Directed by J.A. Lazer (Jean Rollin
and Julian de Laserna)
Written by A.L. Mariaux
Cast: Howard Vernon, Nadine Pascale, Pierre Escourrou & Annouchka
1980/83 mins/Color/Dolby Digital Mono
1:66.1/English/French/US/NTSC Region 1
Review from the Image Entertainment DVD
Throughout the 70's and 80's zombie flicks were a dime a dozen. Towards the beginning of the 80's though, a few filmmakers attempted to put a slightly new spin on the genre, creating a short lived "Nazi zombie" sub-genre, which sadly never caught on. The only films that were made, that I know of were SHOCK WAVES, OASIS OF THE ZOMBIES, and of course ZOMBIE LAKE, a.k.a. LE LAC DES MORTS VIVANTS. ZOMBIE LAKE has bad acting, terrible dubbing, lackluster zombie make-up and FX. That noted, can this film actually redeem itself from its bad reputation?
ZOMBIE LAKE follows the story of a small town in the French countryside where people are mysteriously disappearing by the lake. When a young woman's body is found with her throat lacerated the townsfolk go to the mayor requesting an investigation, but to little avail. The mayor (Howard Vernon) claims if there are any repeat occurrences then he will contact the police, but for now they simply have to sit tight.
A reporter arrives in town to meet the mayor to discuss the mystery of the lake and to understand why the townspeople dub it the "lake of ghosts" and the "lake of the damned". His response to the lakes title is a prime example of the films poor dialog -- "it so happens its real name is the goddamned lake not the lake of the damned". The mayor continues by giving her the full story. Apparently years earlier the town was invaded by German soldiers, resulting in war. One of the Nazi's risks his life for a local woman which is the basis for a romantic romp in a hay barn. This sequence is the epitome of cheesy love making. The soldier simply mashes his face all over her naked body as they both paw each other for several minutes while the mellow soundtrack envelopes the scene. It is truly groan inducing. The scene cuts to more war footage when the next thing you know, Nazi and woman have a baby girl. The townspeople revolt and kill all the Nazi's, completing the deed by dumping the bodies in the lake. The mother of the child dies for no other reason then to later advance the plot with a relationship between the zombie-soldier and his daughter.
Back to present day a vanload of beautiful female volleyball players stop at the lake to frolic about, hit the ball around, and disrobe to take a dip. Once in the water, the girls spastically splash water at each other -- because of course that's what a female volleyball team does! Once in the lake the bug-eyed zombies surface to quickly drag the team under to their watery demise. It seems if you're a beautiful naked female and decide to take a swim in the lake of ghosts, then you're done for. Once word reaches the mayor about the disappearances of the volleyball team (or basketball team as they are labeled by the police, whichever you prefer?!?), he notifies the police that ghosts are terrorizing his town. In disbelief the cops send over a couple detectives to investigate (one of which is none other then Jean Rollin himself). Will the town find a way to put an end to the "mad murdering zombies"?
Image Entertainment's description states that according to Daniel Lesour (one of the men behind Eurocine who originally released the film), ZOMBIE LAKE is a French-Spanish co-production directed by Jean Rollin and Spanish director Julian de Laserna. For many years rumors have fermented as to who actually directed the film, due to it being credited to a J.A. Laser. Now fans finally know the real answer (I use the word "fans" loosely of course). This Eurocrap classic has been forever known as being a terrible movie - and I won't deny that it is. However many bad attributes it does have, it shines through with some charm enabling the viewer to dig down deep and haul something good out of the plastic lined swimming pool. errr the lake. Sure the zombies are painted with bright green face paint, but what about the simplicity of the face paint used for the zombies in DAWN OF THE DEAD? Sure on one occasion the paint rubs off on the victim, and sure the film can't decide whether to call them zombies or ghosts, and sure an injured woman's wound mysteriously appears on the opposite side of her neck, and sure blood tubing, camera men in mirrors, and camera equipment can be seen in shots, but somehow I found enjoyment in the ineptitudes of this film. Bad continuity could also give you an opportunity to further educate the kids on their math skills. You see, during the volleyball sequence nine girls exit the van and throw around the volleyball, then two enter the lake while the happy "la la" music permeates, then two more girls that once were, aren't, then four more go in the water, one gets out and three are killed by three zombies, leaving a craze of bad continuity and confusion. They may be able to solve it, but I sure can't!
