Digi-Schlock: THE LIVING DEAD AT MANCHESTER MORGUE (Synapse Blu-Ray)

The Living Dead At Manchester Morgue has enjoyed a healthy life on home video since the digital era: previous incarnations were released by Anchor Bay, under the title Let Sleeping Corpses Lie, and Blue Underground. It has most recently been licensed by Synapse Films and they have produced the best version to date, excelling in both transfer quality and the amount of extras.

Please note that this review refers to the standard edition release. As of this writing, a steelbook edition is still available that also includes a bonus DVD, liner notes and a CD of Giuliano Sorgini’s score. Both versions have the same extras on the blu-ray.

Transfer: prior editions of this film have suffered from a variety of issues: flaws in the audio, video-based titles that diverge from the original release and noticeable noise reduction in the Blue Underground transfer. Synapse’s version rectifies these flaws. The transfer is derived from a fresh 4K remaster taken from the original negative. The result is bursting with rich levels of detail and color and has a nice, organic-looking level of film grain. The audio has been restored and the viewer can choose from the original mono English mix or a new 5.1 stereo mix created by Synapse. Schlockmania utilized the 5.1 remix for this review and it’s an effective version that adds an immersive quality to Sorgini’s score, with zombie voice moans and growls that seem to surround you.

Commentary Track #1 (Troy Howarth): Howarth hits the ground running with a commentary that offers equal parts historical detail and critical analysis. Grau’s career is covered in detail as well as the relationship between this film and Night Of The Living Dead. There are interesting side-topics like the relationship between Generalissimo Francisco Franco’s rule and the development of commercial filmmaking in Spain as well as Arthur Kennedy’s sometimes conflicted relationship to the film work he did in Italy in the ’70s. As is often the case, Howarth impresses with his biographies for the cast: he doesn’t stop at the main players but also covers virtually every featured cast member with a detailed bio plus additional credits.

Commentary Track #2 (Bruce Holecheck and Nathaniel Thompson): Holecheck and Thompson cover a lot of similar territory to Howarth’s track – Grau’s career, Night Of The Living Dead, etc. – but it has its own unique, conversational vibe thanks to the rapport of the contributors. They find their own take on the topics, providing different or additional information that make it worth listening for fans of the film. They come up with some unique material like an interesting theory that explains the fragile, emotional quality of Galbo’s performance and a discussion of how Lovelock contributed music to the films he starred in. They also pull off the rare feat of pointing out gaffes in the film without seeming smarmy or self-congratulatory about it: in fact, they make a case for how noticing such things becomes part of the charm of the viewing experience.

Jorge Grau – Catalonia’s Cult Film King (88:58): a feature-length British doc from Naomi Holwill that covers the entirety of Grau’s career. Grau himself anchors the piece via an interview where he reveals himself to be an insightful artist with a likeable dry wit and his memories are supplemented by interview material with a variety of U.K. critics, including Schlockmania favorite Kim Newman, as well as key collaborators like Sorgini and FX maestro Gianetto De Rossi. A lot of fascinating material is covered here: how Grau transitioned from fine art to directing genre fare, the challenges of making cinema during the reign of Francisco Franco and the circuitous route The Living Dead At Manchester Morgue took to achieving influential cult film status. There’s copious analysis of Manchester Morgue from multiple critical viewpoints, much of which will enhance your appreciation of the film.

The Scene Of The Crime (15:24): this featurette offers a chat between De Rossi and film historian/documentary filmmaker Eugenio Ercolani. De Rossi is low key but irreverent as he discusses how he got involved with the film, his impressions of Grau, his suprisingly critical thoughts about the zombies in Night Of The Living Dead and his rather practical take on working in the horror genre. Note: De Rossi speaks in English but since his accent is thick, subtitles have been helpfully included.

Gianetto De Rossi Q&A (42:07): If you want more De Rossi, this sitdown from a UK film festival gives you plenty. Ercolani returns to moderate and ask plenty of questions that allow the maestro to give the audience a freewheeling, often bluntly humorous tour through his impressive career. You’ll learn about how he almost worked for Billy Wilder and hear his uncensored takes on figures as diverse as David Lynch, Dino De Laurentiis and Sylvester Stallone. Of course, he also pays tribute to Lucio Fulci and tells a great tale about creating zombie makeup with little resources for Zombie. He’s as witty as he is unpretentious and fans will enjoy his take-no-prisoners style. Note: those helpful English subtitles are also included here.

Additional Extras: you get the lengthy (almost four minutes) European trailer, a pair of fun t.v. spots with killer ‘hard sell’ narration from the film’s U.S. release as Don’t Open The Window and two creepy radio ads, also from a U.S. release.

Summation: unless Synapse does a UHD of this title, this is going to be the version to beat for this title. If you’re a fan, don’t hesitate to buy.

To read Schlockmania’s film review of The Living Dead At Manchester Morgue, click here.

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