Review: “Let Sleeping Corpses Lie” (1974)

These days, zombie movies are a dime-a-decapitation. We have zombie comedies, zombie musicals, zombie gay porn (seriously.), and more variations on the standard “dead rise from the Earth to consume the flesh of the living” routine than there were shambling extras in the first season of The Walking Dead.

But back in 1974, the modern zombie genre was still in its infancy. Sure, George Romero’s groundbreaking 1968 Night of the Living Dead had reinvented the zombie survival genre for a new, more socially-aware generation, but the trend wouldn’t really gel until he picked up the thread in 1978 with Dawn of the Dead.

Nestled right in the newborn zombie craze’s soft spot is a 1974 curiosity from Spain called Let Sleeping Corpses Lie. Actually, it’s also called Don’t Open the Window, Do Not Speak Ill of the Dead, The Living Dead, and The Living Dead at the Manchester Morgue – which is the most curious title, as none of the zombie action takes place in Manchester.

Timely, socially-conscious, wonderfully gory, and unique for its use of the idyllic, damp English countryside as the setting for some serious zombie mayhem, Let Sleeping Corpses Lie is a standout in the genre for all these reasons and one more:

I think it could be the first zombie movie with a gay hero.

Ray Lovelock as “George

I say “could” because to be fair, our antique-shop-owning, tight-pant-wearing, sassy barb-slinging, lady-disregarding protagonist, George, is never technically identified as gay. But I’ll just let you reread that last sentence and do the math.

As Corpses begins, we meet George (played by Ray Lovelock, an Italian-English actor you may not know from such films as Rabbit in the Pit, Oh – Grandmother’s Dead, and … huh, Fiddler on the Roof? Really!), who is closing up his extremely fancy antiques shop as the sun sets. He’s sporting a very fetching cardigan-and-tie combo, accessorized by some sort of fertility fetish sculpture that must come into play later on, except that it doesn’t.

This is but one of many false leads and red herrings, so keep up.

During the opening credits, George drives through an extremely polluted city (Manchester, I think?), the cumulative visual weight of which is lifted only when an extra with an insane afro strips nude and runs through traffic, flashing peace signs. It’s worth noting that George takes no notice of this.

Once on the road, George stops at a gas station and promptly has his motorbike smashed to shit by some batty woman named Edna (Christine Galbo). Apparently “women driver” jokes would translate well across the Atlantic even though there is ABSOLUTELY NO TRUTH TO THEM.

In true bitchy queen fashion, George makes no attempt to assuage the lady’s guilt or nerves, and instead demands that she drive him to his country house – where he is looking forward to a quiet weekend with his plants and antiques. George is quick to assure her that he’s not going to make a pass at her, and calls her “darling” in a decidedly cheeky way.

Not that this means ANYTHING, of course. Remember – this is the Bowie decade.

Anyway, Edna – and BTW, our leads are named George and Edna? Really? – is concerned about it getting dark (if you’re keeping tabs, women are now compulsive nudists, bad drivers, AND afraid of the dark), so George agrees to drop her at her sister’s and take her car to his house. When Edna asks for what George is in such a hurry and wonders if it’s a girl, he quickly and curtly responds, “a house.” So, again, George is running away from the city and this perfectly attractive lone female in order to get to a secluded villa where he’s got lots of wainscoting and faux-finishing to do.

Nope, nothing gay here!

They get lost, though, and when George stops at a farm in the middle of Buttcrack, Yorkshire, he stumbles upon a group of experimental pest control guys trying to kill grasshoppers with some massive radiation device. Fair enough.

While George is stumbling upon the biggest can of Raid in the countryside, Edna is stumbled upon by a very wet and very dead looking man who comes out of nowhere and tries to get in her car. It’s wonderfully evocative of the classic graveyard attack in Night of the Living Dead, only here there’s no graveyard – it’s in the middle of an idyllic valley in the middle of nowhere. Now that’s weird.

Meanwhile, it turns out that Edna’s sister is a junkie – but that turns out to be the least of her worries when a zombie attacks her and her photographer husband when they’re out on a night shoot. George and Edna show up at just the right time to save her, but when the police arrive they are convinced that Lady Trackmarks is the one who murdered her husband, not some walking corpse.

