer, looks amazing! Very Lindsay Shonteff.

    And I don’t recall whether or not I got the reference at the end of SotD — if it was plain enough, I would, but if it required you to have seen TLDATMM, at that time I wouldn’t have.

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