Zombie Lake (1981)

Also known as: Le Lac des morts vivants
The Lake of the Living Dead

I've heard this film has received a lot of bad press from various reviewers. Zombie Lake has many undeniable shortcomings, but if you're any sort of fan of European horror, erotic - or just plain 'cult' - cinema, you should find plenty to enjoy in this one. Personally, I've very happy to have it in my collection, even if the ghouls on display have the worst zombie makeup in existence. Jean Rollin was apparently brought in at the last minute to helm this one, and did his best to keep the zero-budget project going. That there's quite a lot of entertainment value intact is something of a testament to his skill. That Jesus Franco helped write this one, it has a Daniel White score and also features Howard Vernon as one of the main characters, also contribute to the film's watchability. Did I mention the huge helping of nudity throughout?

A young woman strips down in some beautiful French countryside, for a nude dip in a lily-covered lake. Down below, an undead, one-eyed, green-skinned Nazi watches, and ultimately strikes. Later, another woman is attacked on land by the same blood-drinking Nazi zombie. Her father and a solemn group of villagers bring her body to the Mayor (Howard Vernon) of the small village. He says there is nothing he can do until the police turn up and there is an autopsy. Later, he asks two children who saw the murders exactly what they witnessed, and checks through some old books.

A female reporter from the city turns up and asks some questions in a cafe the men frequent, but they're reluctant to give any information. She wants to know about The Lake of Ghosts, as she calls it. They just send her off to the Mayor, who happens to live in a beautiful castle. He's annoyed at seeing her 'barging in' but gives in to her persistence, and tells her all about the history of "The Lake of the Damned". Apparently thousands of years ago, the lake was the site of Devil worship and sacrifice. Then, during the war, a group of Nazi's - about ten of them - were ambushed, killed, and disposed of by being thrown in the lake. Before the ambushing, a woman falls in love with one of them who had saved her from a bomb. We get to watch a very long seduction-and-sex scene in a barn, along with much lush Daniel White music. She bears him a child, then dies after he's killed by the resistance.

Later, back in the present, a female volleyball team show up at the lake, and of course, as all women do when they're alone together, get naked and go-skinny dipping. The Nazi zombies attack and kill them all but one, who runs into the village - topless, mind you - and hysterically tells them about the zombies. The Mayor calls for the help of the police, and they send two bumblers. One of them is played by Rollin, and they are are swiftly despatched by the undead Nazis, who are now wholly on the march in the village and out for vengeance. The dead Nazi who fathered the child visits his young daughter - I guess she's about ten now - and gives his child her mother's locket, then leaves. More women are fanged by the living dead, and one ghoul even goes into the cafe on his own and tears up the place! There's not a chair left standing after this scene. The Mayor sets up an ambush with the villagers, but after they all fire a million rounds into the creatures, the bullets do nothing and they beat a hasty retreat.

The father-zombie visits his daughter again, and he takes her into the countryside. The other zombies are none too happy about this, and one of them, the one-eyed zombie, fights with him for fraternising with the living. The father-zombie gets the upper hand, and the daughter runs away with her life saved. This is the zombie-versus-zombie fight that George Romero never got to film. Later, the zombie army, apparently with their differences resolved, begin to attack the town again. In the meantime, the Mayor talks to the reporter and she suggests burning the creatures with napalm - seemingly the only way to destroy them. It just so happens that one of the villagers has a flame-thrower, perfect for the task ahead. He agrees, and convinces the Nazi zombie's daughter that she'll be setting her suffering, undead father free to join her mother - if she helps them destroy the zombies. The little girl reluctantly agrees. The zombies attack and kill the reporter.

With a bucket of fresh blood - I'm not sure where or whom from - the girl attracts the zombies into an abandoned house, and as they take turns drinking blood from a cup - the villagers again ambush them, this time with fire and not bullets. The girl runs to safety as the villagers make their last stand. Will they succeed against the undead, goose-stepping hordes?

I'm going to get some of the negatives out of the way before dealing with the positives, because in the end I really enjoy this film. First off, the makeup effects are genuinely atrocious. The Nazi undead are depicted by flaking green Halloween face paint, often which stops at the face-line leaving a decidedly pink, living neck. The attack scenes are generally just the zombies spewing fake blood, over the victim's obviously unhurt necks. The underwater sequences are notorious for juxtaposing women up to their knees in the lake, with shots of women swimming underwater in a pool. Can't say it's the worst thing I've seen, though. The acting is on the whole is somewhat wooden, but Vernon acquits himself quite well.

Yet, there's quite a few things to like about Zombie Lake. The gorgeous green countryside, the castle, Daniel White's excellent and varied music, - cribbed from other films, I hear, but still effective - the presence of the classy Howard Vernon, both of whom are staples of many a Jesus Franco film. Some of the sounds accompanying the undead are quite creepy. As directed by J. A. Laser (Rollin) this film holds together quite well, as a film Franco could have made. It doesn't really have a huge Rollin feel to it, other than the romantic touches which flow through it between the Nazi and his lover, and ultimately the feelings he still has for his daughter.

I'll be happy to watch Zombie Lake again sometime, which is more than I can say for countless Holywood snore-fests. That's all I'd ask of any film.

© Herr Boris Lugosi, 2006.


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Review written: 02/27/2006 13:45:03