Oasis of the Zombies (1983)
By: Mr Intolerance on January 11, 2010  | 
Image Entertainment (USA). Region 1, NTSC. 1.66:1 (16:9 enhanced). French DD 1.0, English Dolby 1.0. 82 minutes
The Movie
Cover Art
Director: Jess Franco
Starring: Manuel Gelin, France Jordan, Eric Viellard, Henry Lambert
Screenplay: A.L. Mariaux
Country: France
External Links
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Sometimes the story around a film is more interesting than the film itself. Get a load of this: French production company Eurocine decide to make a few francs on the cheapie horror movie scene, with aquatic Nazi zombies as their meal ticket. So, in 1980, they hire Jess Franco to helm Zombie Lake, a lurid tale of Nazi zombies living in a lake in France who occasionally rise to the surface to chomp on nekkid women. Cue: napalm! Problem is, immediately before shooting was to begin, Franco fucked off somewhere and no one could find him, so Jean Rollin stepped in and began shooting, being told what was happening in the film on a day-by-day basis by the producers. Surprisingly, Eurocine went back to Franco to direct their follow-up tale of the Nazi undead, Oasis of the Zombies, which pits a bunch of fundamentally unlikeable treasure-hunters against Afrika Korps zombies.

Even more surprisingly, Franco made the film. In an interview on Severin's release of the feisty Spaniard's Mansion of the Living Dead, Franco openly states his dislike of zombie films ("The zombie is an idiot!"), having little to no interest in them, outside of Armando de Ossorio's Blind Dead series, to which Mansion… could be seen as a tribute to. This is where the rot sets in (no pun intended) – if Franco is interested in the film he's making, then the end product shows that and he produces a winner (Female Vampire, Succubus, Vampyros Lesbos). However, when he's simply a jobbing director doing it for the cash, then he lives down to his ill-earned reputation as a hack (A Virgin Among the Living Dead, 99 Women and Devil Hunter all spring to mind). For the record, I don't consider Franco to be a hack, and I've liked more films from his prodigious output than I've disliked by a country mile. Even the ones that I've not really cared for (Nightmares Come At Night, a film that was partially constructed with just some bits of footage that were hanging around at the time) always had something worth watching the film for, even if that something was Lina Romay or Soledad Miranda.

Further, if Franco is reigned in by a producer with a strong personality, as with his work with Harry Alan Towers, then the product is usually of superior quality. Eurocine's reputation doesn't allow for such quality control – to quote Jean Rollin: "Eurocine is a really weird company…they think films like Zombie Lake are good horror films! They live on another planet!"  This does not exactly inspire confidence in the discerning horror viewer. However, I've never been renowned for being all that discerning, being an unashamed fan of Z-grade trash, plus I like movies with Nazi zombies in them. Strap yourselves in kids, you're in for a bumpy ride, let me tell you!   

After a pretty irritating introduction just letting us know that the film will indeed feature Nazi zombies (and also letting us know that at this point of his career Franco liked to put young female cast members – one of whom looks from certain angles like she has a moustache – into very short shorts), we head to the main plot. In 1943, a German convoy was ambushed near the oasis we saw in the pre-credit sequence, laden down with six million dollars in gold. This does beg the question, "Why didn't the Allies take it after they'd killed all of the bad guys?" Shhh. Don't ask sensible questions. In the present day, the dead Germans' former commander wants to get his greedy paws on all of that fat cash, and goes looking for it in the Sahara, having obtained the whereabouts from a military historian he murders for the information. 

The military historian in question, Lambert, was one of the British troops responsible for the ambush on the Afrika Korps convoy, and news of his death makes its way back to London and to his son, Robert. So, it's back to Africa for Robert to make sense of daddy dear's untimely demise. Robert hits dad's diaries, and the audience get a flashback to the ambush of the German troops, where Franco proves that action scenes aren't really his forte, or rather that his fight scene choreographer really wasn't what you'd call top notch. For some reason during the fight, Lambert decides to leave the safety of the oasis and wanders off into the desert. Luckily, he's rescued by Ayesha, an Arabic woman with whom he has a bit of a fling, siring a son whose birth kills the poor woman, all of which is a bit of a revelation to young Robert – him being that son (this makes no sense – if Robert was born in 1943, then by the time this film is set – and there's no indication it's set any earlier than when it was filmed – he should be forty years old, instead of the teenager he's portrayed as).

As much of a revelation is the fact that the locals won't go near the oasis, believing it to be haunted by the souls of the dead Nazis. Sometimes it pays to listen to those native superstitions. But will Robert listen to such things? Nope. He gets an equally unlikeable crew of friends motivated by finding the cash, and a film crew, and off to the oasis they go, all unknowing that Lambert's murderer is also in search of the booty. He would've had a quite substantial head start, and yet has only just arrived there himself. But mind you, as the rest of his party get chomped by the zombies, and he himself goes barking mad, he's not exactly much in the way of competition.

