THE LIVING DEAD AT THE MANCHESTER MORGUE OR WHY THE LIVING DEAD DECIDED TO WAKE UP
THE LIVING DEAD AT THE MANCHESTER MORGUE OR WHY THE LIVING DEAD DECIDED TO WAKE UP. UNDERSTANDING ITS HISTORICAL CONTEXT
by Erika Tiburcio Moreno
NO PROFANAR EL SUEÑO DE LOS MUERTOS(1974) is a well-known horror film by the Catalonian filmmaker Jorge Grau Solá, who directed Blood Castle the previous year. As other cultural products, this film must be considered as a historical source which allows us to delve into history.
First at all, the setting is quite important due to its symbolical meaning. Hence, despite setting in the UK, all the themes of the film concerned Western people and, in some aspects, Spanish people specifically. In a certain way, a distant location allowed the director to speak more freely in order to avoid the Francoist censorship. So London is the first place we watch. This sense, London was a symbol of modernity and progress, whose ideas are reinforced by the hectic pace, the crowding and the noise. On top of these images, there are other crucial frames, related to pollution and rubbish which set the main problem of this movie off. Few minutes later, the film locates the action in the outskirts of Manchester. Unlike the city, this area is very quiet and safe, and everybody knows each other. Indeed, the first zombie is quickly recognized by his neighbours after a brief description.
The calm of this area is interrupted by the introduction of technology which will improve the inhabitants’ lives. But finishing the plagues off through ultrasonic irradiations turns the “natural” and “logical” evolution into a macabre rebellion of nature. As human science, based on rationality, is aimed to modify nature as human beings pleased, the logical rules also change. So, the impossible makes possible: the dead corpses come to life again and the zombie becomes a real creature. Consequently, the own human action is the responsible of creating the monster who will eradicate humankind. In this film, this monster is a reflection of the fear of harmful consequences of human intervention in nature. In this sense, since the book entitled SILENT SPRING(Rachel Caron, 1962) was published, the awareness on the importance of environmental issues has increased.
Regarding the subgenre, the Zombie film, it is generally acknowledged that, after NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD (George A. Romero, 1968)release, the “Zombiexploitation” was triggered and movies from different countries cropped up: HORROR RISES FROM THE TOMB (Carlos Aured, 1972, Spain), DEATHDREAM (Bob Clark, 1972, USA), BARON BLOOD (Mario Bava, 1972, Italy)… Obviously, the desire to make a profit is one of the main reasons why many films belonging to subgenres were produced. Besides that, the zombie was the incarnation of the human monster whose main purpose is to destroy humanity, It was no surprising that human being was responsible of human destruction such as the Holocaust, the WWII, the concentration camps, the Spanish civil war, etc. Likewise, the 20th century was the backdrop of one of the most dreadful inventions which was created to destroy humankind: the nuclear bomb. All that leads to understand the zombie as the embodiment of the revenge of all dead during the 20th as well as of the desire of humankind to destroy herself.
Returning to THE LIVING DEAD AT THE MANCHESTER MORGUE, zombies are a kind of intelligent and fast monsters who work together to obtain food. Although they are quite similar to human beings, they have some unreal features: the contagious is through a bloody touch, they don’t reflect on mirrors and the light is a nuisance. Again, the threshold of fantasy is crossed by fantasy monsters who come from the underworld. Hence, the director tries to stress this idea with the graveyard scene. Both main characters, who know what is happening, and a policeman witness the raising of dead corpses in middle of a place thought for the eternal rest and, hence, this image transgresses not only the Christian belief of afterlife, but also some commandments such as you shall not murder. This way, the image goes beyond when we observe powerless how they commit cannibalism and they feel nothing but satisfaction of their hunger.
The main characters are both George and Edna, two young people who portrayed an archetype of Spanish youth. While he is brave, smart, determined, handsome, and wears fashion clothes like bell-bottoms or a leather jacket and has long hair; she is very sweet, pretty and responsible and she has a fashionable style too. That way, they were a role-model for the audience, mainly youths of the same age. For its part, Edna’s sister is addicted to drugs, being a representation of this problem. During the seventies, many Spanish young people got involved with drugs and, even though, lots of them died because of the excess. During the following years, Kinkixploitation films gave a hyper-realistic depiction of this problem but, prior to that, this film displayed drugs as a tragedy.
Furthermore, there is another part of Spanish society which is presented in this feature film: the police officers. The inspector is an authoritarian man who hates what George represents. Symbolically, he and the rest of policemen are the incarnation of the law. The rational is personified by these authority forces, the doctors, the technicians who install the irradiation machine and an expert in Satanism. Again, the director intends to show the irrational of rationalism and a historical paranoia. Despite not believing Edna and George, the inspector quickly thinks that all is happening because of Satanism and, how the director demonstrates, although there is no evidence, they are accused of desecrating graves and worshipping Satan only because an “expert” states.
Finally, it stands out the nihilistic end because no one can survive and the zombie infection spreads around the country. It is important to point out the disagreement of George and the inspector because of they portrayed two different parts of Spain: one of them represents young people, who want to change things and the other, the authorities, is stuck on the traditional values and hates the modernity and the progress.
Erika Tiburcio (nancykrueger) lives in Madrid and works as a teacher. Currently she is doing her PhD thesis about the serial killer in American horror movies from Psycho to Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer. She loves horror movies, comic books, video games, etc. She has contributed to some Spanish websites and magazines like Phenomena Experience magazine and La Mansión del Terror and has written some articles for different international magazines like Serial Killer Calendar.