While the idea of zombies being caused by anything having to do with radiation may seem like a natural plot development, the idea is rarely done gracefully. Night of the Living Dead broached the topic without confirmation and it is never addressed in the subsequent films, Nightmare City ranks up there with the worst zombie movies ever made, and Fido takes a stab at ‘50s artifice but falls slightly short of its campy goals. By these standards, The Living Dead at Manchester Morgue, otherwise known as Let Sleeping Corpses Lie and Don’t Open the Window, is probably the best film about radioactive zombies ever made.
The Living Dead at Manchester Morgue starts with an antique shop owner travelling out to the country and running afoul of a troubled young woman who is attempting to reach her even more troubled sister. Their voyage halts with a stalled car, at which point the shop owner continues on foot and discovers some scientists using an unobtrusive radiation to kill insects. Unfortunately, that radiation may be affecting the weakened frontal lobes of the recently dead, and, appropriately, one such unfortunate attacks both the young woman and her sister’s husband, leading down a path that will inevitably lead to a significant amount of bloodshed.
While a few of the all-too-familiar tropes of traditional horror films kick in, like the bold hero, the helpless heroine, and the cops who refuse to believe in superstitious mumbo jumbo, The Living Dead at Manchester Morgue is surprisingly fresh in its plotting and execution; sure, there are some pretty obvious horror sequences and perhaps too little gore to pay off on the premise, but for a post-Romero zombie film, a world in which the fates of the protagonists can be decided on a whim is still groundbreaking stuff.
Even better, the idea of radiation being the cause of the dead returning to life isn’t merely a plot device with pretentious overtones hinting at the dangers of technological advancement; again, if one wants to see this done wrong, one only need look at Umberto Lenzi’s Nightmare City. In The Living Dead at Manchester Morgue, the whole ‘folly of man’ angle is played up without becoming intrusive, putting the idea that people shouldn’t meddle with forces they don’t understand in the forefront.
Surprisingly, the idea that the cops are clueless in The Living Dead at Manchester Morgue is married well to this theme; rather than their disbelief serving merely as a device to push the plot forward, the officer in charge sticks to his guns resolutely, dismissing evidence and seeking to blame the freewheeling hippies he victimizes from the get-go rather than looking at the systemic causes that lead all of them to their plight.
Though it lacks the overwhelming gothic charm of a film like Plague of the Zombies and the no-holds-barred insanity of Cemetery Man, The Living Dead at Manchester Morgue carves out a niche with its distinctive blend of procedural drama and oddly well-conceived set pieces. Though some of the zombie kills could be considered tame even by the standard of Night of the Living Dead, the zombie eye makeup is sufficient to cause an uneasy night’s sleep.
The Living Dead at Manchester Morgue may not make anyone’s top five lists of best zombie movies ever, the fact that it floats so high above most of the other undead flotsam is reason enough to give it a serious look. Featuring some fairly gratuitous overtures at Joe Bob Briggs’ infamous Three B’s, thanks to one of those freewheeling hippies streaking during the film’s opening credits, and enough common sense among the protagonists to keep one’s disbelief reliably suspended, The Living Dead at Manchester Morgue can best be described as a film you won’t regret seeing. If you need any further convincing, keep in mind that this film’s marketing campaign inspired Shaun of the Dead director Edgar Wright’s unforgettable Grindhouse trailer Don’t.
Fortunately, even the most compromising of horror fans don’t have to look too hard or break the bank for a copy of The Living Dead at Manchester Morgue; Blue Underground has made both the DVD and Blu-ray versions of this film available at about $11 on Amazon.