Let Sleeping Corpses Lie (1974)

JUNE 15, 2009

GENRE: MAD SCIENTIST, ZOMBIE
SOURCE: DVD (ONLINE RENTAL)

It’s always great to see a zombie movie that actually works beyond my appreciation for the makeup, and goes with quality over quantity when it comes to the number of zombies/attack scenes. Let Sleeping Corpses Lie (Italian: Non Si Deve Profanare Il Sonno Dei Morti) is one such film. There are only a half dozen or so zombies in the movie, and about as many kill scenes, but they all count.

Instead of staging epic zombie horde scenes, director Jorge Grau instead relies on atmosphere, an impressively creepy tone (at least during the first half), and a fairly original story to make his film work. Of course, its 1974 and there aren’t a hell of a lot of zombie films (at least, the cannibalistic undead kind), but in a way it’s even more of a feat that the film still works 35 years later, and after I’ve seen probably over a hundred zombie films to boot.

It’s also cool that there is a (movie) logical explanation for the zombies that we actually see in action. I don’t mind the lack of explanation in the Romero films (or their remakes), and a lot of the films that DO explain it settle for radiation or some sort of chemical spill (zzzz). Here, it’s a mis-calculated formula that is intended to control the pest population. And it’s delivered by a traditional farm machine that we see all the time, which makes it a bit creepier. Next time you see that TruGreen truck at your neighbors, you might want to arm yourself.

And our hero is kind of a dick, which I love. Of course, nearly all Italian horror films feature a male with some serious issues towards women, but this guy is off in a category of his own. He is introduced at a gas station, and within seconds our heroine accidentally knocks over his motorcycle. An inconvenience to be sure, but he almost instantly demands that she drive him to his destination. Then he demands to drive her car! Later, he gives her shit for ‘being selfish”, because she wants to drop him off without going too far out of her way (she wants to visit her sick sister, he wants to help a friend move).

Eventually he turns pretty likeable though, so it’s OK. And being a slob myself, I sympathize with his character, who attracts the attention of the local constable due to his long hair and “faggot clothes”. And he stages a pretty goddamn impressive escape from a police station; first he throws a towel in a cop’s face (the guy actually falls over from this rather weak attack) before jumping out a window, deftly navigating a labyrinthine stairway/hallway area, and stealing what looks like Ecto-1 and heading back to help the heroine.

And like I said, the kills count when they come. There’s a terrific bit where a woman is literally torn apart while on the phone with her friend (this is pre-Day of the Dead, don’t forget), and the mad doctor guy meets the wrong end of an ax, which results in some nice spillage. The zombie makeup is limited to red contact lenses, but again, since there are so few of them, it allows them to be a bit more memorable. Quick, name a memorable “hero zombie” from Dawn 04 (not counting the rooftop “celebrity” hunting scene). Oh right, there weren’t any.

In a few ways it reminded me of Messiah Of Evil, which gets better every time I see it (it’s one of the few HMAD-specific films I’ve actually gone back and watched again). You got the atmosphere, the off-kilter feeling, and even the hippies. It doesn’t ever go as all out as that film (none of the scares here are as effective as the movie theater one in Messiah), but its in that same pre-“this movie is essentially an effects company demo reel” vein that I really miss, and wish someone like Neil Marshall would attempt to recreate. I’m trying to remember, and I honestly think that Prince of Darkness may have been the last of this type (where there are a finite number of zombies that can actually be contained, as opposed to a “hopeless” scenario like the Resident Evils or any movie that ends in “.... Of The Dead”).

The DVD isn’t exactly jam-packed, but what’s there is worth a look. There’s a 20 minute interview with Grau, and he is great to listen to; explaining filming locations, how certain effects were accomplished, how he got involved with the film, and why he chose a certain actor to play a zombie. He’s also wonderfully candid about actor Arthur Kennedy (“he was a drunk and his career was fading”), something I always love. The interview ends with him impersonating one of the zombies. AB has also dug up a TV spot for the American release, for which the film was puzzlingly re-titled Don’t Open The Window (“...whatever’s out there will wait!”). A still gallery and some radio spots are also included. I would have liked a compendium of all of the film’s titles; it rivals Bay of Blood in that department. I actually had to double check to make sure I hadn’t seen the film under a different title (turns out I was thinking of Tragic Ceremony, which actually DOES share some similarities). Highly recommended.

What say you?

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9 comments:

  1. Yes, this is a good one. Very much inspired by the success of NOTLD, no doubt, but creepy and effective in a low-key way (kinda like CARNIVAL OF SOULS in that same way).

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  2. in Europe (or at least the UK) that film is better known as "The Living Dead At The Manchester Morgue"...

    i like the ending =)

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  3. I love this movie. I hunted it down after Edgar Wright mentioned it at the Shaun of the Dead/ Hot Fuzz thing. It's got the more fresh dead zombie approach. The make up fx were by Fulci's go to guy on Zombie and most of his other flicks, Giannetto De Rossi. He really set the tone for 70's gore. He also did fx on Conan The Destroyer (think mirror monster man and rhino horn god beast) and Rambo 3 (think people blowing up). Also I think this movie has the first zombie baby, and the breast ripping predates Burial Ground (though to it's credit that might have been more breast munching).

    PS I'm totally giving you shit for your "long hair and faggot clothes" from here on out. In response just get pissed and ask me why I can't LET SLEEPING CORPSES LIE.

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  4. Yeah, I really like this film. It made my top ten horror flicks of the seventies (that aren't Jaws, TCM, Halloween, The Exorcist, or DotD)

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  5. Great movie! I really like the scenes at the cemetary.

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  6. Love this one too, glad to see a review for it up!

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  7. I came onto this film late, seeing it for the first time on the recent DVD release, and enjoyed it greatly. For being pre-Dawn, it was quite advanced in the gore and ideas.

    But it stumbled a little when one corpse brings another to life by anointing it's eyelids with blood; I thought the pest wave machine was responsible?

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  8. This one was pretty good. I read on Wikipedia that the bandaged head zombie was one of the most memorable in zombie history. The only thing memorable about him was that he looked like he glued huge patches of pubic hair all over his torso. I hope, for his sake, that that wasn't his real body hair. Definitely grosser than any of the gore in the film.

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  9. Great review, but is a spanish movie (well, coproduction).You should watch El espanto surge de la tumba/Horror rises from the grave with Paul Naschy.

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