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Film Review: Zombie Lake (1981)

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In a small lakeside town, young women are disappearing without a trace. The superstitious locals blame ”The Lake of Ghosts”, because of the lake’s haunting past, but the town’s mayor seems reluctant, or powerless to take any action. When another woman is found dead near the lake, with her throat ripped out, a reporter comes to town and soon discovers that the lake harbors a terrible secret dating back to World War II. It is then a group of local Resistance fighters take action against a troop of Nazi zombie soldiers invading their town, as they have come back from the dead. And now, whenever the waters at Zombie Lake are disturbed, the dead will rise!


Jean Rollin and Jess Franco may not be held in quite as high regard as some of their contemporary European genre filmmakers, such as Mario Bava or Dario Argento, but they’re cult icons in certain circles. Both men made names for themselves in the ’60s and ’70s for consistently putting out low budget, sleazy/erotic horror films lovingly referred to as Eurotrash. Interestingly, the one time they teamed up on a production – 1981’s Zombie Lake – is perhaps the worst effort in either filmmaker’s catalogue.

The story goes that Franco wrote Zombie Lake but abandoned the director’s chair at the last minute. Producer Daniel Lesouer brought on Rollin to replace him, but it’s obvious he was nothing more than a hired gun. In fact, Rollin was so ashamed of the final product that he’s credited under the pseudonym J.A. Laser. The detached, dream-like quality of Rollin’s work may work for his many vampire efforts, but it proves painfully unsuccessful with zombies. An anachronistic mess, Zombie Lake is supposed to take place around 1957, yet the production made no effort to hide then-modern styles and amenities.

The plot concerns a rural French town with a lake known to locals as The Lake of Ghosts. Those who ignore the warning signs (there’s literally a sign with a picture of someone swimming next to a crudely-painted skull) are never heard from again. After the body of a girl is found, a reporter (Marcia Sharif) with knowledge of otherworldly phenomena comes to town. Upon investigating, she concludes that the lake is cursed. It’s inhabited by none other than Nazi zombies, unceremoniously dumped there during World War II, and they’re eager to resolve their unfinished business.

There are plenty of zombie movies with thin plots, but they usually offer action and/or gore to keep viewers interested. That’s not the case with Zombie Lake, which is painstakingly slow with horrible makeup and little blood. The zombies’ Incredible Hulk-colored face paint is uneven, and the shoddy, paper mache-like appliances always appear to be on the verge of falling off the actors’ faces. I would blame the makeup for not being waterproof, but it’s even poorly applied on the zombies who aren’t in the water.

The real (and only) allure of the film is copious, full-frontal nudity. The producers were surely hoping that would be the selling point. There’s plenty of gratuitous T&A; among the many skinny dipping scenes, there’s one in which an entire women’s basketball team (or volleyball team, depending on which language you’re watching) – we’re talking really attractive girls who look like they’ve never touched a basketball in their lives – frolic nude in the lake. It’s supposed to be erotic, but it’s so absurd that it’s actually comical; much like the rest of the movie.

For the new Blu-ray release, Zombie Lake was transferred to high-definition from an archival negative. As we’ve come to expect from Redemption Films, the picture isn’t touched up, so you’ll find some specks and debris, but it works for a low-rent picture of this nature. Otherwise, the movie looks better than ever. The underwater scenes have particularly improved from previous releases (in terms of the transfer, that is; it’s still obvious they were shot in a swimming pool), and now it’s easier than ever to see just how awful the makeup is.

You have the option of watching the film’s the original French audio with subtitles or the English dub; I, for once, recommend the dub, if only to add to the inherent cheesiness. (It’s also worth noting that the movie was filmed without sound, so even the French dubbing doesn’t always match up.) The special features are mostly throwaway. There’s a pair of alternate scenes in which the skinny-dipping girls are clothed (which would only make the film less watchable), the English credit sequence and some Rollin trailers.

You may be wondering why Redemption bothered to put Zombie Lake on Blu-ray. I know I’ve done nothing but trash it – and the abomination deserves every bit of it – but I also think it’s something a lot of people will enjoy. It’s the type of viewing that can be either grueling or a blast, depending on your mood. If you’re looking for a well-made cinematic accomplishment, you can’t get much farther away from it than Zombie Lake, but if you want a fun, mindless flick to poke fun at with some buddies, this is perfect. It’s not quite Troll 2 over the top, but Zombie Lake is worth experiencing at least once.

Zombie Lake (1981)

One comment

  1. It’s amazing how many people rip Jean Rollins film music off.


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