This weekend, I watched the 1974 Italian/British zombie film Let Sleeping Corpses Lie. Overall, I’d give it a “B-.” Not Dawn of the Dead, but not Rise of the Dead either.
At first glance, the plot looks pretty standard: Two attractive young people find themselves traveling in a remote part of the British countryside when they begin to encounter mysteriously animated corpses. Concurrently, the viewer learns that the government is using this remote locale to test a new agricultural device that eliminates insects from crops by emitting radiation that causes the insects to “go mad” and attack one another. Our hero and heroine eventually piece together what has been obvious to the viewer for a while (that, doye!, the machine is animating the corpses), and set off on a quest to shut down the machine.
But on top of this ho-hum plot, there were two aspects of Let Sleeping Corpses Lie that stuck out and really made the film unique.
First of all, this is the closest I’ve ever seen a movie come to being an “Austin Powers-style zombie film.” That is to say, there are memorable and funny over-the-top British 1970’s moments all over the place that seem almost campy by today’s standards. The protagonist’s personal style (hair, wardrobe, beard) seems derived directly from Barry Gibb, and can’t help but make a contemporary viewer smile. A rural policeman derides the clothing of the hip, young Londoner as “faggoty” and is aggressively, almost unbelievably, “square.” The protagonist responds to the policeman with a Nazi salute and a cry of “Heil, Hitler.” (Again, an almost unbelievably aggressive response to perceived Fascism.) This sort of 1970’s cultural clash was a nice surprise, and gave the film a connection to place and time (and social issues) that you don’t see in many zombie films.
The other aspect of Let Sleeping Corpses Lie that intrigued me was its use of the old horror movie plot-device in which the protagonist is falsely blamed for the murderous actions of a monster. It’s easy to pull this off when the monster is a vampyre or were-wolf, who can quickly disappear into a misty fen or transform itself into an entirely different physical manifestation. But with zombies–who are physically slow and mentally unaware of the advantages of subterfuge–it’s a trickier thing. I won’t say it’s 100% believable in Let Sleeping Corpses Lie, but at least they give it a go. Throughout the film, the protagonists are pursued by a conservative rural police inspector who doesn’t believe in zombies and is convinced that the murders he finds must be attributable to a Satanic cult from London holding “Black Masses.” (I guess those were a thing in the 1970’s.) Anyhow, the police inspector always manages to discover a body just moments after the zombies have wandered away from it. At one point, upon putting down a hated foe, the inspector declaims (something like): “I wish zombies were real, so I could kill you again!” Needless to say, when he realizes that zombies are real, it is all but too late for him…
What else… The zombie action scenes are few and far between, but there are definitely some memorable moments. (My favorite involved zombies breaking down a door using their own headstones as a battering ram.) There are a few other neat action sequences, which I won’t give away.
All in all, this was an interesting find. Parts of the plot are certainly hackneyed, but other aspects of this film are really unique and unexpected. If you like zombies and culture-conflict in 1970’s England, it might be your cup of tea.