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.
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.)
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.
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.
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.