Meet Jorge Grau, the man who made Manchester mysterious

No profanar el sueño de los muertos (aka The Living Dead at Manchester Morgue) was one of the best films to emerge from Spain’s golden age of Horror.

It is due to be re-released on video and DVD in September this year under one of its alternate (and more literal) titles, Let Sleeping Corpses Lie, and the reason for its continuing marketability and that which sets it above most of the other films of its ilk is the skill and vision of its Catalonian director Jorge Grau...

  Catalonian Creeps: Jorge Grau's Living Dead

A Shivers interview by Josephine Botting

  Selected from Shivers #79

Born in Barcelona, Grau now lives in Madrid in a tenth-floor flat high above the heat and noise of the Spanish capital. Having studied and worked at Cinecittà in Rome during the late 1950s, Grau returned to Spain, despite the censorship of the Franco regime, which greatly restricted the work of film-makers.

Back in Barcelona he began directing, making his first feature in 1962, and got to know other film-makers in the city, including Vicente Aranda, Gonzalo Suárez and Pedro Portabella. Influenced by the French nouvelle vague, they became known as the ‘Barcelona School’.

Bloody Countess

Jorge Grau on location during the golden age During this period, Grau produced some highly original films which on the whole were well-received. They often had elements of the fantastic but his first Horror title was Ceremonia sangrienta (aka The Legend of Blood Castle), although he hadn’t originally envisaged it as such. It was a very personal project and starred Lucía Bosé as Countess Bathory, who bathed in the blood of virgins to preserve her youth. It was filmed in Madrid and at Castel Nuovo in the province of Segovia in 1972 but Grau had had the idea for it long before.

“It started in Czechoslovakia at the festival in Karlovy Vary [where he was exhibiting his experimental 1964 film Acteón]. Someone told me the story of Countess Bathory and it made a great impression on me. It seemed like a feminine version of Faust, that desperation to preserve youth and beauty by a person with power and wealth.

“When I returned to Spain, I wanted to make a film of it, not necessarily a Horror film but a human drama. But the producers saw it as a Horror film and wouldn’t accept my justification that it was an intimate drama. At that time I established a relationship with an agent who liked the idea a lot. So he presented the project Hammer, but soon after he called me and told me they were not interested. And then the film Countess Dracula came out. Well, I don’t know if they copied my idea because it’s a story which is out there, but it seems strange that such a similar project appeared."

Sleeping Corpses

“But the fact that that film had come out made it easier to make mine here. I started to make the film using horror elements. I wanted to try and explain how it happened: the origin of Count Dracula, which coincided with an epidemic of the plague in Central Europe. During the epidemic no one wanted to touch the infected and they often buried them alive. Of course, we’re talking about the 15th century – but during that period of ignorance, lack of culture and fear was born the legend of the living dead, of vampires, which corresponded to the profound emotions of man and his desire for eternal life.”

Perhaps due to the success of Ceremonia sangrienta, he was invited by the Italian producer Edmondo Amati to make a zombie film along the lines of Night of the Living Dead. This was to become No profanar el sueño de los muertos and was Grau’s most successful film internationally.

“I’ve made much more personal films, films in which I told my own stories, and I think it’s a shame that No profanar... is the film which everyone remembers me for. They gave me a script, a Horror script, written by Sandro Continenza, a great scriptwriter, so I knew it was going to be a film which made use of effects and all that. When I read the script, it seemed so well-written, so clean, so good but what I did was to introduce my vision of things.

"The ecological theme seemed a good idea to Sandro and he altered the script a little, he didn’t need to do much to it. It’s something which we are seeing today – mad cows in England, contaminated chickens in Belgium. We are poisoned by a progress which doesn’t consider the consequences.”

Unusually for a European Horror film, The Living Dead... was filmed in England, in Manchester and the Peak District. “It was filmed in Manchester for commercial reasons and because the script was set there. The producer felt that a Horror film set in Rome or Madrid wouldn’t have the same commercial appeal. To him, Manchester seemed a distant, mysterious place, even the name. The truth is, he was right; the film worked and the setting may well be one of the reasons for that..."

Josephine Botting

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