Okay, all jokes aside, one thing is for sure though there is no lack of nudity here. Practically every female in the movie is nude for one irrelevant reason or another. One girl is killed while bathing naked outside in a huge wooden tub, by a zombie out of the corn fields! The underwater angles the directors grasp leaves nothing to the imagination as they voyeuristically stalk below while the unsuspecting skinny-dippers enjoy the water from above. Notice the first zombie we see and tell me he doesn't resemble a young Udo Kier (yes the one whose green paint has washed off his hand in the water).
The zombies of ZOMBIE LAKE, do act like zombies, unlike its Nazi zombie counterpart - SHOCK WAVES. They do crave living blood, and they do have rotting faces, and they do slowly saunter about the town terrorizing the French folk. They even stereotypically do the Frankenstein walk, hands extended. However, when it is called for in the script they also abandon all zombie ideals and burst into a destroying rage, ransacking everything in their path -- to of course advance the "plot".
ZOMBIE LAKE is presented in its 1.66:1 theatrical aspect ratio, and is enhanced for 16:9. Image Entertainment's DVD is a huge step above its original VHS release. The blacks are very black and the colors and flesh tones are real and vibrant. That noted there are still a fare amount of flecks and scratches all over the print, primarily popping up at cuts spliced together. At some parts of the film, what looks like white scribbles chaotically dance around the screen for a few short seconds, which can be a tad distracting. During one scene in particular when the reporter meets the mayor at his castle the screen goes dark around the characters as if this portion of the film were not re-mastered. This could be due to Image Entertainment, but given the production quality of ZOMBIE LAKE, it is much more likely that one of the crew members mistakenly turned off the lights for a few seconds or something. This will be the best the film will ever look, I'm sure of that. The sound is Dolby Digital Mono and provides an adequate sound for the film in both English (dubbed) and French languages. The music lifted from FEMALE VAMPIRE and THE AWFUL DR. ORLOF as well as the horrific doom filled SXF when the zombies emerge from the lake are just fine in this audio format.
The special features are very slim, but that is to be expected with a film of this caliber. Firstly we get a theatrical trailer, which gives away too much of the movie for my liking. The next extra I did enjoy. This was the alternate clothed sequences. You get all the major sequences that contained nudity except now the characters are clothed. No more skinny-dippers here. These sequences were fairly odd, but evidently they were shot for alternate versions to re-edit in for television. Nice little extra. The final extra is an alternate English-language title sequence where the title of the film is "ZOMBIES' LAKE". There is nothing to get excited about since they are simply yellow text on a black background with no sound.
One major flaw in this disc is the lack of English subtitles for the original French language track. The dubbed English track is nothing short of terrible so finding out I had to fully learn the French language in order to watch ZOMBIE LAKE in its original language was a big disappointment. How much longer could it have taken to release the film with English subtitles? No matter how long, Image Entertainment should have put in the extra effort. It isn't like they would have to translate from the Japanese language! I guess this film will never be seen with English subs. I can't imagine anyone else releasing the film to DVD again.
Like I said above, ZOMBIE LAKE is filled with flaws and mishaps, but I have a fond place for it. If you're a fan of Jean Rollin, Jess Franco (the writer), Eurosleaze, and of course naked women, then you will no doubt want to own this disc. Those of you wanting to explore a new crapsation, look no further. After all, it is the best of the "Nazi zombie" sub-genre, not that that's saying much.
This Film Features:
Review by Chris Mayo. All Right Reserved. 2003. ©