This is probably about the point where you want to know what the zombies are like, right? Kind of like ultra-low rent cousins of the ones from Hell of the Living Dead, but minus the gore. Some of the appliance make up is pretty shoddy, and the gore isn't the greatest either, but I've certainly seen a lot worse. They're silent shamblers, but their appearance is accompanied by an odd diegetic noise – one the characters can hear, that is. While they're ultimately a little underwhelming, they do achieve a certain eerie nature in some scenes, and you do wonder what could have made of them if a bit more cash had actually been spent on the film. Some of the close-ups would lead me to believe that a number of the more grotesque or decayed zombies are simply heads on sticks, but maybe I'm just being picky. Similarly, the zombie's bite is meant to turn you into a zombie yourself, but we don't really see any actual evidence of this, despite the zombies working their jaws into a number of folks during the course of the film. Further, there's never any indication given of why they actually became zombies in the first place. Am I asking too much?

And so our hapless heroes head off to the oasis, with the help of Robert's granddad, to find that some friends of theirs arrived first, and weren't exactly met by the local welcome wagon. Regardless of all of the evidence that they really should cut their losses and bug-out for the dug-out, our idiotic heroes (who are almost totally indistinguishable from each other apart from gender and one dude who wears a fez) decide to hang around and look for the gold for a few days, neatly side-stepping the issue that they'll therefore have to spend a few nights there, which is when our hungry dead like to get up for a bite to eat. 

And what do we get at the end of every modern-day zombie film? That's right – the siege! Although maybe "stand-off" would be more appropriate here. Who lives? Who dies? Who gets zombified? What happens to the cash? Well, you'll have to watch it and find out, won't you?

The film is full of the usual flaws you'd expect in a Jess Franco film shot on the cheap: the characterization doesn't exist, the acting starts at lousy and gets worse, the budgetary restraints kill off a lot of potentially good ideas, the internal logic doesn't seem to fit, the special effects are best left unspoken about, padding rules supreme, the day for night shooting varies tremendously from shot to shot, every third shot is a zoom and the editing appears to have been done by someone without a grasp on either tension or narrative coherence. I'm quite a Jess Franco fan, and actually consider Oasis of the Zombies to have quite a bit of quaint charm, but I can see why detractors have a field day with it. However, to me its few strengths lie in some of the camerawork which at its best evokes a creepy atmosphere (the zombies cresting the horizon backlit by the night-sky and the rising dawn is particularly effective), the dialogue is occasionally hilarious ("Let's get some bottles and make some Molotov cocktails, like at school!" What fuckin' school did these guys go to?!), a neat basic premise that's sadly under-developed – it's a shame that its budget killed it stone dead, because there's actually some potential present, even if it mainly goes to waste.

Final note: according to Jamie Russell in FAB's zombie film encyclopedia Book of the Dead, the film somewhat surprisingly actually did reasonable business on its cinematic release, but as he also astutely points out, when a film is called Bloodsucking Nazi Zombies (one of its many alternate titles), you're pretty much guaranteed some audience curiosity.
The blurb on the insert that comes with the disc states that this is "a definitive widescreen transfer". This is a lie. A "definitive" transfer would involve the Spanish language version Franco shot at the same time, La Tumba Los Muertos Vivientes, which apparently gives more bang for your gore dollar, would have subtitles rather than the excruciating dub we're "treated" to, and would look as though it had actually been re-mastered rather than ported directly from an inferior quality print. The image is generally poor – slightly better than VHS, with many a glitch (lines down the screen, low definition, occasional jumps, speckle and grain abound) to be seen. I realise that this is an oldish low budget film with a niche target audience, but that's no excuse not to try. Image normally provide much better product than this.
If you want to watch Oasis of the Zombies in the original French language track, you don't get subtitles. This frankly sucks if you don't speak French and don't like dubbing (which I don't), and more so is especially pointless. Why even give the option? I mean this is a Region 1 disc for the US and Canada, and I'm sure that it's not the #1 grossing film of all time in Quebec – so where are the subs on the French track? So the best you get to listen to is a flat and lifeless mono English dub. The intrusive score which barely ever seems to stop becomes increasingly grating extremely quickly, both the "spooky" soundtrack and the numbingly repetitive faux-Egyptian tunes.
Extra Features
Bugger all to the power of less. It states on the cover that it features "Alternate English Language Title Sequence" – or in other words, you get to read the credits in your native language. Hardly a special feature, as I don't normally get terribly excited by reading while I'm watching a film. I can't believe they couldn't locate Jess Franco for an interview, as Severin don't seem to have any problems doing so.
The Verdict
Movie Score
Disc Score
Overall Score
Not a great film by any stretch of the imagination, I'm still steadfastly going to say that Oasis of the Zombies is by no means the absolute train-wreck its detractors will try to assure you that it is. Oh, it's deeply flawed, and I won't try to tell you any different, but it's not a complete disaster. Reading back over that sentence, it's hardly a glowing recommendation, is it?

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