Let Sleeping Corpses Lie

From the early French colonial horrors of White Zombie (1932) and Revolt of the Zombies (1936) to the various Italian chunk-blowers from the 1980s (such as Lucio Fulciís Zombie [1979], City of the Walking Dead [1980], and his inspired The Beyond [1981]), the zombie film has never been easy to define. Arguably, George A. Romeroís 1968 classic Night of the Living Dead gave the most defining shape to this most nihilistic of all genres. No longer were zombies mere shambling corpses awakened from their sleep by voodoo or the supernatural. From this point on, zombies became an all-consuming, all-devouring, walking apocalypse. Romero would later expound on this concept with his brilliant Dawn of the Dead (1979).

Jorge Grauís 1974 Spanish/Italian film, Let Sleeping Corpses Lie, is undoubtedly the best of the zombie films from the 1970s, excluding Dawn of the Dead. And like Romeroís zombie films, Let Sleeping Corpses Lie gladly wears its subtext on its tattered sleeves, for Grauís film is also part eco-horror film (Frogs [1972], Squirm [1978], etc.) and part youth rebellion picture.

Now available on DVD from Anchor Bay Entertainment, Let Sleeping Corposes Lie is set in the English countryside. The opening scenes of the film introduce us to a young antiques dealer, George (Ray Lovelock) and a young woman, Edna (Christine Galbo). While trying to escape the pollution and dreariness of London for the weekend, George runs into Edna. Little do they know that their inauspicious meeting will culminate in a battle with the living dead, who have been inadvertently resurrected by the governmentís new ultrasound insect-killing machine. And if that isnít bad enough, our hero and the girl must also fend off the strong-arm tactics of the local police, led by Sgt. McCormick (Arthur Kennedy), who believes that the young couple is responsible for the bodies that soon start piling up.

Like most films in this sub-genre, Let Sleeping Corpses Lie is more a visceral, emotional experience than an intellectual one. Leave your logic at the door and youíll do fine. Thatís not meant as a backhanded compliment either. Though weak on plot and characterization, the film is filled with moments of genuine uneasiness and terror (the first time we spot a zombie as it shuffles toward Edna; George and Edna stuck in a crypt as the dead awaken; the finale in a hospital as the living dead dish out a little payback). Grau sustains the paranoid and oppressive mood throughout, as well as the strangeness of the entire experience. Even the seemingly ridiculous premise of the ultrasound waves causing the dead to rise plays out with a surrealistic plausibility.

Unfortunately, what keeps the film from ranking as a classic of its genre (unlike Night of the Living Dead, Dawn of the Dead, or The Beyond) is Grauís naÔve and laughably simplistic ecological and sociological stances, as well as the outdated Youth vs. The Man premise. The character of George, who we are supposedly meant to identify with, comes across as a thoroughly rude and obnoxious bastard who, despite his long hair and leather jacket, is just as close-minded and bullying as the reactionary cop, McCormick.

That said, Let Sleeping Corpses Lie does deliver when itís needed most, and the filmís influence over the years is by no means a fluke. Fulciís own zombie films -- especially City of the Walking Dead -- owe a huge debt to Grauís film, even down to Fulciís zombies mimicking the death-rattle howls of Grauís living dead creatures.

Francisco Sempereís cinematography beautifully casts the English countryside in a lush-though-naturalistic light. The tension and eventual nightmare that unfolds is appropriately incongruous in such a seemingly placid setting. The special makeup effects by Giannetto De Rossi -- who would later go on to work on Fulciís Zombie, City of the Walking Dead, The Beyond, and Antonio Margheritiís Cannibal Apocalypse, among others -- are excellent and relatively subdued for a film of this kind.

Director Jorge Grau gives a short and amusing introduction to his film on Anchor Bayís DVD. The disc also includes an entertaining and fascinating 20-minute interview with the director, as well as a poster and stills gallery, and some rather hilarious radio spots.


Let Sleeping Corpses Lie is now available on DVD from Anchor Bay Entertainment. The disc includes a widescreen presentation (aspect ratio 1.85:1) that has been enhanced for 16x9 TVs. In addition, the disc includes an interview with director Jorge Grau, a poster and still gallery, and radio and TV spots. Suggested retail price: $24.98. For more information, check out the Anchor Bay Entertainment Web site.