Wednesday, 28 August 2013

Zombie Lake - review

1981 (France/Spain)

Contains spoilers.

Director Jean Rollin thought Zombie Lake so bad he tried to hide his role in it and used the pseudonym J.A. Laser, and he ought to know. And I actually didn't mind the whole thing for thirty odd minutes or so. The gratuitous and totally unnecessary exploitative ten minute (well it felt that long) naked skinny dip was at least pleasing to the eye, the first couple of zombie deaths were amusing and original, and the picture of a small rural French town physically and psychologically recovering from the occupation and what they had to do to resist was taking shape. Oh, I'm not for one minute going to say what I was watching was good. The acting was wooden, the narrative pedestrian and the zombies bizarre and unconvincing with appalling make-up and the death of the second victim resembled more of a zombie slobber than a gore but it had a certain European low budget je ne sais quoi. The problem with Zombie Lake though is that this was as good as it was going to get.

With the other hour or so watched I can frankly say I honestly don't know what Rollins who I understand only arrived on set a fortnight before filming, the writers and the crew were thinking when they put this drivel together, but I wished they hadn't.

There's a dark secret to the so called Lake of the Damned town mayor (Howard Vernon) tells reporter Katya (Marcia Sharif) looking for the inside scoop on the bizarre tale of ghosts and the spate of recent disappearances. The dark secret we learn through a convenient if not entirely convincing flashback, was an ambush, ten years earlier by the local resistance on a back peddling patrol of Nazis, with their bodies thrown in the water. For an oppressed persecuted nation I'd hardly call it a dark secret and more a reason to hold a yearly festival; but anyway, this isn't the whole story. We also learn that one of the soldiers (Pierre-Marie Escourrou) was in love with local girl (Nadine Pascal), who nine months earlier had thanked him for saving her from a mortar strike by taking her kit off in the hay barn and letting him impregnate her with a daughter he briefly gets to learn of before being shot.

Ok and I hear you. What does this all have to do with zombies coming out of the water at night to prey on the towns ample more attractive lady folk? Well nothing. But... and this exemplifies Zombie Lake for the incompetent, incoherent, farcical, convoluted nonsense that it is, a few centuries before all this, and apparently this wasn't important to know until near the end, and in fact I get the feeling no one involved in the writing had any inkling either, the 'Damned Lake of the Damned' was actually the site of black mass, sacrifice and all manner of satanic jiggery-pokery and souls thrown into the water were condemned to eternal damnation or something or other. The undead soldiers you see, are up and at 'em because of the combination of all these things.

I don't care to be honest. It's all nonsense and it doesn't come together in any reasonably coherent fashion. The zombies are rubbish, the acting is poor, the music sounds like someone with extreme epilepsy had been put in front of a glockenspiel and they'd turned the strobe lights up to 11, the pacing is all over the place and the story as mentioned is a babbling brew of bunkum and baloney. I understand Rollin isn't adverse to a little titilation but the constant nudity on show here is feeble, contrived and unnecessarily gratuitous. Multiple times the use of the lake is exploited with excessively objectifying up-facing underwater shots concentrated a little too much on the girls crotches with their heads not visible above the surface to be comfortable or ever erotic. I really don't know what Rollin was aiming for as the narrative ends up being an incomprehensible horror, thriller, love story all wrapped up as a European-art house, soft porn Benny Hill style, grind-house/exploitation mess. It never at any time aludes to a singular identity and switches its narrative and presentation style frequently with no reason or consistency and its portrayal of the zombie as the protaganist is no better.

The first thing I took from Rollin's interpretation of the now reasonably established zombie, was the fact they were incredible-hulk comic-book coloured green. Ok, they'd been under the lake for ten years so it could be algae or something but they weren't exactly fetid oozing bloated pustules of slime. There is an attempt to present some of the background undead as a bit dirty and fetid but on more than one occasion, either the love-forlorn main hero-zombie or the zombie nazi commandant made an appearance with clean well tended hair, a dry well pressed uniform and spray on green tan that didn't completely cover all his wrists or neck. The second thing was what a large incoherent mish-mash of ideas were being played around with. From the first zombie emerging from the watery grave to successfully skulk, stalk and take down his prey, to the esoteric uncomfortable zombie-daddy daughter love pact resulting in zombie on zombie wrestlemania, to the random, brazen full-on sieges of the town, there's never any convincing or cohesive reasons for why any of it happening. They're mindless dead thirsting for flesh and blood, they're loving and protective, they're taking order off their old leader, they're sharing a bucket of blood, passing a bowl knowingly between themselves, they're a bit of this, a bit of that and a right bloody cacophany of ideas from people who didn't know what they were doing.

I could honestly go on criticising Zombie Lake all night, really I could. A real stinker of a film with little to no redeeming quality I'll probably only remember it for the out of place nudity and terrible green make-up. The Redemption Blu-ray is clean and crisp though, if the sound is a tad muffled and muted at times, and presents all Rollin's daftness as well anyone would want. Whether anyone would want it though is another question, 2/10.



  1. To be fair to Rollin, this was mneant to be a Jess Franco movie and he got ditched at the last minute. As you alluded to, Rollin wasn't enamoured with the project (I understand he regretted saying yes as soon as he read the script - the answer being always read the script first).

    The incoherence of the story is derived from it being a Franco written script - Howard Vernon (the mayor) is a Franco staple actor.

    Both Franco and Rollin were known to shoot double versions of films that could be shown in pron theatres as well as art-house, I'm guessing that's why there was so much naked flesh.

    For Rollin I'd check out the Living Dead Girl. Whilst the set up is a little hokey and the effects naff the pathos is palpable.

    1. Yeah I think Rollin was stuffed the moment he said he was on board but he still takes some responsibility for this mess.

      It's not so much the nudity, I mean, I'm partial to a bit a naked nubile flesh, who isn't? it's just even this isn't done particularly well.