Forced to stay in town during the investigation, George and Edna shack up at the local inn. Yet again, George goes out of his way to make clear immediately upon arrival that they want separate rooms and will only be sleeping in them, no hanky-panky. Okay, kid – we get it. He makes a very hushed phonecall to a “friend” at his country house (which he had previously suggested was empty), insisting that he’s on his way. Hmm. Why the mystery?

Since they’re stuck in town, George and Edna decide to develop her sister’s photos to try to exonerate themselves in the attack, and find that there was an attacker on the scene but that he doesn’t show up on film. What? Exactly. No idea. And it’s never really brought up again, so you’re welcome to ignore this red herring as well.

Through all of the family drama, George just wants to get the hell out of dodge. When he tries to tell the asshole police inspector for the tenth time that he has nothing to do with this and just wants to go on his way, the inspector attacks George, commenting on his long hair and “faggot clothes”. The even stare with which George meets these insults neither confirms nor denies the detective’s clear (and clearly bigoted) insinuation, but it does suggest that this isn’t the first time he’s come up against this kind of bully:

George and Edna then rush to the graveyard to see if the waterlogged fella who attacked Edna is indeed the tramp who died in the village last week, and here we get one of the film’s centerpiece sequences – a zombie attack in a crypt that’s wonderfully claustrophobic and weird, and is capped with the gruesome disemboweling of a cop. There’s also an odd bit of business with the zombie “baptizing” other corpses with blood on their eyelids, which raises them from the dead. So wait – is it the radiation from the farmers, or is it something supernatural? No clue – but whatever it is, it’s about to go down big-time at the hospital.

There’s a bit of racing about, with George being arrested (the macho bigot cop slaps him across the face, which is generally how a man would hit a woman in films of this time – not another man) and escaping, Edna having a Grade-A freakout in a rural gas station, and all parties eventually winding up at the hospital, where the dead are walking and Edna’s sister is trapped.

Here we get lots of zombie goodness, including a classic scene where a trio of munchers literally rip the tits off a night nurse. It’s kind of amazing, even for someone who loves tittehs as much as I do. One of the zombies is a skinny fella wearing nothing but a do-rag, some stitches and an Ace bandage wrapped around his hips, making him one of the most awkwardly high-fashion walking corpses in the canon. One of my favorite moments involves this zombie and two others sitting quietly in a hospital room, munching their dinners in separate corners and not bothering anyone. See? They just want to be left alone! (To eat us.)

Eventually, George loses Edna to a zombie and a fire, and George is himself shot to death by the asshole cop, who even makes a crack about wishing George would come back to life so that he could kill him again. Soon enough he gets his wish, when the reanimated George appears in the final scene to get his revenge on the fucker.

It’s a pretty awesome brand of cinematic retribution, and one that seems to deliberately echo Romero’s bleak finale – in which his African-American hero is gunned down by rednecks after surviving the zombie horde – but with a surprise stinger of empowerment. Romero’s choice to cast a black man as his hero was revolutionary for the time, and not something that went unnoticed by fans of the genre – is it that much of a stretch to imagine that the creators of Corpses followed Romero’s lead in making their hero a gay man subject to small-town prejudices? There are so many other clear nods to Night of the Living Dead that it would not be at all surprising had the filmmakers deliberately chosen another civil rights struggle to embed in their narrative.

What’s more, while George’s annoyance with Edna eventually gives way to basic human empathy and kindness, that’s as far as it goes. In the only scene where there is even a hint of romantic chemistry between them, Edna warmly places her hand on George’s face … and he immediately moves away. Again, if George is indeed gay, it’s so subtly presented (brilliantly, really) that I myself didn’t even entertain the thought until the third time I saw the movie. But that doesn’t mean that it’s not there – it’s simply that the film is already so fascinating and George’s personal life so otherwise absent that there are far more pressing questions to address.

Gay hero or no, Let Sleeping Corpses Lie is a gem thanks to its odd setting, lush landscapes and str0ng script, which propels the bloodsoaked action along at a satisfying clip. Toss in some guts, a hilariously over-the-top performance or two, and a residual contact high from the counterculture movement, and you’ve got one of the zombie genre’s most unique and enjoyable entries.


Let Sleeping Corpses Lie is Unrated but contains scenes of graphic disembowelment, horrific fashion, and absolutely no sexual chemistry.

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