Zombie Lake (1981)
By: Craig Villinger on September 26, 2008  |  Comments  |  Bookmark and Share
Image (USA). Region 1, NTSC. 1.66:1 (16:9 enhanced). English DD 2.0 Mono, French DD 2.0 Mono. 83 minutes
The Movie
Director: J.A. Laser
Starring: Howard Vernon, Robert Foster, Pierre Escourrou, Marcia Sharif
Screenplay: Julius Valery, A.L. Mariaux
Country: France/Spain
AKA: Le Lac Des Morts Vivants
External Links
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As a filmmaker, Jean Rollin - along with other Euro luminaries such as Jess Franco and Joe D'amato - is something of an enigma. Every now and then he produces outstanding efforts like The Living Dead Girl and Fascination, but mostly he churns out complete and utter crap. Given the scattershot nature of his output over the years, I don't know if Rollin is a talented director whose efforts are hampered by external factors when he is bad, or a complete hack who manages to blindly fluke a bullseye when he is good. Who knows… the truth probably lies somewhere in between. At any rate, Rollin definitely didn't fluke a bullseye with Zombie Lake. In fact, his dart went sailing into the abyss and has not been seen since.

Zombie Lake presents us with a quiet, picturesque village in rural France during the 1950s that has been hiding a dirty secret – a secret that is about to come back and, quite literally, bite it. You see, during World War II some of the townsfolk, working with the French resistance, ambushed a squadron of German soldiers and dumped their bodies in the local lake to avoid detection, but now, years later, the slaughtered Nazis have emerged from their watery grave as flesh hungry zombies intent on revenge, and naked women and cheaply attired French gentleman are doomed to pay the price!

Yeah, I know what you're thinking: "Nazi's, zombies, naked women… this movie is gonna be fucking sweet dude!" It isn't though, trust me. In fact, even by Jean Rollin standards (the directing credit actually goes to " J.A. Laser" here as the film also had some directorial input from Spanish helmer Julian de Laserna, but for the sake of simplicity I'll refer to Rollin as the culprit) it's a slow moving, and at times downright boring affair.

The film gets off to a really slow start. For the first six minutes the camera casually lingers on the body of a young woman as she strips down and swims in the titular lake. Sure, she is naked, and Rollin certainly isn't afraid to get up close with the camera, but did we really need to look a woman swimming for six minutes? And from there the pace hardly quickens. Basically, for the first 50 minutes nothing much happens, apart from some female nudity, and then the zombies go on a bit of a bender and we see a few randomly strung together attack sequences, before the townsfolk eventually lynch the undead soldiers, with flaming mannequins dropping all over the place.

The end.

That's it. That's basically the whole movie.

There is some padding in between of course – including woeful WWII flashbacks and a sub-plot involving one of the Nazi soldiers who knocked up a French villager just before his death and won't let his current state of zombification stop him from looking out for his young daughter (is it actually possible to have a touching father/daughter moment between a zombie and his living offspring? Well, Rollin tries his hardest) but honestly, I don't think Rollin had much of a script to work with here. None of the characters are memorable, and extended periods without any dialogue and characters that occasionally stand around doing nothing more than blinking once or twice attest to this.

Incidentally, one of the screenwriters, credited as "A.L. Mariaux", was actually none other than Jess Franco. If you ask me, the pairing of Rollin and Franco is bound to produce an unmitigated turd of a movie!

Anyway, if the snails pace and poor scripting doesn't put you to sleep you may find numerous displays of incompetent filmmaking to laugh at. Many of the underwater lake shots were clearly filmed in a swimming pool, with Rollin making no attempt to hide the walls; crew and production equipment work their way into shots more than once; blood tubes are visible for extended periods (Rollin was obviously working on a one take only basis here); and as for the zombie make-up… oh dear lord, it's a sight to behold. My words simply cannot describe how laughably bad the zombies look! These guys are seriously green – I'm talking glow in the dark green here folks – with the make-up effects consisting of little more than smeared on green grease and wads of toilet paper. I'm sure they were supposed to look fearsome, but the zombies actually look kind of like kids dressed up as the Incredible Hulk for Halloween. The zombie make-up also appears to have been applied haphazardly by handicapped people as the green mess often ends just after the zombies' chins, and you can see it smeared all over the collars of their snazzy German army uniforms. Plus, it even rubs-off on the victims during the zombie attacks! You'll be groaning whenever the zombies are on screen for sure, but if the sight of these shuffling monstrosities doesn't cause a chuckle or two then your sense of humour has clearly gone walkabout.

