Do you want to watch a boring underwater Nazi zombie movie? Then, by all means, watch Zombie Lake. All others skip it and slosh on over to Ken Wiederhorn’s far superior Shock Waves (1977). How this test in zom-tedium ended up as one of the 82 films on the U.K.’s “Section 3” Video Nasties list is dumbfounding.
It all started with Jesús Franco. Then the testosterone started splashin’ around between Franco and the producers. Enter Jean Rollin — with less than a week before production was to begin. Yes, Jean Rollin, the director who never met a film he couldn’t thrust into boredom. Yes, Mr. Rollin (and Mr. Franco, for that matter): I do need more than just nudity and triangle-of-death shots to move me. Yes: I need my zombies to have more than green paint smeared on their puss. Another problem: Two editors worked on the film: one for the French and International version and one for the Spanish version. Yes, a film where Jess Franco quits and Jean Rollin signs on . . . well, you’ve been warned. Needless to say: the poster’s great, but the plot is a mess.
Mind you: A bulk of this film takes place twenty years after the end of World War II, so 1965 — but it looks like forty years later, aka 1985. Anyway: A group of nubile ladies take a (skinny) dip in the village’s small lake — a lake referred to by the locals as “the lake of the damned.” And it’s know as such because it was used for witchcraft ceremonies. And the “lake” swallows them whole. So, with fresh human blood in their bellies and energized, the green-faced and grey-uniformed zom troopers take their revenge on the town. The revenge stems — we come to learn — from a WW II Nazi soldier and a local French girl falling in love and having a child. The villagers, members of the French resistance, murdered the soldier’s platoon and dumped their bodies into the lake. And the “witchcraft” of the lake kicks in. We think.
Of course, the town mayor is behind the murders of the soldiers and a cover up is in order — that errant on-the-road all-girls basketball team traveling through France who decide to take a restful (skinny) dip in that same small town lake, be damned. Of course, the fact that the lake offers us the scuzziest, most uninviting swim in the history of Zagat’s Euroguides is of no consequence to none of the young ladies that happen up on Lake COVID. Are the ladies “hypnotized” and drawn by unseen forces, aka the witches, to feed the zombie? Uh, this is a Jess Franco-rejected-Jean Rollin production. Don’t ask questions.
I can’t help but think Jess Franco penned this as a homage to Amando de Ossorio’s second entry in his “Blind Dead” series: Return of the Blind Dead (1973), as that film also had a town mayor more concerned with his town’s annual festival and his personal reputation than the rise and return of the Templars. Of course, de Ossorio got his pinch off Roger Vadim’s And Die of Pleasure (1960). In addition to the story pillaging, there’s the stock footage pinching: Zombie Lake‘s WW II war footage comes from Jess Franco’s Nazisploitation romp The Depraved Third Reich, aka Convoy of Girls, aka East of Berlin (1978)*. Now, was that the original intent: for Franco to pinch Franco? Or did Rollin pinch Franco on his own? Who cares, a pinch is a pinch is a rip and this movie sucks scuzzy, quaint French pond scum.
When it comes to “bad” Euro zombie films, I err to the side of Bruno Mattei with his New Guinea laboratory romp Hell of the Living Dead (1980) and Andrea Bianchi’s cursed mansion romp Burial Ground (1981). While Zombie Lake is not an ’80s SOV film, boy, oh, boy it certainly plays like one — and makes ’80s SOVs look good. At least SOV’ers are first time filmmakers figuring it out as they go along with camcorders. But when you’re Jean Rollin and at the game since the late 1950s with hundreds of films on your resume . . . this should be so much better. There’s just no excuse. At least I only paid a buck on the 5-5-5 home video store plan. Euro-audiences paid the full theatrical freight. I’d be Solo: A Star Wars Story-pissed.
As for Jess Franco: He and the producer behind Zombie Lake, Eurocine, made nice and did the Nazi Zoms thing again — only ditching the lake for the desert in Oasis of the Zombies. Did he fair any better? Oh, hell no. But that doesn’t mean we don’t dig it, for B&S reviewed it twice: Roger Braden and Sam the Boss offer their takes. As for my bottom line: Zombie Lake just isn’t all that nasty. Now, if the U.K. had a “Video Boring” list, those tea-taxin’ Red Coats would be onto something.
To quote Sam in his review of Burial Ground: “This movie is a real piece of shit. But you know, it’s an entertaining piece of shit. It’s the kind of film you can say, ‘But yeah, did you see Burial Ground? That one is totally insane.'”
Sadly, the same can not be said for Zombie Lake.
You can get Zombie Lake from Diabolik DVD. It’s also on the Euro Shock Collection issued by Imagine Entertainment (2001), as well as Arrow Films (2004), and Kino reissued it as a Blu-ray (2013). But you know us: we found you a freebie on You Tube.
Stay with us all this week, as we still have two and a half more days of U.K. video nasties from their three “Section” lists to review.
* You can learn more about the Nazisploitation genre with our recent review for the 2020 documentary Fascism on a Thread: The Strange Story of Nazisploitation Cinema.
Update: In January 2023 we rolled out our Jean Rollin-uary month of reviews. If you’re not familiar with Rollin’s works, click through and check them out. We gave Zombie Lake a new take because, well . . . you never can never watch enough Jean Rollin flicks!
Oh, yes! If you do a month of Jean Rollin, you must do a month of Jess Franco! February 2023 was our “Jess Franco Month.”