Review Date: February 18, 2013
Released by: Redemption Films
Release date: February 26, 2013
Codec: AVC, 1080p
Full Frame 1.66:1 | 16x9: Yes
French horror cinema, before its recent resurgence as a strong force over the past 10 years, was put on the map by Jean Rollin. A man who's work in the fantastique genre was signified by his use of subtle, atmospheric, and evocative storytelling where sometimes less was more. He spawned the French vampire genre with works such as The Rape of the Vampire
and The Nude Vampire
, and even France's first “gore” film The Grapes of Death
. A prolific director with a distinct style that borrowed from the French New Wave and directors such as Goddard and even Truffaut, but adapted to the horror genre with a blend of Gothic eroticism that always hinted towards love, loss, and romance.
A Rollin film was identifiable, recognizable. But one film marks a serious black mark on the director's career according to all who have seen it. A film he ended up working on at the last minute, only 2 weeks before production was to begin after writer and director Jess Franco dropped out of the project, and a work he didn't admit to actually directing until years later. This film is Le Lac des Morts Vivants
, or Zombie Lake
, the second film to be categorized in the Nazi Zombie sub-genre. Disavowed by the director, here under the name J.A. Laser, disavowed by critics, and seemingly disavowed by all audiences who have taken the dip in this lake of the living dead, is Zombie Lake
really that bad?
The year is supposedly 1957 and a young nicely tanned woman decides she wants to go for a swim in a nearby lake. She removes her clothing and uproots a sign indicating that there is no swimming to be had in this lake, as possible death may occur. But of course rebellion overrules reason, and so with the sign now hidden amongst the tall grass she can swim in the nude without regret amongst the lily pads in the water. Big mistake, as her modest summer dip is interrupted by a pale green faced soldier who swims up from the depths of the lake and takes his victim under with him.
Welcome to The Damned Lake, a pond-sized lake situated near a small French village hidden in the picturesque countryside. In this village with a secret held by all, the Mayor (Jess Franco regular Howard Vernon, Marquis de Sade's Justine
) is continually perturbed as numerous bodies have begun to pile up after being discovered afloat in the lake. Soon a reporter (Marcia Sharif
) visits the town after hearing of the legend and the increasing body count to get a scoop for her latest story. After questioning and snapping some photos of the locals she is instructed to talk to the Mayor, and after asking him straight up to give her the story of The Damned Lake and it's supposed ghosts he spills the goods.
During World War II a small squadron of German soldiers occupied the area. While the war raged on, one of these soldiers happened to save a young French woman during a bombing raid and the two carried out a love affair in secret. To mark the embrace, the woman gifted the blonde-haired soldier her finger rosary. Months pass and it's now winter and the young woman gives birth to a young child, the daughter of the Nazi soldier. But shortly after, while stalking the countryside, the German squadron are ambushed by the French Resistance and all are shot dead and their bodies disposed of in a nearby lake. The young woman dies of shock from the news of her deceased lover and her mother is left to take care of her granddaughter. And since then, after the war ended, the undead German soldiers have been rising from the lake and feasting on those who step too close into its murky waters.
Now back in 1957 the daughter, Helena (Anouchka, Cannibals
), is roughly 10 or so years old and her father returns from the cold waters and finds her. She recognizes her mother's finger rosary around his neck and the two strike up a friendship despite he being a little green around the gills, much like Frankenstein and the little girl with the daisies. But his hunger and the hunger of the remaining lake zombies cause the townsfolk to try and find a way to end this curse once and for all as more bodies pile up, including that of a female “basketball” team who clearly play volleyball. But bullets go right through them, so how will they ever kill the silent green-faced terror stalking them and end the curse once and for all? And can Helena save her undead father from being sent to a watery grave forever?
is an abysmally bad production on every account. To have his name not officially attached, even though he's credited as starring in the film as Inspector Spitz (or Stiltz, depending on the translation) and to have denied making it was the best that Jean Rollin could have hoped for. Zombie Lake
, a film even Jess Franco turned down, and he wrote it, features nothing about Rollin's work as a director to make it stand out, even if it does feature a subplot involving the love and loss of a father and daughter. This melodramatic story arc greatly slows down the film while likely remaining it's only saving grace thematically. The film's rushed production features clothing and styles out of 1980 yet the film is supposed to be set not long after WWII, and even production crew themselves can be scene in reflections in mirrors in certain scenes. Some sequences are even repeated, which includes a close-up shot of the marching boots of the living dead shuffling along the ground. No attention to detail or continuity was put forth. At all.