Speaking of the zombies – they, like the film itself – are really slow. No, I don't mean slow in the head (well, actually, they do look pretty vacant, but most zombies do I suppose) - I mean they move slowly. Even more so than your average Romero or Fulci shuffler. So slow in fact that I'm amazed they actually got their hands on any victims! Don't go expecting any gory zombie mayhem either as the zombie attack scenes, the savior of many a bad zombie movie, are sadly bereft of blood and guts here, and are staged with a clear lack of enthusiasm and/or skill from the director and cast. One sequence in particular where two zombies take down a police officer looked like some sort of awkward home-erotic ménage à trois. Fun to watch I suppose, if you're that way inclined.

And believe it or not the zombies even fight amongst themselves at one point in Zombie Lakeand it's another embarrassing melding of gay love making/amateur wrestling that will have you snorting through the nose. The zombies move so slowly in this tussle that I actually thought the whole sequence had been shot in slow motion at first glance, but no, it hadn't.

I should probably stop sledging Zombie Lake at this point because if I continue talking about every moment of stupidity in the movie we'll be on this page all day. Plus, I wouldn't want to give you the impression that I truly hated it, because, truth be told, I didn't. Yes, it is slow and boring and on par with the works of Ed Wood in terms of professionalism (and the awful English dubbing doesn't make it look any less stupid) but the film does have a quaint 70s Euro charm to it (even though it was shot in the early 80s) and is surrounded by a definite "so bad it's good" aura at times. It also features a whopping amount of gratuitous female nudity (in particular look for the sequence where a bunch of basketballers rock up to the lake – they're not that attractive, but Rollin's camera loves hovering voyeuristically between their legs as they kick to stay afloat) and despite the displays of dunderheaded incompetence, or lack of interest, that hamper almost every facet of the production Rollin somehow manages to make the whole film look picturesque. I've always thought photography was where Rollin's true talent lies, and this movie doesn't prove me wrong.

Don't let these brief pockets of watchability fool you into thinking I may have just sat through an enjoyable movie though – it's crap, and you probably won't enjoy Zombie Lake much at all. For those who like crap it's possibly one of the most incompetently produced movies ever made that still manages to deliver some sort of cheap entertainment value, but it's definitely a one time only viewing experience at the most. The second time I watched it I felt like giving Doctor Jack Kevorkian a call.
Image's 16:9 enhanced 1.66:1 presentation is surprisingly sharp. Colours are a little drab, and print damage is evident at times, but considering the age and low budget of the film it looks fantastic here.
A dodgy English dub is provided along with the original French audio track, however for some baffling reason Image hasn't bothered to include any accompanying English subtitles, so the French audio won't be of much use to those of us who can't parlez francais.

Both the English and French tracks are presented in mono, and for a film that was shot in the days just before stereo became the norm they are perfectly serviceable with clear dialogue and no annoying snap crackle and pop. Audio sync issues were noticeable occasionally (and no, I don't mean the dubbing) but they never became a distraction.
Extra Features
The only extra of any significance here is a collection of alternate clothed scenes that show us the major nudie moments in the film re-shot with the women fully clothed. I guess this was done to appease some of the more prudish markets at the time, but honestly, had I been forced to endure the feature presentation without the gratuitous T&A I may very well have reached for the stop button. We also get an alternate English language opening credit sequence, and a fairly long (and boring) trailer for Zombie Lake.
The Verdict
Movie Score
Disc Score
Overall Score
So here we are. The Verdict. That part of the review where it is my duty to sum everything up and let you know whether or not I feel this disc is worth your time. And to be honest, I'm in a bit of a pickle. On the one hand, Zombie Lake is a terrible movie. It's boring. It's ineptly produced. Basically, it's an abomination unto the Lord! On the other hand however it's so damn funny you might just bust a nut laughing at the whole thing, and any self respecting trash cinema fiend really should check it out at least once. Still, I couldn't give the disc any sort of genuine recommendation whilst maintaining a clear conscience, so 2 Aussies is all it will get. Consider it a 2 with a knowing wink on the end though aimed at folks who enjoy laughing at the works of Ed Wood Jr. If you're that kind of person you'll probably enjoy laughing at Zombie Lake as well.

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