Director: Jorge Grau
Blue Underground

Being one of the earliest European films paying homage to George Romero's NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD, this is also one of the best zombie films ever made (some fans think it's even better than NOTLD). Far more intelligent and well-crafted than any of the Italian gut munchers later inspired by the enormous worldwide success of DAWN OF THE DEAD, this Italian/Spanish co-production has been re-released by Blue Underground in an edition pretty much identical to that of Anchor Bay’s 2000 single-disc release (a limited edition tin box set is now long out of print).

George (Ray Lovelock), an antiques dealer specializing in the occult, hops on his motorcycle and takes off for a peaceful excursion to the English countryside. As he departs the city, we see glimpses of a deteriorating society; dead birds, pollution galore, and listless pedestrians roaming the streets. So numb are these people that a shapely female streaker can't even manage to turn a head. When stopping to get fuel, George's bike is smashed up by Edna (Cristina Galbó) and can't be fixed for a few days. Edna agrees to give George a lift to his destination, but in a moment of untrust and chauvinism, he takes the wheel. Stopping near a lake, George gets out to ask for directions, and Edna is suddenly attacked by a tall, dripping wet, red-eyed man. She gets away safely and when describing her attacker, a local jokes that it sounds like old Guthrie (Fernando Hilbeck), a vagrant (Guthrie in fact drowned himself days ago). Later that night, the two unlikely companions arrive at the home of Edna's sister Katie (Jeannine Mestre), whom they discover outside in a state of shock. Her husband Martin (José Lifante) is found dead and bloodied, and Edna is convinced that it was done by the same man that attacked her. Katie is a heroin addict, so the Police Inspector (Arthur Kennedy) without hesitation believes that she killed her husband in a fit of drugged-out rage. George and Edna are also marked as suspects, and asked not to leave town.

What follows is an adventure of epic proportions, as the young couple confront the living dead while the bigoted Inspector proclaims them as devil worshipping cultists every time a corpse shows up. Arthur Kennedy plays his role with gusto, always displaying loath for the youth culture -- "You hippies with your faggot clothes and long hair...and you hate the police, don't you?," he dictates to the shaggy Lovelock. Lovelock (with heavy Cockney accent dubbed in) and Galbó are very likable as the leads. They are decent people who are innocent, but always catching a bad break, moving from one horrifying incident to another.

LET SLEEPING CORPSES LIE was filmed mostly on location in England and interiors were shot in studios back in Italy and Spain. The film relies on careful characterizations, and ultimately builds into a masterpiece of horror, one piece at a time. Jorge Grau's direction is superb, delivering some of the most terrifying sequences ever filmed, most notably the heroes surrounded by the undead in a dark crypt, and the fiery finale which is set in a hospital.

Even though this is a low budget production, it is able to conceal the fact by concentrating on isolated incidents of the dead coming back to life (here, the zombies are born from an experimental pesticide machine, but only Lovelock's character is convinced of this). With crimson flaring eyes and pasty white faces, the make-up on the zombies is ghoulishly convincing, and not overblown. One of the undead is shown straight from an autopsy and is grotesque to boot (and looks remarkably like The Who's Pete Townsend!). The film does not rely on gore to scare its audience, but there are plenty of unsettling images to turn the stomach (a cop has his intestines torn out, a nurse has her breast ripped open, a doctor is axed in the head, etc.), thanks to Gianetto De Rossi's remarkable effects, which still hold up well today.

LET SLEEPING CORPSES LIE was released in the U.S. by the infamous Hallmark distribution company, and outfit under AIP. Unfortunately, it was issued here under the misleading title DON'T OPEN THE WINDOW, and trimmed of most of its meat and potatoes (the hospital massacre was almost totally eliminated). Hallmark could've had a major drive-in success (as they did with LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT and MARK OF THE DEVIL), but opted to edit it to a less offensive level instead of cashing in on the sensationalism of NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD. Blue Underground’s handsome DVD presentation is identical to the old Anchor Bay release. Letterboxed at 1.85:1 and anamorphic, the Eastman color photography is vivid and detail is excellent for the most part, with some low-lit scenes coming off a bit dark. Only the English language track is included (it looks as though most of the international cast spoke their lines in English) which contains Arthur Kennedy’s real voice. There is either a 2.0 track or 5.1 surround track to chose from: the latter is recommended and truly brings out the soundtrack’s eerie wailing and Giuliano Sorgini’s fantastic score.

The best extra on this disc is an interview with director Jorge Grau (who also introduces the movie). Spry and youthful looking (Grau was 70 at the time of the interview), he gives enthusiastic insight on his major cult achievement, and rightly so, comes across as very proud of it. Relating a number of interesting anecdotes, he also tells how he was instrumental on the unforgettable soundtrack, creating a lot of the sound effects, as well as devising the horrible noise that the living dead make in the film. At the end of the 20-minute conversation, Grau even does a little walking corpse impersonation! Other extras include U.S. radio spots, a poster and still gallery and the original DON’T OPEN THE WINDOW TV spot which served as the inspiration for Edgar Wright’s hilarious faux trailer “Don’t” in GRINDHOUSE (2007). (George R. Reis)