And this is greatly and painfully exhibited in the make-up effects done by Christiane Sauvage and Michael Nizza (Cannibals
). These are hands down the worst zombie make-ups to ever grace celluloid. Sloppily applied green face paint smudges and smears and drips down the zombies' faces as they rise from the waters. When biting victims and oozing watery ketchup out of their mouths, their green paint is then transferred to their victims' skin, leaving behind a cinematic kiss of death so-to-say. It's not even laughably bad and looks like it was applied mere seconds before action was called. The budget of the film likely all went into the cost to rent a few military vehicles and uniforms as everything else looks as modern as the year they shot the film.
Featuring a score by Daniel White, most of the music in the film is a repetitious melodramatic theme from the composer's previous work that has also been used in a dozen other films, mostly that of Jess Franco. Zombie Lake
is bad. Really really bad. But occasionally it does offer a few laughs to make up for the boring dialogue-less scenes that make up the majority of the film's running time, including a scene such as a couple who are discovered making out in a barn by the zombies and the male is wearing a grey-haired wig and moustache that makes him look like he should be on the set of the Beastie Boys Sabotage video. Oh, and all the underwater cinematography of the zombies attacking nude women in the lake is clearly shot in a fairly small swimming pool as you can see the edges of the walls shoddily concealed with sheets of blue material. But with minimal laughs induced and a story that unfolds slower than a snail on tranquilizers, you're more than likely to want to drown yourself than watch Zombie Lake
is presented in it's original aspect ration of 1.66:1 in glorious high definition by Redemption Films from an archival print. The image is sharp with great detail when the camera is in focus, and no extensive restoration was done to clean it up too much as there are still a lot of scratches and specs here and there and natural grain. For a film as terrible as this, it looks fantastic. The pale greens washing off the zombies' faces pop and skin tones are natural and balanced. The idyllic French countryside looks great in HD. While there is some variance in image quality from time to time due to damage on the source material you really aren't going to get a better transfer without overdoing the clean-up process and it appears here on Blu-ray as it probably did when first transferred to a 35mm screening print after a week-long run back in 1981.
We get two audio tracks, the original French audio track and the English dubbed version. Both tracks are uncompressed linear PCM 2.0 and sound competently fine. The English dub might offer a bit more unintentional humour, so if you do want some sort of enjoyment out of the film that might be the way to go. Daniel White's score, which really only consists of two different songs, but multiple variations, might get a bit annoying and repetitive, and when the jovial pop-esque theme comes on you might feel a slight sense of relief from the melodramatic. The music and the dialogue (when there is some) are all audibly present and nothing is either too high or too low in the mix to get lost. Nothing to rave about in the sound department, but nothing to really complain about other than repetition of the "library" musical score.
Zombie Lake also has only pond-sized extras, most of which were already featured on Image's "Euroshock" DVD release back from 2001. Here we are treated to the alternate English-language title sequence, with the film actually titled Zombies' Lake
when translated. We also get two clothed and less explicit scenes of the intro dip and the volleyball team that were used to sell the film to television. And finally the French theatrical trailer and the English theatrical trailer, which is the same cut as the French trailer but with English title cards). Rounding out the special features are trailers for Redemption Film's other releases including Oasis of the Zombies
, The Rape of the Vampire
, and The Demoniacs
. All of these extras are presented in high definition at least. English subtitles round out the Blu-ray.
Jean Rollin admits to having deeply regretted accepting to make Zombie Lake
from the moment he read the script, and by then it was too late to turn back. So he rushed through it and we are left with a film that should have been left on the cutting room floor or lost after it's first screening. Zombie Lake
should be left sitting at the bottom of a pond, a lake, the ocean, or any other body of water. A troubled production from the very start where no sense of fun or horror or understanding of filmmaking can be found. Zombie Lake
is easily one of the top contenders for worst zombie film, and possibly even worst horror film as it's more of a dry family drama than anything. Everyone involved, behind and in front of the camera, seems completely bored and since all unfolds with little to no sense of action or terror the audience is left with 86 minutes of pale green face paint that's had no time to dry. Redemption Films have released the film in an edition that's too good for what it deserves, but even though it's widely regarded as one of the worst films ever made there are those who don't care taking this dip. Just remember, the sign that was uprooted at the beginning of the film says swim at your own risk and death may result. So watch at your own risk, as it may have that same effect on you.
Movie - D-
Image Quality - A-
Sound - B+
Supplements - C+
- Running time – 86 minutes
- 1 Discs (Blu-ray)
- French LPCM 2.0
- English LPCM 2.0
- English Subtitles
- Zombie Lake alternate English title sequence
- Alternate clothed (less explicit) versions of two sequences
- Zombie Lake French theatrical trailer
- Zombie Lake English theatrical trailer
- Oasis of the Zombies theatrical trailer
- The Rape of the Vampire theatrical trailer
- The Demoniacs theatrical trailer